The Roman Catholic Church teaches that life Human is sacred
When a new-born child is brought into the Roman Catholic Church at baptism, it is celebrated by the whole community. This is the first part of the Church’s teachings that life is sacred and so new life should be celebrated as it is a gift from God to the world.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the word “sacred” means something given from God and all things that are considered sacred should be celebrated and treasured. This thing or person has been set aside by God to do His bidding or be part of His worship.
The first mention that life is sacred from the Bible comes as part of the Ten Commandments “Thou shalt not kill”. This is the first indication that the Church feels that all life is sacred. Jesus shortened the Ten Commandments into just two main ones “Love thy Neighbour” and “Love thy God”. Both of these are an integral part of the Church’s teachings that life is sacred. “Love thy Neighbour” means that we should respect all human life.
The Catholic Church also teaches “All humans are made in the image of God”. If we have no respect for other human life then how can we have respect for God? If we are modelled on the same image as Him, then every time we don’t show the proper respect for our fellow humans then we are not showing the proper respect for God or His work. This shows that all humans are responsible for the lives of everybody else around us. The Catholic Church’s teachings are also based on the idea that no man is ever entirely by himself as he has always got the love and respect of at least one human and God.
When the Pope was shot at in the early 1990’s, there were calls for this man to be punished by the death penalty. The Pope ‘turned the other cheek’ and forgave the man, saving him from the death penalty. This could be seen as the Pope believing that no crime is so bad that it takes away a man’s life. This would be a contradiction of the Church’s teachings that life is sacred and so the Church has to take the view that the death penalty is wrong.
The Catholic Church’s views on the sanctity of life affect its views on abortion and in many different ways. As a rule, it believes that abortion is wrong and many of the leaders and prominent members of the Catholic Church have spoken out against it. “God has created us to live and to be loved, in his own image, as evidence of this love. For this reason, I say that the abortion is the greatest evil” (Mother Teresa).
There are many sections of writings that endorse the view that life is sacred. The Bible says that man was created in the likeness and image of God. Therefore, if we destroy human life, we are destroying part of God. Many of the documents exist which support this view.
“Human life is sacred – all men must recognise that” (The Regulation of Births – Pope Paul VI) is an example of the Catholic Church’s view. These ideas have many implications. One is that if all life is sacred then all life is equal. There should be no prejudice against the other human races. This idea highly influences the Church’s view on other subjects, like racism and discrimination.
It also highly influences the Church’s view on abortion. Abortion is where a pregnancy is ended before the foetus can survive. It is only an abortion if the foetus is destroyed artificially and not through a miscarriage.
The Church as a whole believes that abortion is murder and points out that the foetus is human and has the same rights as everybody else. The Church believes that if a couple do not want a child they should find some form of contraception as opposed to abortion. The Church believes that a child comes into being at the point of conception and therefore it cannot be killed.
Other churches have different views on abortion. The Church of England believes that abortion is acceptable under certain circumstances e.g. if the child is a product of rape or incest or if the child is severely disables.
The Roman Catholic Church says that if an unwanted pregnancy occurs, then the mother should carry the child until birth and then put it up for adoption within the community. The Church also believes that most forms of contraception prohibit the chance that life can be created and so they are against that as well.
There are exceptions to this rule. If the mother is likely to be in danger due to a pregnancy then the Church may accept abortion as a secondary effect. Also, if the foetus is endangering the mother’s life, the uterus or fallopian tube may have to be removed to save her life. The foetus will almost certainly have to be removed. This is not considered to be an abortion by the Catholic Church as the foetus’ death was only a by-product of the operation. This is known as the Law of Double Effect by which a Christian is responsible for any initial action but not for any secondary result of that action.
The Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life also affect its attitude towards Euthanasia.
