It should be noted to our readers that the subject of mercy killing was the instigation of the “Mercy and Killing” symposium here at IGNITUM TODAY. Given the rise of murder in the name of mercy in Western Civilization, through acts such as abortion and euthanasia, it is imperative that we as Catholics who hold all human life as sacred to draw the line in the sand and to point it out, loudly and as often as necessary.
Having said that we must be clear though what drives this move toward murder in the name of mercy. What is it that drives our sick culture further into madness disguised as compassion? My thoughts on the matter (as well as excellent commentary from others) lead me to conclude that the motivation is not a new one, but a very old one.
Why is there suffering in the world?
It is a very old question. I was taught at one point that this question forms the foundation of Buddhism. In any event the question of why do we suffer is at the forefront of all literature. In a certain sense, religion is man’s attempt to answer this question.
“Why is there evil in the world” is a basic question as well, but it is abstract. Suffering however is a very concrete concept. We experience it everyday, in a variety of ways. Sickness, aches and pains, even stress and anxiety, are all forms of this all too human condition. It pervades everyday life, and its ultimate origins are beyond human understanding.
Buddhism and our modern paganism have one thing in common, in that at the heart of the views of suffering is that it is a thing to be avoided. Buddhism does this by attempting to detach oneself from the world, which is identified as the cause of suffering. Modern paganism attempts to avoid suffering by doing the opposite, by accumulating wealth and seeking pleasure in unbounded quantities. Though radically different in approach and diagnosis of cause, avoidance of suffering is the paramount tenet of these systems of thought.
At the other end of this spectrum is the Catholic Faith. Here suffering is not a thing to be avoided as such. It is true that we do our best to help alleviate the suffering of others. But the doctrine that makes the Faith unique is that suffering is redemptive. For the Catholic suffering is a means of sanctification. A way to get closer to God and share in the sufferings of the One who died for all mankind.
Stop and think about how earth shattering that is for a moment. Suffering, the one thing that all people have attempted to avoid, reduce or escape, is actually the key to one’s salvation. The call to take up ones’ cross is a call that runs contrary to every instinct that we have. Unless one is a masochist, this would be the only reason why someone would not run for the hills when it comes to suffering. What a lightning bolt that must have been to the Apostles.
Catholics, because of this insight, at times miss that those who do not believe are lacking this distinct view on suffering. This can cause a blind spot when talking about things like mercy killing. This is all the more important when considering that without this view on suffering, mercy killing makes a lot more sense.
Terminal diseases and genetic disorders are often the justifications cited for euthanasia and abortion respectively. The suffering that these evils cause is immense. And without the comfort and purpose of the Divine, suffering becomes pointless, hellish, and without any true end. Against such a bleak backdrop, killing does indeed seem a mercy.
The question of suffering cannot be answered by human reason alone. It requires the light of Divine Wisdom. The Gospel truly is Good News. That the suffering that we experience, even though it is evil, can bring us to our salvation.
There is a line of thought among Catholic Apologetics that in order to reach others we must approach them from arguments that do not draw on the Scriptures or Faith in and of itself. There is some merit to this strategy. But to me, for this issue, to avoid talking about our Faith is to deprive the person we are speaking to of the truth. We do them no favors. And I do not see how the question of suffering can be answered apart from the One who turned the Cross into the Key to salvation.
Ours is a message of hope. We would do well to bring all the guns to bear on this topic. The cost is too high to do anything less.