Our Observatory is keeping a very close eye on parliamentary proceedings regarding the so-called bill on “Advanced Health Care Dispositions”, and hence on the “end of life”.
In the speech delivered on March 20 last, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, used very clear language when addressing the ethical issue of euthanasia in general and the bill now under discussion in particular. “The bill on the end of life now under discussion in parliament is far removed from a personalist approach. On the contrary, it is radically individualistic, suited to an individual seeing his life apart from any and all relations and absolute master of a life he did not give to himself. In fact, life is an original good, a good giving origin: if it were not inalienable we would all be exposed to the arbitrary will of whoever would want to become master of it. In addition to corresponding to experience, this anthropological vision has inspired laws, constitutions and international charters, and has made the societies in which we live more livable, just and supportive. Relentless therapy – to which the text of the bill does not refer – is commonly accepted as being out of the question, but it is evident that the category of “proportionate or disproportionate therapies” opens the way to the broadest possible use of subjective discretion, distinguishing between treatment and support to vital functions. It is also disconcerting to see physicians reduced to being tantamount to notaries public, who take note and implement apart from their judgment in both science and conscience. As far as the patient is concerned, more than bewildering is the practically definitive value of his/her declarations without taking into due consideration factors such as the age, situation and time when they were made. Experience teaches us that factors such as these have no little impact on personal judgment. Death must not be deferred through recourse to relentless therapy, but neither must it be hastened with euthanasia: the ailing person must be accompanied with health care, constant closeness and love, and an integral part of this is the quality of relations among patient, physician and family members”.
From a strictly legal viewpoint, worthy of utmost attention is the Declaration of the Rosario Livatino Study Center signed by 250 eminent jurists and which, with indisputable clarity and precision, denounced the underlying euthanasia in the text of this bill.
The bill under discussion in the Italian parliament transforms the “advanced health care Declarations” into “Dispositions” which a physician will not be able to disregard. It in no way considers the fact that in the diverse situations of life a patient’s judgment about his state of health changes, nor does it consider that patients, in time, often forget to rescind or amend the declarations they had made long ago. The bill sets limits on active medication, but does not stipulate the suspension of health care. It does foresee that the legal guardian may decide on his own for an interdicted person, and, if the physician concurs, nothing may prevent the suspension of nutrition and hydration. Lastly, there is no mention of conscientious objection for physicians.
In the face of this objective view of things, considered necessarily out of place is any divergence of views on this grave matter within Catholic associations that are in the front line when dealing with these ethical and legal issues. The Church has always complied with the principles of natural moral law and the Lord’s teachings, and, regarding such decisive matters for a society wishing to call itself human, its teachings have been consistent and clear. It is necessary to abide by these teachings also at this moment in time and when new legislative challenges arise. In particular, it is a question of making sure that the individualistic principles of absolute self-determination do not become part of Catholic thinking so that in the future as well the truth of the human person and his authentic good may guide our endeavors for the suffering, the elderly, the disabled and those who have reached the end of their life on earth.