Euthanasia is sometimes called a mercy killing as it is used to describe the process of using death to relieve a person of suffering. Euthanasia is usually considered to be the killing of a person, usually elderly, to relieve suffering. It comes from the Greek words ‘Eu’ and ‘Thanos’ meaning ‘good death’. It is sometimes called mercy killing, as the patient usually believes that death is better than his/her quality of life. There are many forms of Euthanasia including Active, Voluntary and Passive Euthanasia.
It is illegal in almost all European Countries and even where legal in Holland, it is only done under the strictest of rules and conditions.
The Catholic Church is fully opposed to active Euthanasia, as like abortion, it is a contradiction to its own teachings. They believe that it should be God who decides the moment of death and not us, as we do not have the right to decide whether a person lives or dies.
Many older people want to have the option of Euthanasia so that they can prepare and die with all their dignity intact. They may also want to make sure that the family does not have to have to continue supporting them with healthcare.
The Church believes that life is a gift from God and should be allowed to flourish. It considers Euthanasia to be a form of murder and suicide and is totally opposed to it. “Life is a trust given to a person, a talent meant to increase”.
The Law of Double Effect also affects the Church’s attitude to Euthanasia. If a person dies due to the pain relieving drugs that he/she was on, then it is not Euthanasia as the death was not intentioned. “It is not right to deprive a dying person of consciousness without a serious reason” (Pope Pius XII).
The Catholic Church is fully opposed to any kind of Active Euthanasia. ‘An action or omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated’ (Declaration on Euthanasia)
Passive Euthanasia is where a person dies as a secondary effect of some other form of treatment, usually a pain reliever like morphine. This is part of the Law of Double Effect as death is a result of a secondary effect. Where a doctor withholds a drug which is only life prolonging, extraordinary treatment, this is also considered to be Passive Euthanasia.
“A doctor gives drugs to a patient with the main purpose of relieving pain, but as a side-effect the patient has an earlier death. This is not Euthanasia as the intention was to relieve pain” (The Church’s position on Euthanasia)
The Church is not opposed in any way to passive Euthanasia and neither is any other Church. This is mainly due to the Law of Double Effect and not considered to be murder.
Why is the Catholic Church opposed to Active Euthanasia?
The Church believes that any kind of Active Euthanasia is murder and therefore wrong. It says that murder is contrary to the Ten Commandments “You shall not kill” and it is our duty to assist other life, not to kill it. It also says that if Euthanasia were to be allowed, it would have huge consequences on our community. It could put pressure on the elderly to accept Euthanasia to take the burden off their families. It could also mean that doctors might take the same view so that the NHS does not have to continue paying for treatment for the elderly and disabled. This would mean that a price would be put on each member of the community, and this is wrong.
The Church also argues that life is sacred, as given by God and only God can take it away.
Doctors, when they start their careers, take the Hippocratic Oath in which they promise to do no harm and only to help people “Do not harm” “Do not administer any deadly poisons – with the intention of killing them”. If a doctor was to commit Euthanasia they would be violating this and therefore everything else they have done.
The Church now believes that elderly people can go to a hospice where they can die with dignity, free from all pain. The Church says that this is much more acceptable than committing active Euthanasia. The hospice movement has helped many people to die. The Church is opposed to all kinds of Euthanasia apart from passive Euthanasia.
Evaluation – God Gives Life, only God can take it away.
Some Christians agree with this statement, fully believing that all life is a gift from God. They say that as life is a gift we should cherish it and not abuse it. To abuse life is the same as abusing God as it is His gift to us.
They back this up from the teachings of St Paul “The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit”. This means that any destruction of life and of the body is a destruction of the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. It is also a destruction of God and a denial of our responsibility to aid life. Doctors take a Hippocratic oath in which they promise not to harm people.
They back up their argument that God gives life with the story of Genesis in the Bible. In this, God created Man “in His own image and likeness”. Of we then destroy life we are also denying our responsibility as Christians to help people in need, the sick and vulnerable. This means that any destruction of life is contrary to God’s will and natural law. This includes abortion, euthanasia, war and the death penalty.
