by Maria Madise
For many Catholics, going to confession and being in a state of grace before the celebration of Christmas is one of the most important aspects of Advent. A good confession, however, requires a thorough examination of conscience. And although confession is not an option for communities, nations and states, there is an onus on each of us to offer reparation for the sins of our society. As this year draws to a close and the world prepares, once again, to welcome a Child, the Life and the Light of men, to dwell among us, what would an honest examination reveal about our society’s disregard for the sanctity of human life?
Many nations have struggled to emerge from lockdowns, restore their economy and move on from the disruption wrought by the pandemic in every area of life. Yet, while the virus has forcefully reminded us of the fragility of human life, attacks on the right to life have intensified. Something which should be of particular concern is the rapid advance of euthanasia and assisted suicide, also spreading like a contagion across much of the western world.
In the last days of 2020, the conservative Argentine Senate voted to legalise abortion. A leading South American country — predominantly Catholic and the homeland of Pope Francis — began the new year with pro-abortion activists jubilant over the vote which introduced free abortion until the fourteenth week of pregnancy. Alberto Fernández, elected President of Argentina in 2019, signed the Bill into law on 14 January 2021 and it entered into force on 24 January.
In Portugal, just after the election of President Marcelo Rebelo for a second term, the Parliament voted to decriminalise voluntary euthanasia, or “medically assisted anticipation of death”. The debate, however, was set to continue throughout the year. In February, President Rebelo, a Catholic, asked the Constitutional Court to evaluate the law and it was declared unconstitutional due to the vagueness of its provisions.
Euthanasia was already legal in Canada since 2016, when the Senate voted to broaden the conditions in which it can be requested. The new criteria allow those experiencing what they consider to be “intolerable” psychological suffering to ask for their lives to be ended even if their natural death is not foreseeable. The previous legislation permitted the assisted suicide of Canadian citizens, 18 years or older, diagnosed with a grievous and irremediable condition and capable of making their own health care decisions free from undue influence. The new law permits people with mental illness to make an advanced request for euthanasia, which will remain valid even after a patient is no longer capable of making decisions.
In Spain, the Congress of Deputies adopted a law that allowed both euthanasia as well as medically assisted suicide. The law, which would come into force in June, meant that Spain became the fourth European nation and the sixth country in the world to allow a patient with an incurable disease to resort to euthanasia.
The debate also continued in Germany, where the Bundestag considered two Bills on euthanasia. The first sought the liberalisation of assisted suicide for patients suffering from serious and incurable diseases. Under the second proposal, no incurable pathology would be required before a lethal substance could be requested. This would go further than other European states. If successful, it is easy to imagine the disaster that could follow the introduction of such a law — with nothing to stop anyone struggling with a bout of depression, for example, from ending his or her life. At the same time, the Federal Order of Physicians lifted its prohibition of assisted suicide, imposed through its code of ethics.
In a statement released on 5 May, the Catholic Bishops of Costa Rica denounced a decision by the country’s government to make the so-called morning-after pill (MAP) available free of charge in all healthcare facilities. Promotion of the MAP, which acts as an early abortifacient, is seen by many as a step towards the legalisation of abortion. The Costa Rican Movement for Legal Abortion has already presented a proposal for its decriminalisation, which the organisation hopes to file in Parliament if it collects 170,000 signatures.
Sixty-two per cent of Costa Rica’s population is Catholic but the country has grown increasingly secular since the election of Carlos Alvarado, a 38-year-old French-speaking, lapsed Catholic, in 2018. That same year, the Supreme Court declared the law defining marriage as a union between one man and woman to be unconstitutional. Two years later, Costa Rica became the first nation in Central America to legalise same-sex “marriage”.
In France, the law on bioethics was radically revised by the National Assembly, ushering in a raft of provisions deeply offensive to human dignity. The new law expanded the provision of medically assisted procreation (PMA) to female couples and single women, with health insurance coverage open to all. The law allows children conceived through PMA, once they come of age, to access non-identifying donor data (age, physical characteristics, etc) or the identity of a donor who does not wish to maintain his anonymity. This not only violates Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child1 but deprives them of a true understanding of maternity and paternity.
