Many people received their first glimpse of the insidious nature of euthanasia during the extensive media coverage of the Terri Schiavo tragedy.
John Paul II’s death, coming on the heels of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, stands as a tribute to the truth of Catholic teachings in matters of life and death.
The feelings of revulsion, disbelief and dismay felt by many after Terri’s death prompted a litany of questions and doubts. What does it say about our society that an innocent and helpless woman could be put to death so publicly and cruelly? How did our culture get to the point where an abomination like euthanasia is acceptable and commonplace?
It was providence, not mere coincidence, that the Holy Father passed away when the world was still recovering from the shocking death of Terri Schiavo. It was as if God realized that man, once again, needed a lesson on who is rightfully in charge of life and death.
With Terri Schiavo, we saw the tragic outcome of man’s efforts to control matters of life and death, rather than leaving these up to our Creator. In stark contrast, we have the faithful example of John Paul II. In his final years, he bore his physical infirmities with dignity and grace. He showed the world that all human life has value and that there is a positive, redemptive meaning in personal suffering.
During the final hours of his life, he waited faithfully for the Lord to end his journey here on earth. When he passed away, the world grieved the death of a great man, while rejoicing in a life faithfully lived and a death gracefully experienced.
The Pope’s death left a lasting impression upon untold millions.
For us who were recovering from the Schiavo tragedy, John Paul’s passing was a door opening to the beauty and splendor of life and death as well as the truth of Catholic teachings in these areas. What may prove to be among John Paul II’s most enduring legacies is his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). The insights contained in this important writing reveal truths that a secular world desperately needs in order to extricate itself from the moral collapse it has brought upon itself.
In Evangelium Vitae, the Holy Father defined euthanasia as “any action or omission that of itself and by intention causes death with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.” Further, he eliminated any doubt about whether euthanasia is a permissible choice for Catholics by stating in Evangelium Vitae that “Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is a deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.” As for the misguided notion that euthanasia is a personal right, the Catechism helpfully points out that “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (No. 2280). As such, euthanasia strikes at the very heart of the master-servant relationship between God and man, as it seeks to wrest from the Creator his inalienable province over death.
When society attempts to deal with moral dilemmas without the guiding light of such Catholic teachings, deception and tragedy often result, as we saw play out in the Schiavo case. The secular media and its cabal of pro-euthanasia agitators urged us to embrace euthanasia as another new personal choice.
We were told that Terri Schiavo had no quality of life and the compassionate thing to do would be to euthanize her and put her out of her suffering. The euthanasia advocates opined that her life as an incapacitated person had no value, there was no chance of recovery and bringing about her death through denial of food and water was the only humane choice.
When Terri Schiavo was euthanized, the world got a firsthand glimpse of the bitter fruits of this misguided ideology. The life of a helpless, innocent woman was cruelly and inhumanely terminated. The consequences of her killing wreaked havoc on her family, leaving deep family divisions that are not likely to ever be healed. After all was said and done, many people were appalled or at least felt profoundly uneasy with the man-induced nature of Terri Schiavo’s death.
On the other hand, John Paul II’s death bore great fruit and, indeed, left us a great legacy. The Vicar of Christ died in a way that brought glory to the Master. He showed us that all life has value, there is meaning in suffering and our lives are better for this sacrifice.
John Paul’s grace-filled death brought truth and light to a post-Schiavo traumatized world that was developing second thoughts about this new choice on the block, euthanasia. In this way, the Holy Father helped stop the momentum of the pro-euthanasia juggernaught. His dignified passing emphatically showed the world that all life has value and exemplified why the weak, handicapped and elderly should be allowed to live. Like Jesus Christ his Master and Savior, John Paul died so that others could live.
Catholics would do well to learn from the deaths of Pope John Paul and Terri Schiavo and apply these life-and-death lessons to their own lives. We are called to embrace and take ownership of Catholic teachings that enable us to confront euthanasia equipped with truth and understanding of the dignity of all human life. In this way, Catholics can ensure that euthanasia ultimately takes its rightful place among history’s junkyard of failed ideologies. Until that day, however, euthanasia will be an evil that Catholics need to protect themselves and their families from. Protecting yourself from euthanasia requires that you recognize the evil nature of euthanasia and learn how this threat can be avoided.
Mark Henry, author of Finish Faithful,
is a Catholic attorney and CPA
whose national practice serves
Christians with faith-based planning services.