Almighty God is alone the author and giver of life; man is but the caretaker. Many there are who endure intense sufferings and often protracted pains. One may wonder why Almighty God allows sufferings and pain; the answer is quite simply that pain and sufferings are a consequence of sin. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ sanctified sufferings by His passion and sacrifice upon the wood of the cross at Calvary. Thus our sufferings become meritorious if we unite them to His cross.
The materialistic society in which we live rejects this concept. Those who are imbued with the decadent values of materialism reject sufferings and advocate euthanasia which is also called 'mercy killing'. Along with suicide this evil practice reflects a complete absence of Christian moral values.
There is a popular trend to sign a 'Living Will'. The language of such documents varies greatly; if one executes such a document, one must be very cautious in order to ensure that the document conforms to the principles of the Roman Catholic Church.
Euthanasia (also called 'mercy killing') usually implies the use of some positive means to end life: e.g., taking poison, a lethal dose of some drug, etc. However, death can also be brought about in a negative way: i.e., by not taking or giving something that is necessary for sustaining life. This failure to take or give what is necessary for preserving life is equivalent to euthanasia which is murder.
One must employ the ordinary means for the preservation of life and health. Deliberate neglect of such means is tantamount to suicide. One is not obliged to employ extraordinary means for the preservation of life and health. One may however adopt extraordinary means provided that these means are licit and moral.
Ordinary means of preserving life and health include not only food, drink and rest but also all medicines, treatments and operations which offer a reasonable hope of benefit for the patient.
Extraordinary means of preserving life and health are all medicines, treatments and operations which if used, would not offer the patient a reasonable hope of benefit or means which are illicit or immoral.
One always has the duty of avoiding that which is evil and doing that which is good. One can never do that which is intrinsically evil; but there are reasonable and proportionate limits to one's duty of doing good. The martyrs, for example, were not ordinarily obliged to seek out their persecutors in order to profess their faith before them; but when faced with the critical choice of either denying their faith or dying for their faith, they were obliged to submit to death for to deny one's faith would be intrinsically evil. One is obliged to preserve one's life and health but this obligation is circumscribed by limits. Euthanasia (also called 'mercy killing' which is murder) and suicide are intrinsically evil and thus never permitted.
The Crux of the Issue
The crux of the issue is, of course, the debate which surrounds the terms ordinary and extraordinary. There can certainly be a reasonable question as to whether or not a particular procedure is to be considered ordinary or extraordinary. One should not only consult one's priest but also traditional Roman Catholic doctors who should be able to clarify any such question. It is important however to remember that often the physician and the moralist do not use the terms ordinary and extraordinary in the same sense.
It is Wrong To Deny a Patient Nourishment
There is a general misconception that intravenous feeding is extraordinary; this is simply and utterly false. To deny intravenous nourishment would be simply a slow and cruel form of euthanasia. It is morally wrong to starve a person to death (even if that person has requested to be denied nourishment) and it is wrong for a person to starve himself to death for to do so is simply a form of suicide.
Some of the 'Living Wills' have phrases similar to the following: "If I have been unconscious, comatose, or otherwise incompetent so as to be unable to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning my person; then I direct that life-sustaining procedures including nourishment and hydration shall be withdrawn and withheld." Such a phrase is morally objectionable and repugnant to Catholic principles!
In 'Medical Ethics' (published by the F.A. Davis Co. - 1956 and which bears the 'Imprimatur' and the 'Nihil Obstat') by Charles J. McFadden, O.S.A., Ph.D., DD. one reads on page 269-270 under the heading: Intravenous Feeding: "Routine medical practice today utilizes intravenous feeding in a countless variety of cases. Certainly the physician regards this procedure as an ordinary means of safeguarding life. It is obviously capable of being carried out, under normal hospital conditions, without any notable inconvenience. For these reasons, I would regard recourse to intravenous feeding , in the case of typical hospitalized patients, as an ordinary and morally compulsory procedure."
No Catholic can then sign a 'Living Will' that contains such a provision. Catholic attorneys have the duty in conscience to dissuade their clients (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) from signing any document that would contain any provision that is morally unacceptable. If a client insists upon including provisions that are morally abhorrent then a Catholic attorney must refuse to draft such a document for to do so would be to cooperate materially in that which is intrinsically evil.