Essay, Research Paper: End Of Life And Christian Love


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Discussion of end of life issues can be quite complex. Arguments on both sides
of the issue can be extremely passionate due to the presence of deeply held
emotional beliefs among opponents. This characteristic of the debate is fully
inescapable in instances such as these. Despite the natural difficulty in
forming arguments supporting a position on an end of life issue, I believe that
there are some general principles which allow for the formation of a successful
foundation. In taking a stance on heated issues , it is important to build an
argument around fundamental concepts. By following this basic pattern, I find it
possible to construct an argument against euthanasia and physician-assisted
suicide on the basis of the idea of Christian Love. The word love holds many
different meanings for many different people. The concept of Christian love is
similar in that it also includes a multitude of facets. However, the Catechism
of the Catholic Church does appear to outline the basic premise of love. Love is
“the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created
in the image and likeness of God who is himself love” (1604). The definition
found in the Catechism establishes that it is the calling of every person to
love. This is the essential fundamental from which all of humanity is meant to
proceed. Difficulties arise in attempting to answer this innate call.
Individuals may have different views on what exactly it means to answer the call
to love. We will first ponder this in light of the circumstances of the end of
life situation. In any position on end of life situations, two scenarios may be
present. Either acting to preserve life will outweigh the relief of suffering or
relieving suffering will outweigh the preservation of life. Examples are present
within Christian teaching which are fully applicable to the question of
preservation of life at all costs. An excellent example can be found in the
incarnate nature of Jesus Christ. “Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the
form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather,
he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and
found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even
death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In this example of Christ’s love, lessons
abound. Love cannot always seek to possess. Love cannot be used to justify the
decision to preserve life at all costs and for as long as possible. Part of true
love is letting go. In the incarnation of the Word, Jesus did not cling to
equality with God at all costs. True love of humanity allowed Christ to let go
of pure divinity, just as true love sometimes calls for a person to let go of
life. Actions that attempt to preserve life unconditionally, then, fail to
adhere to an important facet comprising Christian love. True love sometimes must
learn to let go. Therefore, assertions supporting the preservation of life at
all costs are invalid. The situation involving the elimination of suffering at
all costs cannot be dealt with quite as easily as the unconditional preservation
of life. We first must discuss the situation of allowing someone to die. In this
passive action, nature simply is running its course. In allowing a person to die
there is an acceptance of God’s natural order which mimics Christ’s own
becoming obedient unto death, including the suffering of death on the cross.
Based on this example, it appears that the possibility of letting die can be
established as a highly permissible act, an act fully in conjunction with the
principles of Christian love. Take for instance a terminal patient living out
his or her final days. If at some point the patient stopped breathing, according
to the principles of love, it would be permissible to withhold procedures of
resuscitation and allow the patient to die. It would be morally wrong, however,
to give the patient an injection to end suffering quickly and painlessly.
Initially, this may potentially be highly contradictory. The end of each act is
the same. Death results, and in either instance, death has been imminent for
some time. The only difference between the two possibilities is that in the
latter, the period of suffering is shortened. This would appear to be the noble
action. However, while on the surface this is so, a deeper investigation must
occur to uncover the moral wrong. To grasp the central issue, “we must
distinguish what we aim in our action from the result of the action” (Meilaender
82). In the instance of letting die, we aim to relieve the suffering of the
patient by letting go under the auspices of Christian love. Based on this aim,
the resulting death is justified. In the reverse, however, the aim of the
injection is to bring about the death of the patient. The result of the action
is the relief of suffering. It would be foolish to argue that the resultant
relief of suffering is a negative situation. Clearly, viewed independently, the
resulting relief is a fully positive occurrence. However, the aim of purposely
causing death is wholly negative and impermissible. Because the aim is not
morally acceptable, the result of this aim, however positive or beneficial, is
invalid as a source of justification. Based on this aim vs. result criteria, it
is not possible to justify a relief-of-suffering-at-all-costs claim.
Unconditional relief of suffering will involve a process in which the aim of the
action is morally wrong. Although the result appears positive, this approach to
end of life situations is flawed because its aims are morally impermissible.