The new regime relaxes restrictions on experiments using embryonic stem cells and establishes a 14-day period for the in vitro research on so-called “supernumerary” embryos abandoned by couples. A new category of abortion was also created — “the partial voluntary termination of a multiple pregnancy in the event of endangering the health of the woman, the embryos, and the foetuses”. What was associated before with assisted reproduction leading to multiple pregnancy is now routine.
Finally, the law authorises the creation of chimeric embryos — through the addition of human DNA to animal embryos, with the aim of producing human organs through animal breeding — supposedly to alleviate the shortage of organs for transplantation. The chimeric embryo would be placed in a pig’s uterus resulting in the birth of an animal with human organs. Two teams of researchers have already succeeded in creating chimeric monkey-human embryos.
Also in June, the people of Gibraltar voted to expand the provision of abortion. Previously, it was prohibited unless a woman’s life was in danger. The new legislation, based on that of the British abortion law, was supported by 62 per cent of voters and will make abortion available on grounds of mental or physical health, in cases of rape or incest or when the baby has a fatal physical condition. Gibraltar has a population of 32,000, of which 25,000 are Catholics.
On 23 June, the European Parliament endorsed the Matić Report. Compiled by Croatian socialist Predrag Fred Matić, the report promoted a litany of radical anti-life and anti-family policies to the EU’s 27 member nations. Its agenda included abortion on request, compulsory “comprehensive sex education” beginning in primary schools, measures to combat “harmful gender stereotypes” (such as the depiction of women as mothers) and the restriction of conscientious objection to abortion. It concludes by calling on the European Commission to:
“take concrete steps in protecting SRHR, starting with the establishment of an EU Special Envoy on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and the addition of a designated chapter on the ‘State of Play of SRHR’ in the EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy…”
Ignoring the fact that EU institutions have no competence in this area, a resolution backing the report falsely asserted that recognition of “sexual and reproductive rights” is a legal obligation required by international human rights law. While such resolutions are not legally binding, they can be influential.
On 20 July, in a development that even took abortion activists by surprise, Veracruz became the fourth state in Mexico to decriminalise abortion. Legislators voted, 25 to 13, to remove criminal penalties for abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In 2020, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled against a proposal to decriminalise abortion in the state. However, earlier in July, the Court struck down a law in the southern state of Chiapas that limited the abortion of children conceived in rape to the first trimester of pregnancy, saying that it was unconstitutional. All but two of Mexico’s 32 states allow abortion on grounds of rape, though some impose limits.
In the Philippines, the only country other than the Vatican City State which recognises marriage as indissoluble, the House of Representatives gave the green light to a Bill to consider the introduction of civil divorce.
Continuing its promotion of extremist social policies, on 14 September, Members of the European Parliament demanded that all European Union nations recognise same-sex partnerships formalised in other member states, in order to guarantee the rights of “LGBT” people, especially freedom of movement and family reunification. MEPs also expressed concerns regarding opposition to the agenda of the LGBT lobby in Hungary and Poland, which have resisted adopting its demands.
Meanwhile, the Parliament of Queensland became the fifth Australian state to decriminalise euthanasia; Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia making up the other four. As of 2023, any adult suffering from a serious or degenerative disease, whose death is expected within twelve months will be able to request “voluntary assistance in dying”. The law also recognises the subjective criterion of suffering “which the patient considers to be intolerable” as grounds for euthanasia.
On 26 September, the Republic of San Marino — an independent state in the heart of Italy and the third smallest state in Europe — held a referendum which put this question to its people: “Do you want a woman to be allowed to voluntarily terminate [her] pregnancy until the twelfth week of gestation, and also subsequently if there is a danger to the life of the woman or if there are anomalies and malformations of the foetus that pose a serious risk to the physical or psychological health of the woman?” The proposal won the support of 77.28 per cent of the voters. This means that the Parliament of San Marino will now introduce legislation to allow abortion for any reason up to the third month and up to the ninth month if a child is disabled, on the pretext that this is a threat to his mother’s mental health. Ninety-seven per cent of San Marino’s population of just over 33,000 are Catholic.
