Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Orthodox treatment of euthanasia

(Amazon) - An Orthodox theological perspective on a very difficult subject. The thesis is that human communion with God and one's fellow human beings is something more than physical and intellectual interaction, inasmuch as union and communion transcend both the physical and the intellectual planes of existence. In the experience of God, on the divine plane of being, man exists on the supra-physical, supra-rational, and also the supra-noetic plane of existence.

Opening Passage

"One of the ways by which the level of a society's culture may be measured is how it treats its members both at the beginning and at the end of life. Much of what our senses and imagination are exposed to in our times could be described in terms of a distortion or perversion of the point at which life begins, that is to say, in terms of sex outside marriage, and the point at which biological life ends, that is to say, in terms of extreme acts of violence.

"Now, one of the consequences of the Teresa Schiavo case is that it has forced us once again to revisit and to seek to understand, in the context of 21st century American social, legal and medical values and progress, the Christian perspective on questions pertaining to the end of our biological human existence.

"The Schiavo case, I maintain, has brought into sharp relief just how important Orthodox theology is to our modern age; just how much of a contribution it could make to the seemingly insurmountable moral dilemmas of our times.

Many Christians, of all denominations, pleaded in favour of the preservation of Terri Schiavo's life; but many Christians, it must be conceded, were persuaded by the arguments of the various court rulings, allowing doctors to remove from her the means of sustaining her life.

"The disappointing thing about all this was the fact that those in favour of preserving Mrs. Schiavo's life lacked a certain depth when it came to explaining why her life should be preserved in what was described as a physically and mentally "vegetative state". Of course, there were many statements made in favour of the sanctity of life, of the need always to err on the side of life, that only God could decide if and when a life should be terminated, and so on. But, for the most part, such statements were unaccompanied by theological explanation as to why even a "vegetative" human life is worth preserving. And so, despite the apparent self-evident nature of these statements, with which it would be hard for Orthodox to disagree, many professing to be Christians did exactly that. How so?

"Now it is my position in this paper that the fundamental problem in the Terri Schiavo case in particular, and on the question of Euthanasia and other ethical issues in general, is the divorce between doctrine and ethics, between faith and the life in Christ, which in turn stems from the fact that when applied to practical, every-day, ethical or moral situations, western theology is sadly found wanting..."

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