The Rev. Sean O’Brien led discussion concerning the moral implications of physician-assisted suicide.
“Death should be a beautiful, good moment,” proclaimed Rev. Sean O’Brien in front of a group of TU students on Tuesday night. Most students in the group had affiliation with TU’s Catholic Newman Center, which sponsored the event.
O’Brien’s discussion took a few different angles, from the philosophical to the psychological. “What it comes down to,” he said, “is how do we as a society define euthanasia and explain what it actually means?”
O’Brien referenced California’s “right-to-die” law many times throughout the evening. “According to the LA Times, aid in dying is not euthanasia. Euthanasia is doctor-administered whereas California’s law is based on a patient self-administering,” the reverend affirmed.
The California law took effect in June 2016. Between June and December 2016, 111 Californians ended their lives under the law.
It calls for a patient to have a terminal illness. In this case, that means pronounced by a certified physician to have less than six months to live.
O’Brien contends that this act is still suicide. “You cause your own death. Regardless of the rhetoric, the end is the same: you initiate death for yourself.”
As a steadfast Christian, Rev. O’Brien said that he did not support suicide. He called for others in the crowd to share his point of view.
He denounced the practice, saying “I’m disturbed that such a large percentage of people don’t see physician-assisted suicide for what it is: suicide.”
He further went on to state that suicide surrounds pain and anguish. However, the act ultimately “robs us of our ability to love you.”
The reverend then unpacked several different viewpoints from various thinkers and various fields in history.
“[Charles] Darwin would not be in favor of suicide because it goes against the very nature of life he sought to prove: that life wants to keep going, passing itself to the fittest organisms.”
“We all face suffering. It’s part of the human condition,” O’Brien observed. “But suicide doesn’t end suffering, it just ends a life. And it denies others the chance to love you as a person.”
His argument goes back to the book of Genesis in the Bible. According to the bible, God made humankind in his image, and this God is all-knowing and perfect. Thus, “when somebody kills himself, he’s killing a part of this perfection.” For this reason, the reverend believes Christians should not favor the practice.
Next, O’Brien discussed philosophical sides of the argument. “Aristotle said that suicide is letting one’s suffering triumph over moral character. Kant inferred that one’s greatest purpose came in fulfilling one’s duty. You can’t fulfill your duty or maintain your morality if you’re dead.”
O’Brien further stipulated that it “should be called physician-enabled suicide.” He firmly believes that aid-in-dying is just another term for suicide.
On a final religious note, the reverend relayed that “God created humans in his perfect image. Christ lives in all of us. Therefore, it is not a good idea to end this earthly perfection by taking one’s own life.”
After the main talk concluded, O’Brien took audience questions. One student asked if physician-aided suicide could ever be appropriate. He responded that suffering is all subjective, which makes it hard to pinpoint for doctors when exactly many people are in excruciating pain. For example, one person’s 1/10 on the pain scale might be another person’s 6/10.
In most situations, according to O’Brien, death must not be the intended outcome to alleviate pain. He did not touch on extreme cases of pain, citing the above argument that pain is subjective and difficult to truly measure.
“However,” he concluded “we as a country need to spend more money helping people die with dignity and investigating the means with which we choose to enable that decision. If death is an undesired side effect of alleviating pain, not the intended goal, then we can see it as acceptable.”