The Threat of Euthanasia

Interview With Cardinal Renato Martino

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ROME, OCT. 4, 2010 ( The retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is warning against the threat of euthanasia and a society that allows some people the «right» to kill the suffering.

Cardinal Renato Martino spoke about euthanasia in this interview given to the television program «Where God Weeps» of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need. «Where God Weeps» deals with the situation of the suffering Church and this normally implies focusing on the developing world. 

However, in this interview the program targeted a suffering closer to home and one that is self-inflicted: euthanasia. 

Q: Let us start with the definition. What would we be speaking about when we talk about euthanasia? 

Cardinal Martino: The Greek roots of the word mean «good death,» but euthanasia is not good death because it is something against life. 

And so this is the principle: Life is a gift of God from the beginning of conception until natural death. 

Q: And natural is the key word?  

Cardinal Martino: This is the key word. That means: Death must come by itself when God wants, not when we want. 

Q: Your Eminence, I will quote here Pope Benedict: «Ending a person’s life is a false solution to the problem of suffering» — what you referred to already and — «[a solution] not worthy of human dignity.» What does he mean by this? 

Cardinal Martino: He means that life must be respected even when it is in danger. I would say, more in danger than in ordinary conditions. 

I want to recall the encyclical, «Caritas in Veritate» of Pope Benedict XVI. For the first time, in any encyclical, he speaks about two human rights: the right to life and the right to religious freedom. 

All the social encyclicals never spoke about this, but Pope Benedict XVI brings it up because the right to life is very well connected with the development of a person. And so it must be respected. And concerning euthanasia, the Pope says: «Further grounds for concern are those permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups nationally and internationally in favor of its juridical recognition.» So he condemns specifically the juridical recognition.

Q: So it’s very clear? 

Cardinal Martino: It is very clear, as the Church condemns the recognition of abortion because it is killing life. 

In Paragraph 155 of the Compendium [of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is a review of all the teachings, on social matters, of the Popes since Leo XIII] in enumerating about human rights, the first human rights it speaks about are: right to life and right to religious freedom. 

The first right presented in this list is «the right to life from conception to its natural end which is the condition for the exercise of all other rights and, in particular implies, the illicitness of every form of procured abortion and of euthanasia.» John Paul II has proclaimed the «Gospel of Life» time and again. 

Q: Some have suggested that this present culture of death traces back to or is a return to the Nazi ideology: one which was a warped understanding of freedom, of the ability of someone to make decisions over somebody else, whether that life was fit to be lived or not? 

Cardinal Martino: In the end it is that, because someone has the right to decide over another. This is not acceptable because human rights are for everybody without exception. 

I have the right to life and you have the right to life and I cannot hinder your right to live and the other rights. 

Q: If we consider that euthanasia is an intrinsic evil, what is the responsibility of every Catholic, every Christian to this question of euthanasia? 

Cardinal Martino: Every Catholic, every Christian, has to, of course, oppose it because, again it is something that goes against us; it is an offence to all human dignity. And that is why we have to oppose it with all our strength. This campaign for euthanasia is increasing and all those who have been defending life against abortion are now doing and giving the same effort to campaign against euthanasia. 

Q: Euthanasia is now possible in Luxembourg, in Belgium, in Holland and some states in the United States. It is a relatively new phenomenon to Western civilization. What are the roots of this culture and how did we get here? 

Cardinal Martino: We got here exactly when we thought that the life of someone has become useless, when we thought that the better thing is for that person to go. 

And this shouldn’t be, because human life, as I said, is a gift and we have to take care of this gift. Often we or people say that it is a life of suffering but if we take the value of the suffering not only for the one who suffers but also for everyone, this is very precious. 

Our faith is based on suffering, the suffering of Jesus who has accepted the way of the cross to redeem us and that is the value of suffering for others. It is a treasure and we have to value it.  

Of course there is the necessity of alleviating the pain of those who are suffering but not to kill them. 

Q: Can one say that we’ve fundamentally moved from an understanding of life as being the «sanctity of life» to one where we are speaking more of the «quality of life?»

Cardinal Martino: Yes, the quality of life; what is the definition of quality of life? Is it: I have to get every material thing? I don’t think this is the real definition of quality of life; this is not the real quality of life because quality of life is composed by many factors including human suffering. 

A mother who gives birth to a child suffers, yet we accept that and this is suffering. 

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for «Where God Weeps,» a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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