WOMEN FOR FAITH AND FAMILY, BROCHURE ON EUTHANASIA
Euthanasia is "an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes
death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated". (Declaration
on Euthanasia, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1980, Part I.)
"No distinction has been made between intentionally starving a person and
stabbing him to death. Even if this is done with a good intention, e.g. out of
mercy, it has been considered wrong." (John S. Connery, SJ, The Ethics of
Withholding/Withdrawing Nutrition and Hydration, Linacre Quarterly, Feb. 1987,
'ACTIVE' AND 'PASSIVE' EUTHANASIA
Active euthanasia indicates "commission," or doing something (such as giving a
lethal injection of drugs) which actively and directly causes death. The
Hemlock Society and the Society for the Right to Die (both euthanasia advocacy
groups) and a growing contingent within the medical establishments of America
and a few other countries believe that active euthanasia should be promoted as
a "right". Euthanasia or Death with Dignity legislation has been proposed in
several states. In the minds of advocates of euthanasia, "assisted suicide" is
also a "right" and should be given government approval.
Passive euthanasia is omission of some ordinary treatment or care of a patient
(such as withholding or cessation of medication, treatment or care) thereby
intentionally causing or hastening death. This is becoming an issue of concern
to many people now because some regard providing basic food and fluids to a
disabled person as "treatment."
We need to consider the way attitudes and even deeply held convictions can be
influenced by our manner of speaking about them -- even by the words we use.
"POLITICALLY CORRECTING" LANGUAGE
"All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering", as Catholic moral
theologian William Smith has said. The words we use seriously affect our belief
about human life and the reality and worth of the human being. George Orwell,
in his essay Politics and the English Language maintained that the decline of
language has acelerated the general decline of civilization.
Whenever we use vague, inaccurate, or incorrect language, the result is always
confusion, misunderstanding and error -- whether or not this is intended. But
there is a growing tendency, in our society, to politicize the language we use
by consciously choosing imprecise or faulty words in order to cover up a
reality which makes us uncomfortable. Most of us unconsciously pick up these
words and use these phrases.
EUPHEMISMS AND LIFE ISSUES
A notable example of this manipulation of language is the use of euphemisms
(literally, 'high speech'.) The purpose of euphemism is to conceal an
unpleasant truth or a serious moral problem behind an acceptable-sounding word
We have become accustomed to hearing an abortion called "termination of
pregnancy," an unborn baby called a "product of pregnancy," a "mass of tissue,"
or the technical term 'fetus' in order to distance us from the reality of what
is actually happening to a living and vulnerable human being within the
mother's body. We have grown used to hearing the killing of an unborn child
called a 'right,' and to deliberately distorted uses of the words 'freedom' and
Political use of euphemism is seen in the changing of names of euthanasia
advocacy organizations. During the 1970s the Euthanasia Society of America was
renamed Society for the Right to Die, and the Euthanasia Education Council
became Concern for Dying
WHAT IS "PVS"?
Persistent vegetative state" [PVS] is a phrase which is currently being much
misused. It was coined in the late 1970's by New York neurologist, Fred Plum,
to describe the condition of unresponsive and evidently non-cognitive,
apparently unconscious (but not comatose) brain-damaged people, who are neither
terminally ill nor dying, who have periods of sleeping and waking, and have
normal respiratory, circulatory and digestive functions.
Some severely mentally disabled patients who have been diagnosed as "PVS", have
regained full consciousness; and many care-givers of some supposedly PVS
patients report a variety of meaningful responses (crying, laughing at jokes,
responding to directions, &c.) which evidence "cognitive function".
DANGER OF DEHUMANIZING TERMS
Other examples of deliberately dehumanizing terms used to describe severely
brain-damaged people are "vegetative existence," "irreversibly comatose," "non-
person," "living shell," "biological remains of a human being," "biologically
tenacious," "irretrievably inaccessible to human care," "non-
cognitive/affective" and simply "vegetable."
These terms are now being used routinely to describe human beings who are not
able to respond to their environment in a way which is perceptible to others.
Such terms are now being applied also to conscious but severely mentally
These euphemisms draw attention away from the basic humanity of the person, and
focus attention on the burdensome and hopeless nature of the disabled person's
existence. The life of a person who is referred to in these dehumanizing terms
is also devalued. It then becomes more acceptable to say that if the quality of
life is diminished, if a person cannot be expected to be restored to a
productive or affective condition, then the person does not merit continued
A person's basic right to life thus becomes his right to die with dignity.
Robbed of the innate dignity accorded to every human being, the person's
continued life will then become wrongful living, and will require aid in dying.
All of these terms must be avoided because each devalues the basic humanity of
'ORDINARY' AND 'EXTRAORDINARY' MEANS
In medicine, and in Judeo-Christian moral teaching on euthanasia, extraordinary
means is a treatment offering a patient no reasonable hope of benefit, or which
involves serious danger of death, or only a precarious and burdensome
prolongation of life.
Ordinary means are those which offer a patient a reasonable hope of benefit
without serious danger or excessive burdens. Ordinary means contains the
concept of minimal means -- ordinary care and/or treatment, but which the
method of delivery to a patient, in unusual circumstances, could be called
extraordinary. Use of a feeding tube in providing nutrition and hydration (food
and water) would be an example of minimal means.
Food and fluids are not considered "extraordinary" however they may get into
the patient, except when their delivery may cause an already dying patient more
pain than benefit. (Ref. William B. Smith, "Judeo-Christian Teaching on
Euthanasia: Definitions, Distinctions and Decisions", Lincare Quarterly, Feb,