On the same day, a referendum in Switzerland approved the introduction of same-sex “marriage”. Civil unions between persons of the same sex have been officially recognised since 2007 but same-sex couples will now have all the rights of marriage, including the possibility of adopting children and donor insemination for female couples. The change was approved by all 26 cantons and semi-cantons with the support of 64.1 per cent of voters.
Attempts to legalise assisted suicide also continued in the UK, with the introduction of a private member’s Bill in the House of Lords by Baroness Meacher of Spitalfields. It received its second reading on 22 October. The Bill would allow the prescription of lethal drugs to a terminally ill person with the approval of two independent doctors and a High Court judge. The patient would be prescribed lethal medication, which they would administer themselves. An attempt to introduce similar legislation in Scotland is also ongoing.
However, the decline of once Christian Europe is perhaps best highlighted by the parliamentary leaders’ conference in Rome, which also announced that they will examine a new Bill on euthanasia. The text of that proposal, adopted by the committees as the base text, under the title “Refusal of medical treatment and the legality of euthanasia”, chillingly claims that “medically assisted voluntary death”, which is the killing of a consenting person at taxpayers’ expense, is indistinguishable from dying from natural causes.
From 7 November, New Zealand citizens who fulfil the criteria of the End of Life Choice Act 2019 may request euthanasia as part of the health service. Astonishingly, New Zealand’s Catholic bishops called on priests to provide the sacraments to persons who have agreed to euthanasia, saying that priests who object in conscience to doing so “should ensure that provision is made for the person to be accompanied by another”. This appalling requirement, imposed on priests by the bishops, echoes that of the End of Life Choice Act, whereby health practitioners who conscientiously object to assisted dying must explain to the person in their care how to contact a doctor with no such objection.
Also in November, the Portuguese Parliament voted to approve a revised Bill that clarified the circumstances under which doctors can euthanise patients with “grave, incurable and irreversible” conditions, who want to end their lives.2
This brief examination of the past year reveals a systematic attack on life at its most vulnerable stages, at the beginning and now, especially at its end. When we consider the rapidity of these developments, we would be forgiven for wondering whether the world around us will be recognisable at all when we finally emerge from the pandemic.
It is worth reiterating here that, where assisted dying is legal, offering people the choice to end their lives creates pressure for them to choose death. In particular, vulnerable groups such as the disabled and the elderly, feel pressured into taking their own lives to avoid becoming a “burden”. For example, 34 per cent of Canadians killed by assisted suicide said they feared being a burden on family and carers. In Oregon, in 2020, a majority (53 per cent) of people killed by assisted suicide cited a fear of being a “burden on family, friends/caregivers” as a reason to end their lives. And in Washington State, in 2018, 51 per cent of people who were killed by assisted suicide said that being a burden on family, friends and caregivers was a reason to end their lives. In Scotland, one-third of people over 50 already feel they are a “burden”. If assisted suicide were to be legalised, these people would no doubt feel increased pressure to end their lives.
A society where the right to life is subject to choice, or is dependent on the health of an individual, will sink progressively deeper into injustice until no life is considered inviolable. Thus, moving further and further away from God, there may soon come a point where such a society itself succumbs to an irreversible pathology: a fatal diagnosis. Recognising the value and sanctity of every human life, created in the image and likeness of God, is the first step back from barbarism and toward the restoration of a Christian society. Let us hope that our legislators are still capable of taking that step.What is most disturbing about these developments, however, is the fact that it is often Catholics and so-called conservatives who are the instruments of the worst attacks on life. Two thousand years ago, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not”. (John 1:11) Once again, God’s own people have forgotten Him and live as if He did not exist. Yet, He exists and we know that He will “make all things new”, He will “wipe away all tears: and death shall be no more”. (Apoc 21: 4–5) Let us remember this great mystery as we prepare to welcome the Author of life Himself: the Word made Flesh.
- Article 8, Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN General Assembly, 20 November 1989, A/RES/44/25:States
1) Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference.
2)Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
- Subsequently, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa vetoed the Bill on 29 November.