Ooh, boy. Well, when I began this new column ‘Gnarly Questions’ last week, I wasn’t quite sure what I would be writing about this week. So why am I writing about suicide this week?
Well, on a small personal note, we received word this week that an old friend of MH for many years took her own life this week. So the subject is much on all of our minds here, obviously with a terrible sorrow for all who loved this person, myself included. So I apologize in advance if I bring a level of emotion to this blog post that I normally try to keep in check.
Actually, no, I don’t apologize for that. Too often we handle the topic of suicide with kid gloves and in consequence are not able to say hard things that need to be said about it, out of a misguided sense of compassion for its victims and its survivors. And I for one am sick of having to tip-toe around the subject in that way.
All the more so because suicide is one of the big topics of our day as well, in Canada at least, and I certainly would have gotten around to it as part of this series.
So let us begin by saying what so often is left unsaid in our discussion of the subject. Namely, suicide is a gravely evil act. It is one of the most evil things a person can do, not only because it involves the taking of a life, but because by the very act of committing suicide a person leaves themselves no chance to repent; it is literally the last choice the person makes, and it is a gravely evil one.
This does not mean that all people who commit suicide go to hell. Of course not, and anyone who thinks the Church says that is wildly deficient in their catechesis. The objective grave evil of the act does not necessarily translate into subjective guilt borne by the person, which depends on their freedom and knowledge. With suicide in particular, people more often than not kill themselves when the balance of their mind is disturbed and they are simply not thinking clearly. We draw a curtain over the whole question of subjective guilt and the state of the person’s soul, leaving that to God who alone can judge the living and the dead, and we pray for His mercy upon all.
But we need to do that, because (let me repeat myself) suicide is a horribly evil thing to do. Our lives are not our own—this is the key thing. Our lives belong to God, and it is for God and God alone to determine the manner and time of our deaths. I realize that for non-believers that is meaningless tripe; I am addressing this blog post to believers.
We have no right to commit suicide. We have no right to dispose of our lives when we see fit. It is an act of arrogating to ourselves the most sacred thing that belongs to God alone, and it is a wicked, wicked thing to do, even if psychic pain and a host of psychological factors mitigate or wholly remove the guilt of the one who does it.
I say this with some force for two reasons. First, it is not said often enough, generally because we are all aware of the terrible suffering and grief those left behind suffer from and do not wish to make it any worse. But by never coming out and saying flatly that suicide is a terribly wrong choice, we run the risk of implying that it is really not so wrong, really quite an understandable decision in this or that circumstance. And in that, we risk being complicit in the deaths of the suicidal.
But most importantly, physician-assisted suicide is coming to Canada whether we like it or not, and it is time for Catholics and all people to form their consciences properly. Suicide is evil—get it straight. It is an evil thing to do, so don’t do it. Do not end your life by committing one of the most evil actions a person can perform. Don’t go to God like that, please.
And the Canadian government, the Prime Minister and his cabinet members, in proposing and enacting this legislation (and let’s be realistic, they are going to push it through no matter what anyone says about it), are doing a wicked, wicked thing. May God have mercy on their souls.
Suicide will become the order of the day in Canadian hospitals. For people who are vulnerable—who are in some physical pain, who are afraid, who are worried about burdening their families, who are depressed in the face of a terminal prognosis—a kindly doctor will show up at their bedside and offer to end it all right now with one injection. It will all be couched in the language of comfort and mercy.
It will be a preying on the weakest and the most vulnerable members of the human community, at their hour of greatest desolation, to tempt them to do something that is monstrously evil that they will have no opportunity to repent of. Rather than accompanying a dying person through the dying process, surrounding them with the love and care of the community, doing everything possible to alleviate their pain, communicating to them with every small act of kindness and service we give them that their life is precious, that they are the most important person in the world right now, that we love them and will not abandon them no matter how hard it gets at the end… instead, we will just show up at their bedside, essentially tell them that the parts of their lives that were worth living are over now, and wouldn’t they rather just kill themselves. This is a moral evil that rises to the level of the demonic, to be perfectly frank, and I will not back down from that strong language.
Look, I know and you know it’s going to be legal in Canada. It’s going to happen and we can’t stop it, seemingly. But we can at least fight it, when it arrives at our own bedsides and the bedsides of the ones we love. We can tell the merchants of death to get the hell away from us and let us die like children of God, uniting our sufferings with Christ and bearing the gift and burden of life until its natural God-given end.
I am writing this blog post with one purpose and one purpose only: to dissuade even one person from choosing suicide in the face of illness, pain, and terminal illness. If I have succeeded in doing that, not only this blog post but my entire five years of blogging will have been worthwhile.
I will write more next week about specific issues around euthanasia proper—for now let us establish that suicide itself is a grave evil and must be resisted at all times. Our lives belong to God; we must not kill ourselves.