Refuting the arguments that seek to relieve suffering may seem to be rather
callous. “It ought to be the case that dying people not suffer terribly. But,
at least for the Christian, it does not follow from that ‘ought to be’ that
we ‘ought to do’ whatever is necessary- even euthanasia- to relieve them of
that suffering” (Meilaender 84). In these cases, then, the only morally
permissible action is that with an allowable aim. On the basis of this aim vs.
result framework, questions concerning the withdrawal of food and drink are also
easily addressed. Problems arise in some of the justification used for
performing this action. It is not possible to, when withdrawing food from the
permanently unconscious person, properly claim that our intention is to cease
useless treatment for a dying patient. These patients are not dying, and we
cease no treatment for a dying patient. These patients are not dying, and we
cease no treatment aimed at disease; rather, we withdraw the nourishment that
sustains all human beings whether healthy or ill, and we do so when the only
result of our action can be death. At what, other than that death, could we be
aiming? (Meilaender 105) The result of this action may be viewed as beneficial
by others. It is conceivable that supporters might make the claim that ending
the life of a person in this situation is another example of alleviating
prolonged suffering. However, once again, a beneficial result must not be viewed
in a type of consequentialist interpretation. Again, the aim of the action is to
bring about death. We have previously established that it is the aim of an
action which provides morality to it. Therefore, in these situations, aim
supercedes the result. When pondering the aim of an action, the inclination may
arise to include the motive of the action. Initially, this may seem beneficial,
but the inclusion of motive brings the potential for subsequent clouding of the
issue. “One might think that Christian emphasis on the overriding importance
of love as a motive would suggest that whatever was done out of love was
right” (Meilaender 86). However, this clearly cannot be the case. A motive of
love might drive someone to act to relieve the suffering of another. In this
instance, the result of the action, relief of suffering is good. Furthermore,
the motive of love is also positive. Still, though, if this result, even while
intended positively, is achieved through a negative aim, all positives are
overridden. As has been stated before, no negative aim can possibly be made
morally permissible simply on the basis of positive results. To this we shall
now add, no negative aim can possibly become morally allowable because of
positive motive. By eliminating from consideration this condition of motive, we
have affirmed the notion that the morality of an action is determined by its
aim. We shall move now to another important aspect of Christian love. “Barth
writes that human life ‘must always be regarded as a divine act of trust’”
(Meilaender 86). If this is taken to be true, human life is a gift. Because of
this status as a gift, a degree of respect should be invoked. But, this gift of
life is not greater than all else. Limits are present. It is the responsibility
of humanity to live within these limits. This, then, presents a framework for
the obedience of humanity to God. Because of the respect for this gift of life,
humanity must respect and obey the limits of this gift set forth by God.
Examples of Christ’s own obedience abound. Philippians 2 mentions the
obedience of Christ to the will of the father. This is an important model for
the whole of humanity. “Jesus goes to the cross in the name of obedience and
his Father. We need not glorify or seek suffering, but we must be struck by the
fact that a human being who is a willing sufferer stands squarely in the center
of Christian piety” (Meilaender 88). This is an important consideration to be
made. Suffering is a part of the human condition, and, as such, should not be
viewed as entirely negative. This quality of suffering is vividly outlined in
“Euthanasia,” a Declaration of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, written by Pope John Paul II on May 5, 1980. Just as life is a true
gift from God, it can also be declared that death is a true gift from God. While
death, or any suffering associated with it, is undesirable to the human mind, it
is a strong opportunity to grow closer to Christ. “As St. Paul says, ‘while
we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die we die as His servants.
Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s’” (John Paul II 651).
Suffering is a cross for humanity to bear, with rewards to follow after this
life. “Suffering, especially in the final moments of life, has a special place
in God’s plan of salvation. It is sharing in the passion of Christ and unites
the person with the redemptive sacrifice which Christ offered in obedience to
the Father’s will” (John Paul II 652-653). Humans must live their lives
according to God’s plan. Any action taken against the gift of life must be
seen as a complete rejection of God’s supremacy and vision. If this occurs,
there has been a great failure to follow Christ’s example of Obedience to the
will of God. The desire to avoid suffering is common among all people. Fear of
pain and suffering is natural. Christianity is not attempting to claim that we
should have no fear of pain and suffering, or that we should seek it out. “The
Christian mind has certainly not recommended that we seek suffering or call it
an unqualified good, but it is an evil that, when endured faithfully, can be
redemptive” (Meilaender 90). Once we have accepted the potential for
redemptive value in suffering, our approach to dealing with it is altered.
Realizing that suffering is important, the goal of love shifts from attempting
to alleviate suffering. There should be a movement from minimizing suffering to
maximizing love and care (Meilaender 90). In situations such as these, sometimes
there is nothing more that can be done than to try to empathize with the
patient, to suffer along with the sufferer. What exactly do we find ourselves
left with? We have now achieved an understanding that issues at the end of life
cannot be fully understood without the concept of Christian love. It is possible
for us to declare, as Meilaender does, that “love could never euthanatize”
(92). Some might argue that this point is inherently flawed.
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