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Euthanasia and the Betrayal of Covenant

February 5, AD2017

Thomas Hobbes described the state of nature as a war of all against all, in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  In nature no one is exempt from the threat of death, even the strongest needs to sleep and so at some time is vulnerable. Therefore each and every one of us benefits from a social contract in which each agrees not to kill the other.

The Right to Kill Ourselves

Notwithstanding the murder rate in Chicago, the social contract of Hobbesian liberalism has worked remarkably well.  From it has risen a superstructure of interdependent rights which has so thoroughly informed the modern worldview, that ironically, people now reference “rights” in arguing against that first right, the right to life, upon which rights were initially based.  Whereas rights used to supplement the basic right to life, we now have a right to our own destruction.  We now have the right to kill ourselves or have someone do it for us.

But at a deeper level, it is not so ironic that our over-dependence on rights has led to suicide and murder.  The logic of rights proceeds from a false understanding of the person.  Hobbes’ state of nature was a nightmare which never actually existed.  We did not begin as vicious animals thrown into a cage together.  Each of us grew in our mothers’ womb and nursed at our mothers’ breast and slowly grew under the watchful protection of our fathers.  Undeniably, rights and the self-interested autonomous self upon which rights are based are a useful functional construct, but when over-extended, they lead to a sad and tragic misunderstanding of human nature.  The truth about what it is to be human is much more hopeful.

Humans are Created For Love

The first words spoken of us in Genesis Chapter 1 are:  “Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  

God’s surprising plural self-reference – “our image” – is the first intimation of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is amazing that the triune nature of God is revealed here, in the context of the description of the creation of man.  We are made in the image of God, who is Himself relationship, who is, Himself, love.  The implication is obvious.  The principal way in which we are made in the image and likeness of God is our inter-personal nature.  We are meant for the company of each other.  We are meant for covenant.

This is the fundamental premise of the intimate new documentary The Euthanasia Deception.  Canadian filmmaker Kevin Dunn does not talk about Hobbes or liberalism or rights or the social contract but instead reveals the broken covenant which is at the heart of euthanasia and assisted suicide.  Interviewing the betrayed and bewildered family members of people killed by euthanasia and assisted suicide, Dunn reveals lovers betrayed, and more profoundly, spiritual amputees.  As the family members of the euthanized speak, we are confronted with the unmistakable existential crisis of those whose earthly covenant of love was betrayed, thereby damaging their apprehension of the heavenly covenant.

Most of the interviews are shot in Belgium, where euthanasia was legalized in 2002.  Among the most poignant is the interview with Tom Mortier, a university professor, an intellectual, a man of abstraction, raised in a culture of scandinavian understatement and reserve, all of which makes his anguish strikingly more desolate.  He speaks with clipped precision.  He describes how the hospital left a phone message with his wife that his mother was dead.  Just days earlier she had been admitted to hospital for depression.  The doctors offered euthanasia.  She was put to death.  Only afterward was Tom informed. There is anguish but there are also intense flashes of anger at the doctors who killed his mother.  But there is also anger and dismay at his mother, who betrayed Tom and his wife and their children.

The film treads lightly on this ground, but the feeling is unmistakable and the message is vitally important for the elderly, the handicapped, the sick, and the depressed.  Tom’s mother had no right to kill herself.  She was not her own.  She lived in covenant and her decision to kill herself was a terrible betrayal of that covenant.  And just as it was for Tom’s mother, so it is for every person made in the image and likeness of God.  From the beginning, God reveals himself as a communion of love, and it is of this that we are an image.

Chronic illness is often difficult and painful and the thought of soldiering on without the prospect of physical recovery can be overwhelming. Perhaps more frightening is looking out at a darkening horizon, knowing that awareness and coherence are slipping away.  None of us wants to become a burden to society and especially to those we love.  And so the grinding logic of fear and despair leads us to the most unnatural thing; the death wish.

Mark Pickup is a powerful, impressive man, who for half his life has been confined to a wheelchair.  He speaks candidly about the dark depression he suffered, a depression so dark, that had euthanasia been legal in Canada 30 years ago, he would have had himself killed.  But now Mark speaks from the mountain on the far side of the valley.  He says the dignity of persons is far greater than the instrumentalist view of persons found in the architecture of rights.  He says he has stopped judging people, including himself, based on what they can “do” and now views persons in terms of love.

There are two versions of The Euthanasia Deception, a secular version designed for politicians and doctors and a religious version.  In the religious version, Carinal Collins talks about the example of St. John Paul II, the athlete, the actor, the brilliant theologian and fearless leader of The Church.  “And at the end of his life, when he couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do any of that, he had no less dignity because his dignity comes from within and not from his ability to do things.”

Mark Pickup also found meaning and hope in the witness of St. John Paul II.  “He revealed the Savifici Doloris, the gospel of suffering.”  Pope John Paul II spoke of how Christ invites us into his redemptive suffering.  Every one of us.  In fact, the uniting of our suffering to Christ’s redemptive suffering is vitally necessary and may be the most important thing we ever do.  In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul writes:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”  (Col. 1:24).

Physical and psychological suffering are spiritual battlefields in which either love or despair prevail.  It is in every sense, the domain of angels and demons, and on the side of the angels is Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

When my daughter was near death in the cancer ward at Sick Children’s Hospital I bumped into Alex by chance, because that’s the sort of place he spends his days.  At the time he was appearing before the hospital ethics board on behalf of the parents of a child the hospital was planning to take off of life support.  Alex talks about how the hard cases, initially used to justify euthanasia, have opened the door to any and every justification.  “euthanasia applies more and more to people who are in a state of depression…recently we had the case of a person in a reactive depression, she suffered the loss of her daughter, and a couple of months later she requested euthanasia, and she was granted it.  This is a person who did not have a physical sickness.” But it does not end there.  Schandenberg points out that in the Flanders region of Belgium, in 2013, there were more than 1,000 deaths which were “hastened without request”.  This is the sort of icy euphemism employed by a bureaucracy committed to murder.  Alex emphasizes that this number was “released in a government commission document.  They are not ashamed of this, rather they feel it is the compassionate response.”  

The Euthanasia Deception is an important film for everybody, especially when darkness descends and we walk through the valley.  We are meant for communion.  We are meant for covenant.  And if our suffering is united to the sufferings of Christ, nothing is wasted, in fact, it may be the most important thing we ever do.  We must not give up.  

Both the secular and religious versions of the film can be downloaded or purchased as a DVD from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, www.epcc.ca .  This may be a very important gift for someone you love.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Joe Bissonnette teaches Religion and Philosophy at Assumption College School in Brantford Ontario. Joe and France have 7 children.

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  • Marc James

    This is a timely and important issue for all of us. Our opportunities for evangelization are increasingly in the realm of countering generally accepted “truths” about rights. We are called to defend life especially in its most vulnerable stages and to stand against the use of individual rights to separate us from our natural and supernatural duties to one another.

    • Marc James

      The last line should read…”separate us from our natural and supernatural duties to ourselves and one another.”