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Charlie Gard vs the duty to die



Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 07/12/17

The always-voracious culture of death is relentless, but glimmers of hope exist as we fight on.

“It’s official:  Your life isn’t worth living.  Time to die!” How would you respond? And which part is most disturbing? Pragmatically, would you most object to “Time to die!”? Morally and aesthetically, would you be offended by “Your life isn’t worth living”? As a philosopher and theologian, I’m inclined to panic when a life-and-death pronouncement begins with, “It’s official.”

Today, “It’s official” seems unlikely to be spoken by someone with God-given authority, and almost certainly not spoken with Christian charity. Nowadays these words are almost surely spoken by a bureaucrat, full of unearned and dubious certitude, with access to every implement of unchecked state power. Today’s bureaucrats claim the right, duty, wisdom—and above all, power—to grant or remove the means and meaning of human life.

Consider the current case of Charlie Gard, a British infant with a rare genetic disorder. His parents wanted to pursue treatment for him. The hospital appealed to the British courts, and argued that his parents mustn’t be allowed to pursue treatment for Charlie, even though they’ve raised  enough money, and Vatican and American hospitals have offered to treat him. Steps have been taken to make him an American permanent resident. So far, the bureaucrats are adamant—it’s better for little Charlie to die sooner rather than later. In other words:  “It’s official—Charlie Gard’s life is not worth living.” The interests of maintaining the unquestioned power of the state in the exercise of its wisdom that some lives ought not to be protected trump the moral and God-given authority of Charlie’s parents to promote the interests of their infant son.

In this darkness, some lights do shine. A British judge has agreed to hear new evidence on Thursday regarding treatment for Charlie. His case has become a rallying point for the pro-life movement. And the poignant photos of his parents at his bedside are moving millions to re-consider what’s been taking place in our culture.

Let’s be clear: 1) We’re only as safe as the most vulnerable member of our society; 2) If we can rationalize the taking of one innocent human life, then we can rationalize the taking of any innocent human life. Here’s how it works. First a call for “exceptions” to moral norms, for the “rare, difficult, tragic cases.” Then the exception becomes normalized; later it becomes a right (which has to be subsidized by the wealth of others). Finally, it becomes a duty. And those who do not do their duty are purged. In the West, we saw this trajectory traced with contraception and abortion. Richard Dawkins argues it would be “immoral” not to abort children with Down syndrome. From abortion promoted as “safe, legal and rare,” we now have a class of children with the duty to die.

We’re starting to see a similar trajectory with euthanasia. Exceptions to the moral norm “First, do no harm” are called for, only for the “rare, difficult and tragic cases.” Now we’re in the midst of a resurgence of calls for voluntary euthanasia, cloaked with euphemisms such as “death with dignity” or “patient autonomy.” For ideological reasons, but above all, for financial reasons, the “duty-to-die” is just around the corner. American governments at all levels are awash in debt and unfunded liabilities, especially pension obligations that can’t possibly be met. The young workers that the “social safety net” (or “Nanny State”—take your pick) economy needs to pay for the longer lives of the older generation have been aborted or contracepted out of existence for the past 50 years. The only way to avoid complete social or financial collapse is to purge society of its elderly, its sick and its unwanted.

These are sobering thoughts.

Yet the worldwide cry raised in defense of Charlie Gard show that the light has not been extinguished. We need to do all that we can, and then we need to ask God to do the rest. A conversion of souls on a global scale is needed. Facing such an enormous task, we may be tempted to despair. Let’s fight that temptation by doing what we can, here and now, moment by moment, to defend innocent human life from conception to natural death. Let’s tell the medical truth about the pre-born, the vulnerable and the dying. Let’s tell the moral truth about the preciousness of each human life. And let’s provide the charity and hospitality needed to keep the vulnerable safe. Meanwhile, as we mark the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, it is time for us to pray, do penance, make reparation, and welcome Our Lady’s promised triumph of her Immaculate Heart.

When I write next, I will start a series of meditations on the most often neglected of the Ten Commandments. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Fr. McTeigue discusses this column with John Harper of the “Morning Air” radio program here

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