As a nurse, I have journeyed with individuals and their families as they approach death and begin to make decisions regarding their future care. Through these experiences, I have come to realize that there are many misconceptions and gaps in knowledge surrounding end of life issues. I have also grown in my appreciation for the Mystery of Life and the love which it calls forth from us. For this reason, I would like to briefly clarify notions surrounding some of these questions and provide food for thought and prayer. In the context of this blog, I will only be skimming the surface and hopefully inspiring a desire for further knowledge. I strongly suggest reading "Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide", published by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF ). This document initially inspired the topic for my reflection and can be found on the website at end of the blog.
I would like to begin by clarifying that standard end of life care in Canada is in conformity with Catholic teaching. A person whose health is failing and is approaching the end of life, may choose to receive full available treatment for their condition, may refuse treatment, or may request the termination of current treatment when the burdens outweigh the benefits. Also, all are entitled to receive appropriate drugs for the relief of pain, even if these might have the unintended effect of shortening their life. It is important to understand that these measures differ morally and practically from euthanasia which is "the deliberate killing of someone, with or without that person's consent, in order to eliminate all suffering. The individual who commits euthanasia must, therefore, intend to kill the person and must cause the death – for example, by lethal injection" (COLF, 2013, p.2).
The reason why I decided to highlight these definitions is because some people believe that unless Euthanasia is legalized, they will be forced to endure treatments and undue suffering for the sake of prolonging their life indefinitely. This is not the case as explained above. In order for each person to experience the journey through death as peacefully as possible, I believe holistic palliative care services ought to be available for all individuals. This is where the political pressure is needed to ensure that these valued persons receive full care till the end.
Finally, in approaching questions of life and death, we must look beyond the confines of a purely medical definition and treatment of death. Death is a stage in life, a stage that every person must experience in order to enter into the fullness of life with God. It is a mystery that involves not only the body, but the mind and soul. As Catholics, we celebrate this mystery every Holy Week and in every Eucharist: the Paschal Mystery. In fact the Lord, in His merciful wisdom, allows us to experience various "deaths" each day that ultimately prepare us for our final death. When we encounter these deaths in others and in ourselves, we are invited to open the doors of our hearts to receive and to give love. Like Christ, in all the stages of our lives and in the lives of those around us, we are called to love till the end.
COLF, (2013). Euthanasia and
Assisted Suicide. http://www.colf.ca/mamboshop/index.php?option=com_remository&Itemid=282&func=fileinfo&id=12