How Did This All Begin?

Life. Science is helping us to understand and marvel at the intricacies of the unborn child as it develops in the safe harbor of the womb. Eyes are being opened to see the humanity of it, and desire to protect its well being.

Yet, the battle for life of the voiceless of our society continues.

Over at Live-Action News, Cassy Fiano describes a recent episode of Dr. Phil, looking at the desire of one mother, Annette Corriveau, who wants to end the life of her two disabled adult children (hat-tip, Andrew and Christina, blogging at Caffe con Leche).

Corriveau is not, of course, the first parent to think of ending the life of her child outside the womb. Cassy reminds us of the case of Robert Latimer, who took the life of his daughter by leaving her in the cab of his truck and let her die of carbon monoxide poisoning. She was 13 years old and had cerebral palsy.

What stuck me the hardest about the Dr Phil show, beyond how inconceivable it is that a parent would want to kill their child, was the reaction of the audience. When asked by Dr Phil if they agreed with Corriveau and her desire to kill her two children, the large majority of the audience raised their hands.

My first thought when I heard this story was, at what point do we draw the line? If the popular vote to kill two adults just because their mom decides they would be better off, who is safe? What is the measure of value of a person’s life? And who is capable of making that decision?

If our society makes it a regularity to agree with the viewpoint of Corriveau and the audience of Dr. Phil, let us not be surprised to find a growing language siding against Christian principles in the debate, such as:

(Let us not be led astray by the) exaggerated Christian compassion for the weak individual…Christian caritas or charity, and of the Church’s “commandment to attend to the incurably ill person and render him medical aid unto his death.”, instead of tending to the health of the group…“the ill-conceived ‘love of thy neighbor’ has to disappear …. It is the supreme duty of the … state to grant life and livelihood only to the healthy and hereditarily sound portion of the population…” (taken from Ramm, Ätztliche Standeskunde [24], p. 19, quoted from “The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, pg. 32)

A thread of such thought has been present throughout the history of civilization, and at times grew without any check and balance. This lack of balance led to atrocities against humanity. The natural law has always provided the necessary balance. This balance is lost when life is measured as a commodity, valued only for what it gives back to society, when the innate understanding that killing another human being is suppressed. There is no longer a measure to the fair treatment of peoples. Where does it end?

Another question to ask is, How did this all begin? 

This is the very question asked during the Nuremberg trials by a convicted Nazi doctor. The American judge answered,

“When you first considered there were human beings not worth living.”

(Quote taken from Mercy Killing: History and Medicine, p. 470)

Other posts on this topic:

Here’s one written by Mark Pickup, from the perspective of disabled man.

Be sure to read the reply by Chelsea Zimmerman who blogs at Reflections of a Paralytic

And, a humbling reminder to us, that the choice of a loving parent is never an easy thing to do. Who has the answers?

This is a older column by Chelsea, but gets to the heart of this issue, questioning the value of human suffering.


12 thoughts on “How Did This All Begin?

  1. With the utmost respect, if you are not the parent of a severely disabled child, you have a diminished perspective and a lesser right to speak to this issue. The issue has nothing whatsoever to do with “life not worthy of life.” That is the philosophy behind the genocide of Aktion T-4. It is not a slippery slope of “assisted suicide.”
    The thread of “this thought” is not throughout human civilization as it is only modern society that has provided the ability to extend life through advanced technology…perhaps longer than is humane.
    I have written recently on this issue and I am the parent and full time caregiver of a 26 year old non-verbal, non-ambulatory child/man. He is my life…I have a right to speak to this issue as I live it daily.

    Read first:

    • Naturally, Phil, I cannot speak from the angle which I know is yours. Your obvious dedication to provide for your son is commendable. In fairness, I have linked your post above, at the conclusion of the article. It is important that we do not downplay the difficulty for those like yourself who are caregivers 24-7 of loved ones. That is not my intention. I understand – on a small scale – having helped care for my dad over the course of the last three years of his life, and the end-of-life questions that come are never easy. That said, my concern with ‘mercy killing’ is the danger that determining who and when life can be stopped, abuse can follow. We have precedent for it; in the legalization of abortion, which was ‘designed’ to be for those rare situations, it is a form of genocide when you consider the numbers (more than 58 million lives since the law was enacted in 1973).

      The ‘thread’ of thought, the questioning the value of the human person, and the determination of who should live and die, is an age-old question. Ancient philosophers discussed it, and in a culture where children had no rights. We’ve come a long way in defining a person. Yet, the thread is there…I am only wanting us as a culture to be wary about making into law decisions that lead to the abuse of determining the life of a person. God bless you and your son.

