This is the second in a series of posts by Noel Byrne considering the Catholic church’s stance on End of Life choice as outlined in their Oireachtas submission to the Justice Committee considering the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill. If you missed the first post describing the negative impact the ‘Irish Bishops Conference’ has had on legislation in Ireland, you can catch up here.
The Catholic church generally gives much credence to quoting scripture. In the case of the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill and End of Life choice however, the church fathers and their documents fall far short of justifying the church’s ethical position and dogma.
As recent as 2020, the ‘Vatican Secretariat for the Doctrine of the Faith’, approved by Pope Francis, stated with regard to the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life:
In the bishop’s submission to the Oireachtas committee, there are no biblical quotations or references. In the submission the bishops state: ‘This submission is rooted in our conviction that we have a moral responsibility to care for our neighbour according to the gospel image of the Good Samaritan’. Their principal reference is the letter ‘Samaritanus Bonus’ also known as the ‘Good Samaritan’. Somehow, the well known parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’ is used by the bishops to draw conclusions about end of life choice. The church twists this parable to justify their stance on euthanasia because there is no actual biblical prohibition on euthanasia.
The bishops draw on the insights of the letter ‘Samaritanus Bonus’, to draw illogical conclusions on the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life. The bishops appear to compare the case of helping a stranger who has been assaulted, to preventing a person suffering agony as a result of a terminal illness from ending their suffering. An illogical stretch at best, at worst a ridiculous and typically cruel comparison, showing how out-of-touch the church is with our compassionate, modern Irish society.
The parable of the Good Samaritan that is taken completely out of context is part of chapter ten of Luke’s Gospel. I will paraphrase the relevant section of Luke.
There was a lawyer who asked Jesus ‘Master what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus replies ‘What is written in the Law?’ to which the lawyer replies, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus replies ‘You are right.’ The lawyer then asks Jesus ‘who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the parable Jesus asks which of the three individuals in the parable do you think proved himself a neighbour? ‘The one who took pity on him the lawyer replies’ Jesus then said “Go and do the same yourself. “
When put in context it is obvious the parable is a version of ‘The Golden Rule’, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It is truly a parable about compassion, humanity, pity and understanding. In no way does this parable condemn or even relate to Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) or euthanasia. It seems a twisted interpretation of the parable given in “Samaritanus Bonus” is the best the Church can do to try and get a biblical justification for their dogma. It is a warped interpretation of the parable that tries to give legitimacy to the church’s stance on Voluntary Assisted Dying. As this is the most recent instruction from Rome on the issue of VAD, the Irish bishops use this weak justification in their submission as the best available church argument.
In the ‘The God Delusion’, Richard Dawkins describes the god of the Old Testament “Yahweh” as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction as evidenced by the following characteristics; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
The following quotes from Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament should raise alarm in any right thinking person:
‘However, you must not let any living thing survive among the cities of these people the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. You must completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.’ Deut. 20:16-18
‘Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, infants and nursing babies, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ 1 Sam 15:3
We could also recall the genocide at the time of Noah and the extermination in Sodom and Gomorrah. I emphasise again the church teaches there is but one god. This genocidal guy in the old testament is the same homophobe and misogynist found in the New Testament, and this is the same guy the bishops pray to!
The bishops find it appropriate to consider Voluntary Assisted Dying in the same moral context as suicide. Nothing could be further from the truth, those accessing VAD would, if in the full of their health have no desire to die. This thinking in itself is flawed. Further, even if they could be considered with the same moral judgements, the Bible does not prohibit suicide.
I am aware of five cases of suicide in the Old Testament. They are:
- Abimelech (Judges 9: 50-57)
- Samson (Judges 16: 28-31),
- Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-4)
- Saul’s armour- bearer (1 Samuel 31:5)
- Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23)
- Zimri (1Kings16:17-19).
Further, in the New Testament there is
- the suicide of Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5).
Accordingly, there is no evidence to sustain any moral condemnation of suicide based on the Bible.
Notably, the bishops do not use the commandment “thou shalt not kill” to dismiss voluntary assisted dying. This is because the commandment “thou shalt not kill” as given to Moses only related to murder within the Israelite tribe. It did not refer to killing outsiders, or gentiles as they referred to them. Yahweh, the god of the old testament, was a war god who helped the Israelites exterminate many races and tribes. According to doctrine there is but one god and these exterminations happened long after Yahweh had given the commandments to Moses.
In reality the ‘Good Samaritan’ parable provides no biblical justification for the stance of Irish bishops against the Dying with Dignity Bill
The bishops make a single reference to another church document called ‘New charter for health care workers’ that will be addressed in a later post in this series.
In the next post I will deal with Compassion, an emotion that is notably missing from the Oireachtas submission by Irish bishops on the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill. The lack of compassion is hardly surprising considering the bishops lack of compassion when it came to divorce and abortion. Thankfully, the twisted thinking of the Irish bishops has been repeatedly rejected by the people of Ireland. We expect the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill will see similar public support regardless of the dogma of a small number of men and their waning following.
Noel Byrne is a committee member of EOLI. He is a retired Civil Servant and a Humanist, with a principal interest in Philosophy, and a particular interest in Ethics and Morality.