Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What is the Quality of Life? A Euphemism for Euthanasia

In my medical training in the 1980's the term quality of life was often used when a patient's case was discussed and an illness was becoming increasingly difficult to treat or care for. It was assumed that if a patient's quality of life was poor, then the decision to continue pursuing aggressive treatment needed to be re-evaluated. Even as a Christian physician, with no training or teaching in ethics, I adopted this quality of life approach to decide on treatments. It seemed that most of my colleagues based treatment decisions on what quality of life we judged the patient to have given a particular disease or condition. Everyday, nurses and doctors in long term care facilities use "quality of life" arguments to decide why they shouldn't pursue a treatment or remedy in a "difficult case." Quite frankly, it is much easier and cheaper to do nothing for a patient, than to carefully palliate a condition providing adequate pain control and comfort measures without shortening the life of a patient.

Part of our society's acceptance of the "quality of life" paradigm lies in the failure to face or embrace suffering. We are taught to end suffering at all costs and now, in Oregon, that translates into taking the life of a person to "end their suffering." Modern society has no theology to handle suffering and hence suffering is considered the enemy and must be vanquished at all costs. As a practitioner of the healing arts, I am obligated to relieve suffering to the best of my ability but I also acknowledge that all life ultimately involves some degree of suffering. As John Paul 2 reminds us, Jesus not only redeemed us by His suffering but He redeemed suffering itself, so that suffering is not without value if united with Christ's suffering. (Col 1:24)

It was not until my conversion to Catholicism and my exposure to Catholic medical ethics that I started to see the pernicious aspect of this quality of life argument. Catholic theology teaches that Life itself is a good, because God created life. Therefore, it is not up to me to make a judgment of whether the quality of someone's life is "good." During the late 1930's in Europe, handicapped, mentally retarded and ill people were judged to have a poor quality of life and became the target of Nazi Germany's euthanasia program. (along with Jews, Catholic priests, gypsies and homosexuals) The photo above was the graves of victims of euthanasia in Austria during 1941. They were "defective" German citizens or the incurably ill.

Without firm guidelines and teaching in Christian ethics, even well meaning Christian health professionals can be caught up in the quality of life approach to health care. I considered myself a devout Christian physician but had no training in the Christian approach to medical ethics in health care. I am thankful for the wealth of information available to me in the Church and have availed myself of our diocesan ethics specialist at times for consultations. I no longer feel like I am "flying by the seat of my pants" when attempting to navigate complex medical/ethical decisions for the frail elderly population I care for.

"Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing "perversion" of mercy. True "compassion" leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages." - The Gospel of Life, #66 - John Paul II, 1995

Sources of Medical Ethics
Catholic Medical Association
Evangelium Vitae/The Gospel of Life
National Catholic Bioethics Center
Priests For Life

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Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

Many years ago, as a young boy, my (Catholic) church was faced with the tragedy of the Karen Ann Quinlan situation. I was too young then to really understand the issues. A few years ago I began to see clearly articulated the shift of thought in medical ethics to which you refer, a shift which happened long before I ever noticed it. This notion of "quality of life" has to a large degree replaced the Christian idea of "sanctity of life." Admittedly, I accepted without thought this new quality of life paradigm. Still, as a Christian, the idea of "ending someone's suffering" always seemed odd to me. To "end" someone's suffering carries a much different connotation than to "alleviate" someone's suffering. In the secular world there is no thought given to the afterlife, hence, no thought to after-suffering. It cannot occur to the secularist that by ending the suffering of his patient he may be hastening the true suffering of the unbeliever. Thanks for discussing this, TJ.

April 12, 2007 11:13 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

I too remember the Karen Ann Quinlan saga as I lived in the vicinity at the time, but as a young teenager, failed to grasp the import of the situation.
Remind me someday to tell you about the "prophet" who came to our fellowship one night and took some of us up to the nursing home to lay hands on her and heal her. He said God would heal her. Of course they never got past the guards at the nursing home. But I digress,,
Yes the quality of life has replaced sanctity of life and it was a subtle shift that went largely unnoticed.
Your point about the after-life was a good one. Shortening momentary suffering to hasten an eternity of the same. God have mercy on us.

April 13, 2007 8:33 AM  
Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

After I posted, I felt uneasy about my dates and checked things online. You and I were teenagers when this happened in 1975--my memory had me placing it in 1972 or so. As you can imagine, those few years are a little murky for me as our family was going through many changes. At any rate, I'd like to hear your story sometime about going to the nursing home.

April 13, 2007 3:01 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

This is a long and strange story as most of my adventures in life have been. One night at our usual Saturday nite prayer and praise group(which was my church if you will) this stranger and his female "secretary" came into the fellowship group lead by God to give us two words. He claimed to have a prophetic ministry. The first was that God had revealed to him where Jimmy Hoffa's body was buried and secondly, God told him he would raise KAQ from her comatose state if he would lay hands on her. Our pastor at the time (with the Scottish accent) thought this was great and after the meeting arranged to take a group of us up to Morris Nursing Home to pray for KAQ's healing. Thankfully, I was not chosen for this special mission (probably because I was never charismatic enough)
Apparently the team went up there, couldn't get into the home (Duh) and staged a vigil outside the grounds of the nursing home until it was clear that nothing was happening or they were chased off.
She didn't rise from the bed, and the traveling prophet and his "secretary" moved on to the next town never having revealed to us where Jimmy Hoffa's body was buried. (I personally favored the concrete footings of the Meadowlands as his final resting place)
After years and years of this stuff, is it any wonder that my journey has lead me back to the Catholic Church?
I have many other stories, some of which PA was a part of. (like that little fleece before the Lord that resulted in my matriculation into medical school and residency)
Which I am thankful for now (on my days)

April 13, 2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

I enjoy hearing your stories since many of the more ludicrous college ones, for better or worse, somehow involved me! Be that as it may, I have no doubt that God sovereignly led you into medical practice, regardless of whatever silliness may have been involved in the initial decision. Don't think that I've forgotten what a crummy thing it was for me to do to you when MA and I left the band just a few weeks after persuading you to join. That, too, was the result of charismatic nonsense. I don't know if I ever apologised for that, but it has always bothered me, and I ask your belated forgiveness. You also have my permission to use that story without fear of embarrassing me or hurting my feelings!

April 13, 2007 7:39 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

I haven't thought about that band in 20 years but do recall some interesting conversations surrounding it.
I prayed for hours about whether to make the sacrifice of not studying to join the band. Why did u guys quit?
I dont remember.
You don't need to ask for forgiveness!!

April 13, 2007 8:26 PM  
Blogger Pilgrimsarbour said...

Some weeks after you joined, things seemed to be getting worse (from our point of view, and not because of you!) in the areas of the individuals' personal godliness and discipline, practicing, commitment, etc. I was so glad that you joined, but I think we just wanted out and felt that God was "telling us" to go. You know how it was back then; anybody and his dog could get a "word from the Lord." I was selfish and wasn't really thinking about you. So, you mean to tell me that if I hadn't brought it up I could be home free? Man!

April 13, 2007 9:01 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

You are home free my friend!

April 13, 2007 11:41 PM  

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