Theology of the Body Thursday #27: Cessation of Suffering

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Last week, I heard of a 24-year-old that will likely be euthanized due to depression. As a 30-year-old who has battled depression since her teens and has suffered from suicidal ideation, I can sympathize with her. But this absurd situation brings to the surface one of my biggest problems with euthanasia: the lack of true empathy.

We think it’s compassionate to take a person out of their misery. That’s what we do with our pets, after all. But human beings are so much more.

Someone suffering depression needs community support. They need companionship and meaning. They need drugs and counseling. And when all that doesn’t work, they need better drugs and better counseling. Killing them doesn’t make them better and it certainly doesn’t make healthcare for all of the mentally ill any better. Killing her will not heal her. The dead cannot heal. Nor does it give the medical field the opportunity to develop to better treat future patients like her.

Euthanasia advocates are all about patients making a clear-headed, educated choice. Can someone who is mentally ill really make such a choice? Especially someone so young?

In interviews, she talks about being an unplanned pregnancy and her father being an alcoholic. She tells the heartbreaking story of holding a loaded gun and thinking about killing herself when she was only 6-years-old. She was raised primarily by her grandparents who gave her a stable and happy life (as much as they could without her parents, I’m sure), but she still wants to end it.

She says, “Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful.” That doesn’t sound like a death wish. Like so many suicides and attempted suicides, that sounds like a cry for help.

Using the same broad definition used by Susan Windley-Daoust in her book Theology of the Body, Extended, she is suffering from an impairment. This impairment as well as her age is preventing her from looking at the future realistically and with any kind of hope. This impairment and this age also prevents her from connecting with others.

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about how ostracized the mentally ill feel. Magnify that by 1000 for those who suffer from illnesses that by their very definition make their sufferers feel isolated. JPII’s Theology of the Body is based in the fact we are social beings. We want to belong to God and to others. People, like this 24-year-old, who are robbed of their family of origin tend to whither and die. As well-meaning and good as her grandparents undoubtedly are, they cannot fill the hole left by her biological parents. Let us please not let this girl whither and die. That is not real compassion.

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