Wednesday, January 31, 2007
In large part because I don't think I have a clear idea of the underlying facts, I am not entirely sure how to evaluate the Welby case. I have been concerned by some of the arguments made in defending Welby's actions. For example, the article by John Paris from the Tablet had the subtitle--"A life too burdensome." That seems to me the wrong approach to take. Catholic teaching on this issue has drawn a distinction between burdensome treatments and burdensome lives. To regard some lives, in impaired conditions, as too burdensome gets close to denying the good of human life. In the Terri Schiavo case, for instance, that seems to be precisely the dynamic. To the people who were so eager to have her food and water withdrawn, her life was not worth living and some, her husband, regarded her as already dead. But for Terri, the treatment wasn't burdensome. Her life had a value that ought to have been respected throught he continued administration of ordinary care. That was the point of John Paul II's message on the treatment of PVS patients. But for Terri's husband, her continued existence was obviously too burdensome.
Human life, however valuable, need not be preserved at all costs and there are situations where the treatment may be too burdensome (or extraordinary or disproportionate). Maybe that was the case in the Welby situation. Most commentators think that it was permissible to have removed the respirator in the Karen Ann Quinlan case, although her food and water were not withdrawn and she lived for a number of years. Maybe the Welby case was different, though, because he seemed intent on securing his death (not just avoiding atreatment that had proved too burdensome). The whole use of his case to promote the "right to die" movement in Italy seems to suggest that something more significant was going on then just replaying the Quinlan case. The ideological use of his situation and death certainly weighed into Cardinal Ruini's decision to deny a Church funeral.