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April 14, 2005

Following the Pope's Lead

Tony Coppola

      While I did not agree with everything Pope John Paul II said or did during his life, he truly was a great man, even in the way he died. He chose to feel as much pain as possible in his death, not even allowing his doctors to use painkillers. He wanted everybody to see that he was willing to suffer to prove how much he loved the world and his God. The Pope's death represented a truism that we have heard so many times: life is not easy. We all have difficulties, and often times people suffer throughout their lives, justly or unjustly. I believe his death also set a precedent worth following.

      Anyone who followed the Pope's final days should have serious reservations about supporting government sanctioned euthanasia. Dying slowly is tough; we all witnessed how difficult it is for the parties involved in both the death of Pope John Paul II and the recent Schiavo case. Many are saying if Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed because that was her wish, why not them? There is a difference. Most terminally-ill patients are not in a state like that of Terri's in which they essentially lack higher brain function. If Terri was as brain dead as doctors determined, I would not classify her state as living. On the other hand, the Vermont bill would allow for the deaths of other types of patients, terminally-ill patients who can still function but kill themselves if the pain is too excruciating. Is pain really a reason to sanction suicide? There are currently groups in Vermont and California actively lobbying to legalize euthanasia for terminally-ill patients that would suggest so. No doubt they were in favor of Michael Schiavo's decision. Ironically, other supporters of Michael Schiavo said that he should be allowed to remove his wife's feeding tube because she could not feel anything. So, if they want to allow euthanasia for people who can feel nothing, and allow euthanasia for people who can feel pain, who does that leave?

      Terri Schiavo should be the exception, not the rule. Many people suffer their entire lives with physically debilitating diseases; do we allow them to choose when to kill themselves? What about those who suffer from mental conditions and diseases that often lead men and women to take their own lives? How about those who think their entire lives will be unhappy and painful? It is completely unconstitutional to allow certain people to kill themselves because of their pain and not allow others. Consequently, we should not condone suicide for anyone. While I usually disagree with the conservatives' rallying cry that individual rights and liberties have gone too far, this is an example where I sympathize with their argument. The idea that any government in the United States at any level should sanction suicide of any form does lend a tiny bit of credence to the argument that some Americans believe they should have the right to do almost anything.

      Admittedly, few terminally-ill Americans are actually comfortable with taking their own lives. For example, Oregon already allows euthanasia for terminally-ill patients and has for seven years, but out of all the people who could have legally committed assisted suicide under the Oregon law, only 208 actually chose to do so over a seven year period. Last year, a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide failed in Vermont's state legislature. Now a group called Death with Dignity Vermont is trying to resurrect the idea of legalizing euthanasia. There could be a vote on the matter in the Vermont legislature this month.

      The government sanctioning of suicide, physician-assisted or otherwise, is a degradation of life. That is not to say that people should seek to lead the toughest life possible or refuse painkillers like Pope John Paul II. It does not mean that the Republicans' stance on Social Security, poverty, welfare, and tax cuts for the rich is to be admired. The government should do as much as possible to make people's lives easier, not their deaths.

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