Regarding Peter Singer’s Nov. 18 article, “Slippery slope of doctor-assisted euthanasia“: Professor Singer says Roman Catholic thinkers would do well to examine the consequences of the Catholic “double effects” doctrine before invoking the “slippery slope” arguments against euthanasia. In fact, Singer would do well to read the Vatican’s 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia more carefully before suggesting it inures doctors to the practice of shortening patients’ lives “without consent.”
The specific passage of the Declaration simply confirms that Catholic doctrine does not require the imposition of “heroic” acceptance of extreme pain near death, and thus allows painkillers. Though, even here, it is stressed that the measures should not deny the consciousness needed for the patient to exercise his moral duties, clearly a reference to the importance of the patient’s moral judgment and consent to the measures. More specifically, professor Singer should note the Declaration’s following section on the use and withdrawal of extraordinary means of life prolongation. It explicitly requires the patient’s consent to such means or their removal.
If consent is required here, how much more, obviously, would it be required in the proactive use of painkillers that could, as a known but unintended consequence, shorten life? A doctor quoted in the article was indeed honest in saying “we kill ’em.” The morally significant issue is that professor Singer sees “killing ’em” as a great moral advance.
In contrast to Singer’s ominous view, Catholic teaching insists on the necessity of caring for near-death patients with the charity and support owed the sick in those situations.