The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embraced a philosophy that perfectly captures the official Catholic position on human value: the “consistent ethic of life,” more commonly known as the “seamless garment.”
Bernardin's philosophy came to mind this past week, after six Pennsylvania representatives proposed a bill that would allow the terminally ill to “choose” what they term “death with dignity.”
The legislators – all Democrats but one – noted that advancements in modern medicine have been able to "extend the lives of our loved ones by leaps and bounds," but that many people with terminal illnesses feel it prolongs "unnecessary suffering when pain management becomes impossible.”
While the legislators promise that it will be limited in scope and application, and that there will be safeguards against encouraging emotionally vulnerable people to prematurely end their lives, it will be extremely difficult to monitor just where that line is drawn.
Beyond that, though, my opposition is personal.
My own father spent a year from his diagnosis with terminal esophageal cancer until his death at the age of 43.
From May to the following May, Ted Flowers fought the hardest battle of a life filled with skirmishes.
I know that some people don’t like the term “fight” used in connection with the terminally ill, but at least in my father’s case, it fits.
He did not want to die, and he tried every modality, possible cure, hopeful — and hopeless — suggestion tendered to him like a rope to a drowning man.
And as his body became increasingly weak, whittled to an unrecognizable husk that barely hinted at the healthy ruddy Irishman I loved, his mind remained sharp.
He wanted to hold on — even through that pain, a pain I cannot imagine — because life was still a precious thing.
I understand that I cannot judge others and their final wishes.
Some people have much lower thresholds for pain than my father, and some simply want to rush into the arms of whatever eternity they imagine, divine or simply oblivion.
That is their right, and I would never tell another being to live their life according to any moral standards they reject.
This is not about religion, even though my own beliefs about the sanctity of life in its alpha and omega stages derive from Catholicism.
But I am afraid that if this bill becomes law, it could dissuade people who might otherwise fight to survive for families and for themselves, to give up.
This, to me, is not a bill that speaks to our compassionate natures. It is something darker, that has its roots in nihilism that says “suffering is bad, life is a proprietary thing that we can dispose of as we wish, and when it no longer serves us or the greater community, it can be extinguished.”
We have already sunk into the most depraved depths in our acceptance of abortion.
To me, what is the most elemental brutality and barbarity is now considered a sacred right, and when that “right” was limited by its de-federalization by the Dobbs decision, there was panic, hysteria, anger, bitterness and vengeful attacks.
The reaction of the women and men who support abortion to the overturning of Roe scared me and shocked me more than I thought I could be shocked.
There was a wild, almost feral aspect to it. That is where we are.
This bill that somehow defines euthanasia as a compassionate thing, and the premature drawing of the curtains as a virtue, strikes me as something akin to the idea that abortion is health care.
Life is a seamless garment, and even those who find themselves at the edges of it, either through illness or age, are still valuable creatures.
St. John Paul II showed us that when he allowed us to watch him die with a dignity those six Pennsylvania legislators could not begin to comprehend.
We can fool ourselves into thinking that giving people a choice to kill themselves, is a kindness.
Many of those reading these lines will be angry that I would even suggest the opposite.
But there is nothing kind in helping to end a life before its natural term.
If this bill becomes law, and there is a strong chance that it will pass, we can at least be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that yet another gash in that seamless garment has been made, and the rest is already in tatters.
Copyright 2023 Christine Flowers, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected]