Euthanasia is very much in the news. Australian apologist JOHN SMITH gives his view on the issue.

John Smith
John Smith

Euthanasia has been a contentious issue in recent years. For me this year began with images of a personal friend whose condition would have wrenched the emotions of all who are humane and compassionate irrespective of ideological position. The death of this dear Scottish saint concluded several years of severe physical and mental deterioration in a nursing home. She was eulogized at her funeral by an extraordinary range of young people, some of whom were almost 70 years her junior. To the last, even in deterioration of her once sharp mind, she spoke faith and determination into the lives of an uncertain generation X.

Dignity and dying naturally or assisted bring for us all both a conflict of ideas and a conflict of emotions. The issue of euthanasia is now at least temporarily at a crisis point with the Australian Senate debate about to commence. In a pluralist fast moving age it is impossible for the issue to be settled irrespective of the decision of parliament. Passionate and inadequately informed debate will continue and sadly political realities will guarantee that even the so-called conscience vote will not necessarily reflect the ultimate beliefs of those who cast it.

Sociology has muddied the waters of moral consideration with its "truth by social surveys" in which sophisticated ideologies know well how to promote pre-determined responses by clever nuance of questioning. Long-term consequences for our worldviews are brushed aside by the urgency of compassionate responses for a public whose information is often based on the fleeting images of high emotional impact news releases. Many serious questions are ignored. What is the ultimate basis for human dignity? Is the secular view of life able to provide a holism in which issues like euthanasia and abortion may be contextualised? Does our reason for living inform our manner of dying? Is the morality of Peter Singer with its basis of pain and pleasure grand enough to provide a foundation for meaning and moral choice?

I do know this: pain is seen in significantly different terms by those who believe in a greater life beyond the grave. I've been to many funerals as the pastoral catalyst in the time of loss and grief; a cot death in the family of a dysfunctional street kid, a suicide of a radical nihilist skinhead philosopher-activist, a young victim of a drunken pre-Christmas party boy driving consequently on the wrong side of the road, the inexplicable suicide of a youth of an apparently happy middle class family and the somewhat triumphant departure of a saintly old lady whose life was lived for others and for her profound beliefs in God and human dignity. These and many others have sourced for me an almost constant reflection on death and dying.

One thing has been powerfully impressed upon me. What you believe about time and eternity, God and moral foundations is as important in death as it is in life. How you live in life is deeply rooted in how you will face the final call if we have no ultimate meaning, the debates concerning death, dying, abortion and euthanasia are seen in a different light. The encyclicals of Popes and religious organisations may often sound strident, inappropriate and even insensitive and cruel in the face of such sad stories as surfaced during the recent Darwin euthanasia debate. Pain, if there is no purpose for the life beyond, always must seem senseless. But before rushing to the ballot box of political opinion, we may do well to ponder the words of St Paul: "We want you to know the truth about those who have dies, so that you will not be sad, as are those who have no hope." (1 Thess 4:13, Good News)

Both the secularist and the conservative believer need to understand that the issue is not simply which side is the more compassionate. It must be that our ultimate reasons for living inform the political decisions we make about dying.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.