Is It Ethical To Choose To Die Early?

ethics heartNotwithstanding the (slightly morbid) title, here’s a cheerful greeting to start this post off with: Hellooo! It’s Lionel, newbie member of Seven Graces Community and first-time contributor to this blog.

So last week, we had the honour of having Dr Ong Yew Jin take us through a session on end-of-life ethics. He had us asking ourselves deep, thought-provoking questions like:

  1. We have animals put down to end their suffering, so why not humans too?
  2. Is it wrong to choose to die early so as not to be a burden to our loved ones?
  3. How far can we take the notion that there is meaning to suffering?

Dr Ong brought us through two stark examples:

  1. Brittany Meynard, who had terminal brain cancer and chose to move to Oregon where she could legally choose to die through euthanasia, citing that “death with dignity was the best option for me and my family”
  1. Stephen Sutton, diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 15, who chose to complete his “bucket list” and raised more than 3.2M pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

We discussed these two stories not to condemn one or support the other, but to think through the emotions and moral dilemmas that some of us might encounter when we do find ourselves in this situation – either as a patient or a caregiver.

As we can see from Evangelium Vitae 65, the Church as a pretty clear stance on euthanasia: “a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.”

Of course, as an authority, the Church must adopt such a stand, just like how a mother must lay down clear rules for her children. However, Dr Ong brought us through a discussion on how the “right” decision may differ depending on the situation. For example, we discussed the hypothetical situations of:

  • A poor family who’s faced with the decision to sell their house to pay for the treatment of a family member
  • A pregnant mother being diagnosed with cancer and needing to undergo chemotherapy to protect her unborn child

While the nuances might differ on a case-by-case basis, the guiding principle remains clear: We need to choose the path which is motivated by true, Christlike love.

These decisions will never come easy, but we are comforted in the knowledge that if we act according to true love for Christ and our neighbour, we’ll choose the path that God wants us to follow. Further, Deanna pointed out that this isn’t a standalone, overnight decision – It’s often made in consultation with caregivers, doctors, priests and other authorities to guide us on the right path.

Personally, having never made such a decision before, I found the discussion to be heavy, but illuminating. It’s good that we think about these decisions now while we’re rational, instead of when we’re emotional. It made things a lot clearer and it’s good to know that it’s a lot deeper than simply “preserve life at all costs”.

Instead, it’s about making a decision based on love, or more specifically, the ten commandments that we’re called to follow. And isn’t that our guiding principle for going through life anyway?

Besides, there’s research that thinking about death (and what we’d do in the face of it) can make us happier. The Bhutanese – reportedly the happiest people in the world – think about death up to 5 times a day. That helps them to accept death and suffering as a natural part of life – a cross that everyone has to carry.

Paradoxically, accepting this fact could give us even more freedom to embrace life, and the wonderful things it has to offer.

Have a great week ahead!

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