These Christians may also argue that if we allow any one of these things, like euthanasia, to become legal, then it will not be long before we can get rid of almost anybody if they are disabled in some way. They argue that this would put a price on human life and this is not right – the thin wedge of the slippery slope.
On the other hand, some people would argue that the statement is untrue. They argue that humans are the creators of life and we therefore have the right to govern it. This is not a Christian view but one held by people who do not believe in a God; atheists or humanists.
Humanists don’t believe in God and believe that humans created life. They also believe that humans have a responsibility to improve the quality of life for everybody else. They fully agree with abortion if it is found that the child is handicapped and would lead a poor quality of life. They also agree with euthanasia if the person is suffering and leads a very poor quality life. If a person asks a humanist to commit euthanasia then he believes that he has a responsibility to end suffering and therefore do as he is asked.
Many people believe that humans should have their own right of autonomy, the ability to do what they want to their own body. In the case of euthanasia, then, a person should be allowed to if he or she wants to. In the case of abortion, then the mother has a right to decide to abort if she feels it to be right.
Many Christians agree that God gives life and that God should take life. However, many also believe that under certain circumstances, the taking of life is justifiable, a just killing.
Some people believe that the government has a duty to punish people on behalf of God. This punishment may even involve taking the life of the criminal if the crime was severe enough. This means that the government is allowed to order the death penalty for capital crimes.
Another example of this idea is the idea of a ‘Just War’ theory. The Roman Catholic Church agrees with this and says that some wars are ethically justified. Examples of this are the war against Hitler to stop extermination of the Jews. This war was said to be a necessary evil and the death that takes place in war was a part of this. It is something called ‘the lesser of two evils’.
The law of double effect recognises that sometimes death may be an unfortunate secondary effect of some other form of treatment. In the case of abortion, if an operation to save the mother’s life will kill the foetus, this is not classed as abortion. Also, if a person dies as a result of a pain-killing drug, like morphine, this is not classed as euthanasia as it is a secondary effect.
Although the Roman Catholic Church totally condemns both abortion and euthanasia, there are some Christians who believe it to be acceptable under some circumstances. If a foetus is the result of a rape or incest some Christians may see abortion as acceptable. Also, if the child is found to be severely disabled and likely to have a poor quality of life, again abortion may be seen as acceptable.
While Christians may condemn government abortion programmes, some people may argue that abortion is a good means of population control. In over populated countries like China, abortion may be the only way of stopping population growth. Others argue that abortion may be needed in the case of a multiple pregnancy. If a few of the foetuses are destroyed, the others have a much better chance of survival.
Other people argue that the foetus is not yet human and therefore does not have any of the rights a human has. This would mean that killing a foetus could not be classed as murder. They may also argue that a woman has her right of autonomy to do what she likes with her own body. This means that if she wants to destroy her child then she has the right to do so.
Some people may also argue that euthanasia is acceptable under certain circumstances. If a person is on a life support machine but is totally brain dead, it may be seen to be acceptable to turn off the machine as there is no chance of recovery. Also, if the patient has an illness like cancer, with no chance of recovery, then euthanasia may again be seen as acceptable.
Euthanasia may also be seen as an end to suffering. Many older people who are in a lot of pain may want euthanasia to end this. They may see euthanasia as a much more dignified death than they would get through a long time of suffering.
Other people may say that euthanasia can save NHS resources. This is not a Christian view as it puts a price on human life. Many Christians see abortion and euthanasia as the ‘thin wedge of the slippery slope’. If it is allowed for anyone then it may eventually become compulsory for old and handicapped people. This would be going along the lines that Hitler took when he tried to create his perfect Race.
I do not believe that we have the right to take life. In doing this we are saying that some humans are less worthy of life than we are and this is wrong. If, however, a person is in intense suffering and will not recover, that person should be given the means to end his/her life if they so desire. This is only as a last measure if there is no possibility that the person will recover or lessen their pain by continuing to live.