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Legatus Magazine

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Dr. William E. May | author
Oct 03, 2017
Filed under Apologetics

When life is regarded as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ hotel

The basic argument for voluntary euthanasia is this: the person to be killed mercifully gives free and informed consent to be killed in this way. He or she chooses death, regarding it as a benefit. In doing so, the person is simply exercising his or her autonomy. Respect for this autonomy should therefore lead others, including doctors, to confer the benefit of a merciful death on the person.

Dr. William E. May

But a doctor, even one not opposed in principle to euthanasia, would refuse to kill a patient, even if the patient begged to be killed, if he thought that the patient still had a worthwhile life to live. Thus, as the authors of a superb study prepared by a group of British Catholics rightly point out, “it is precisely the judgement that a patient no longer has a worthwhile life which will seem to justify euthanasia,” and, continuing, they affirm: “But precisely that contention is inconsistent with recognizing the continuing worth and dignity of a patient’s life.”

… We have [also] seen two principled arguments advanced to justify non-voluntary euthanasia. One claims that the individual to be killed mercifully… are no longer to be regarded as persons because they lack presently exercisable cognitive faculties, etc.

The second asserts that even if we grant that the individuals are indeed persons, their “quality of life” is so poor that life is no longer of any benefit to them and that death can be regarded as a kindly release from a burdensome and/or useless existence demeaning to human persons.

Advocates of euthanasia are in essence dualists. They regard human persons as consciously experiencing subjects, free to do as they choose, whose bodily life is merely an instrumental good, a good for persons [who are consciously experiencing subjects]. When this life becomes burdensome, it is for them no longer of value; it is rather a burden that the experiencing subject is free to set aside.

… Life is regarded as a good or bad hotel, which must not be too bad to be worth staying in.

… Dr. Leo Alexander, who took part in the Nuremberg trials after World War II, said, “… Whatever proportions these [culture-of-death war] crimes [of the Nazis] finally assumed, it became evident that they … started from small beginnings… It started with the acceptance that… there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.”

Except from Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life, Third Edition, by William E. May. Published by Our Sunday Visitor (2013), Used by permission.

The late DR. WILLIAM E. MAY (d. 2014) was an internationally known theologian and winner of the Paul Ramsey award for outstanding contributions to bioethics from the Center for Bioethics and Culture. He served as professor of moral theology at John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America.

Catechism 101

Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded. Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2277


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