euthanasia

So how much do you trust Pope Francis? Here's why death penalty debate is heating up

So how much do you trust Pope Francis? Here's why death penalty debate is heating up

St. Pope John Paul II condemned the death penalty and urged government leaders to end it. 

Pope Benedict XVI did the same, in language just as strong as that used by his beloved predecessor.

Now Pope Francis has gone one step further, saying that the church can now say that the faith of the ages has evolved, allowing the Catholic Catechism to condemn the death penalty in strong, but somewhat unusual language. Is use of the death penalty now a mortal sin, like abortion and euthanasia? Well, the word is that it is "inadmissible."

This is, of course, a major news story and, no surprise, host Todd Wilken and I discussed the early press coverage in this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

But what does this change really mean?

Did Pope Francis simply take the work of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI one step further? Thus, Catholic traditionalists can chill. 

Or is this an example of Pope Francis the progressive, moving one piece on the Jesuit chessboard to prepare for further shifts in the future on other doctrines? If the church was wrong on the death penalty for 2,000 years, who knows what doctrine will evolve next?

So, is this doctrinal shift a big deal or not? 

It appears, after looking at lots of commentary on social media, that the answer to that question depends on whether someone trusts Pope Francis or not. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, (1711) line 203.

Regular readers of these columns will discern my disdain for advocacy journalism. It is part of my personal catalogue of the seven deadly sins. Let us tick them off according to Pope Gregory I’s list: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, wnvy and pride. Advocacy journalism is the reporter’s particular sin of pride. It takes humility to handle opposing voices with accuracy and respect.

But I do not want to dismiss this style out of hand for there are many examples of excellent opinion-centered news articles. A recent story on euthanasia from the French daily Libération is an example of how to do advocacy journalism well.

But first let us define our terms. In a recent GetReligion article, editor tmatt described the clash of ideologies between the classical school of Anglo-American reporting, and the older but now revived school of advocacy reporting.

When I say "old-school journalism," I am referring to what textbooks often call the "American model of the press," which stresses that journalists should strive to honor standards of accuracy, fairness and balance when covering the news. The key: When reporting on hot-button issues, journalists should strive to treat people on all sides of these debates with respect.
This classically liberal approach to news emerged, and evolved, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The goal was to produce news that was as independent as possible, thus exposing readers to genuine diversity. Citizens could then make up their own minds.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Former Catholic priest does euthanasia (in numbing detail) recorded by the New York Times

Former Catholic priest does euthanasia (in numbing detail) recorded by the New York Times

It’s beginning to feel like fill-in-the-blanks journalism: A terminally ill person wishes to die on his own terms and so we are walked through his last hours in a happy celebration of the joys of euthanasia.

Some of us have mixed feelings about assisted suicide, especially if you’ve spent any time in a ward of very elderly people, many of whom have no idea of where they are. And, were they cognizant, they might vote themselves off the Earth pretty quickly.

Yes, this is personal. After spending some time at the bedside of my dying father a year ago and seeing how miserable so many of the elderly and sick truly are, I can understand wanting to end it. But there is always that slippery slope when it comes to science, law and doctrine.

Here we have a lyrical New York Times piece about a former Catholic priest arranging his own death. We start here: 

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- Two days before he was scheduled to die, John Shields roused in his hospice bed with an unusual idea. He wanted to organize an Irish wake for himself. It would be old-fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail -- he would be present.
The party should take up a big section of Swiss Chalet, a family-style chain restaurant on the road out of town. Mr. Shields wanted his last supper to be one he so often enjoyed on Friday nights when he was a young Catholic priest -- rotisserie chicken legs with gravy.
Then, his family would take him home and he would die there in the morning, preferably in the garden. It was his favorite spot, rocky and wild. Flowering native shrubs pressed in from all sides and a stone Buddha and birdbath peeked out from among the ferns and boulders. Before he got sick, Mr. Shields liked to sit in his old Adirondack chair and watch the bald eagles train their juveniles to soar overhead. He meditated there twice a day, among the towering Douglas firs.

Wait a minute: Chicken legs (not fish) on Fridays when he was a YOUNG priest? Maybe this is a sign of Catholic tensions to come.

Not surprisingly, the locale is in the Pacific Northwest in a part of Canada that the article  calls “ground zero for assisted suicide in the country.” 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A suicide party? Moral and religious questions? Associated Press draws a blank

A suicide party? Moral and religious questions? Associated Press draws a blank

Ever hear of a suicide party?

There was such an event in San Diego in July and the Associated Press was there to tell us the details. The piece came with photos of a party with a 41-year-old woman who was sometimes sitting up, other times lying down. However, she could not stand or walk nor move her arms and her speech was so slurred, most had problems understanding her.

Still, what would you do if you were invited to such an event? Would you raise any questions of a moral or religious nature? We will come back to that.