  2. Sr. Lisa

    This is very upsetting! It is hard enough that abortion is in full vigor! and babies die at every moment, but for a person to even contemplate killing another person because they can’t cope! What’s this? Sr. Lisa Think about this for a moment People will run and come to an aide of a animal to keep it from being put down and fight for its life! they have people to help them when things get difficult for that animal, but for a human person! where is their help? whats wrong with this picture?
    Who has the right to decide who dies who lives? What happen to caring for each other? What did our Jesus do but help-heal-love-the sick! What did Mother Teresa do but go around and help clean sick dieing men in the street! sick babies sick mothers sick children to the point of getting sick herself!!! Wheres the love for others? where is the Compassion??? Lord we pray for your mercy….

  3. Phil,
    As the parent of a serverely autistic son of 14 who I will care for for the rest of my life I must heartliy disagree with you on a number of points. This type of thought has been in society forever; every genocide from native americans here to the Jews in Germany has been the result of one group of people defining another as “less than human” or unworthy to live. Notice that no one defines themselves that way. The fact that our medical advances allow us to keep people alive longer is just an excuse used by those who think they should be able to choose who lives and who dies “death panels” etc. My son may suffer now, but he will be resurrected into a perfect mind/body when God chooses, and thats for eternity, so who cares if we suffer some now.

    As Kim above points out some in our society want to give animals an equal status to humans. While some of those folks are just naive there are some who do that for more sinister reasons. Eugenics has been around long before many medical advances and will be with us for some time. Those people look for a societal shift that will allow them to kill those they feel are unfit and to do so without consequences. The overpopulation, global warming crown are such people too.

    • Dear Dan,
      I believe that it is important that we do not confuse nor dictate morality based on faulty assumptions. Aktion T-4 was a state policy to cleanse an Aryan society of the disabled because they were considered a “life unworthy of life.” Of course this wrong. Selective abortion and pre-implantation genetics also clearly devalue the disabled as was discussed in the Hasting Center Report on Genetic Testing and Disability. My blog and comments were not in this direction.
      I believe that the RC Church believe it is moral to remove a g-tube or a trach when life is no longer capable of sustaining itself. I also believe that the RC Church considers “advanced directives” , written statements to doctors that extra ordinary measures not be taken to sustain life, as a moral position. The Corriveau children/adults are sustained by artificial means, feeding tubes. I believe that the Church would consider removal of the tubes as moral. The issue is removal of the tube will result in death by dehydration which is a long and horrible death….a shot of morphine to stop the heart would be more humane. Annette Corriveau advocates a humane end in the event that life cannot sustain itself.
      Also, to introduce Peter Singer and Mary Anne Warren and the concept of speciesism is quite irrelevant….While global warming and overpopulation are legitimate issues, they are equally irrelevant to this topic.
      Not being a believer I will not comment on bodily ressurrection…as C Hitchens said “That which can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”
      I do honor your commitment to your son which I believe is the highest demonstration of love..

      • Sister, correct me if I’m wrong (it’s been a long time since I have educated myself on this topic) but I don’t think the Church would consider the removal of the tubes morally sound since they seve the purpose of helping to feed them, which is not an extraordinary measure by any means.

      • Hi Laura, it is a great question, and the Church has not changed its position on this. As early as the 16th century, we begin to see the defining of care with the terms ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ means. The Church uses these terms in a theological way, with ‘ordinary’ meaning ‘that which we are obliged to do’; and ‘extraordinary’ referring to ‘the extra things we could do’ – or optional. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

        2278 – “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.” and,

        2279 “Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.”

        The key – “one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted.” Another important word is, “proportionate”.

        There are directives for the United States, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, in which states regarding nutrition and hydration:
        “There should be a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration to all patients, including patients who require medically assisted nutrition and hydration, as long as this is of sufficient benefit to outweigh the burdens involved to the patient” (#58).

        Pope John Paul II, in 2004, affirmed this thought: If patients are not dying, he said, artificial nutrition and hydration must be considered “in principle, ordinary and proportionate and, as such, morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.”

        Thus, a patient, not otherwise dying, a feeding tube and hydration methods are to be presumed as ordinary (morally obligated) and proportionate means by which to sustain the person’s quality of life.

        God bless you. – Sr Lisa Marie

  4. IF I MAY SAY! My Father In-law was in a coma due to a heart failure they found him on the floor of his home when they did a brain scan it came back brain dead for lack of oxygen. The doctors said their is nothing they can do for him and suggested we remove life support! We said NO-WAY leave him be! its up to God when he dies and when God calls him home. {I said GOD!!!!!!!!!! we don’t make this call for the demise of a person this is Gods will not ours! genocide is not a solution Its murder! Every person on this earth belongs to God perfect or not perfect. ITS that simple! “Dear Dan God be with you and your Son…. Life is a Gift….

  5. One reason to care for the disabled is that we have nothing better to do. Also, they help us turn our thoughts outward. There lives have a positive influence on us.

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