SAN DIEGO -- In early July, Betsy Davis emailed her closest friends and relatives to invite them to a two-day party, telling them: “These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness.”
And just one rule: No crying in front of her.
The 41-year-old artist with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, held the gathering to say goodbye before becoming one of the first Californians to take a lethal dose of drugs under the state's new doctor-assisted suicide law for the terminally ill.
“For me and everyone who was invited, it was very challenging to consider, but there was no question that we would be there for her,” said Niels Alpert, a cinematographer from New York City. “The idea to go and spend a beautiful weekend that culminates in their suicide — that is not a normal thing, not a normal, everyday occurrence. In the background of the lovely fun, smiles and laughter that we had that weekend was the knowledge of what was coming.”
Davis worked out a detailed schedule for the gathering on the weekend of July 23-24, including the precise hour she planned to slip into a coma. ...

The article described the party, and then its end:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Child euthanasia: CNN is still leaving God and faith questions on cutting room floor

Child euthanasia: CNN is still leaving God and faith questions on cutting room floor

“Heaven over hospital” is the tearjerker story lots of folks have been talking about this week, with good cause.

Set in Oregon, a state with liberal euthanasia laws, the major players aren’t consenting adults dying of some awful disease and who want to put a quicker end to their misery.

No, this time the major player is a 5-year-old. 

The story is in two parts. Here is how the second part debuts:

(CNN) Five-year-old Julianna Snow has never been healthy enough to attend Sunday school at the City Bible Church in Portland, Oregon, where her family belongs, so most of what she knows about heaven, she knows from her parents.
They tell her that heaven is where she'll be able to run and play and eat, none of which she can do now. Heaven is where she'll meet her great-grandmother, who shared Julianna's love of shiny, sparkly, mismatched clothes.
God will be in heaven, too, they tell her, and he will love her even more than they do.
But Michelle Moon and Steve Snow explain that they won't be in heaven when Julianna arrives there, and neither will her big brother, Alex. She'll go to heaven before them because she has a severe case of an incurable neurodegenerative illness called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Her coughing and breathing muscles are so weak that the next time she catches even a cold, the infection could settle in her lungs, where it could cause a deadly pneumonia. Her doctors believe that if they can save her under those circumstances -- and that's a big if -- she will likely end up sedated on a respirator with very little quality of life.

And here comes the issue that lifts this tragic story into the news:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Gov. Jerry Brown's Catholicity vs. euthanasia decision gets above-the-fold ink

Gov. Jerry Brown's Catholicity vs. euthanasia decision gets above-the-fold ink

Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old Californian who moved to Oregon last year so she could end her life instead of facing the last stages of brain cancer, got her political revenge this week.

That's the reality in the news coverage. That’s because -- unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere -- California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill making assisted suicide legal. Which opened the gates to this controversial personal or family choice to some 38 million people overnight.

And the Los Angeles Times reporter who covered it did a great job of making the religion angle front and center. That is, the Catholic governor of the country’s most populous state did something totally against his religion, but readers got to learn about how that decision played out. Start reading here:

Caught between conflicting moral arguments, Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, signed a measure Monday allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths.
Brown appeared to struggle in deciding whether to approve the bill, whose opponents included the Catholic Church.
“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown wrote in a signing message. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

After explaining some provisions of the End of Life Option Act and placing a quote by its opponents quite high in the story, the reporter swung back to Brown, who said he had weighed the religious arguments.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New Yorker article finds unusual scapegoat for euthanasia in Belgium: Secular humanists

New Yorker article finds unusual scapegoat for euthanasia in Belgium: Secular humanists

Euthanasia has gotten some pretty uncritical treatment from the media, especially the month-long media drama last fall involving 29-year-old Bethany ­­­Maynard. Her decision to short-circuit an almost-certain agonizing death via brain cancer by deciding to kill herself beforehand kept the nation enthralled for weeks, especially when she seemed to back off from her resolution near the end. But she did the deed last Nov. 1, her target date. 

What went untold there -- and in many euthanasia narratives before that -- was something of the devastation felt by the nearest of kin. 

Which is why this New Yorker piece on Godelieva De Troyer, a Belgian woman who did not have a terminal illness but chose to die nevertheless, is the exception.

The story first goes into De Troyer’s lifelong battles with depression, which was abetted when her husband committed suicide, leaving her a single parent with two small children. She struggled along, finding comfort in a new boyfriend for a time, but then losing him and also losing the affection of her daughter, who had moved to Africa and wished no contact with her. What remained was a son, who was married with two children. It is this son, named Tom, that the article spends much time on.

Belgium had passed a law in 2002 that allows euthanasia for those who have an incurable illness that causes them unbearable physical or mental suffering. (It also allows euthanasia for incurably ill children and a law allowing euthanasia for dementia is also in the works.) When De Troyer turned 63, she met Wim Distelmans, a doctor who was a proponent of that law. One thing led to another and in late 2011, she told her children she’d filed a euthanasia request with her doctor. Neither took her seriously, so they were shocked to learn the following April that she had indeed killed herself. The son found a note from her saying that after 40 years of unsuccessful therapy for her depression, she was done.

At this point, the article slips into theology:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Baltimore Sun ignores religion ghosts in Maryland debates on 'death with dignity' bill

Baltimore Sun ignores religion ghosts in Maryland debates on 'death with dignity' bill

Baltimore is the kind of place where a Super Bowl ring does grant someone a certain level of moral and cultural authority.

Thus, I was not surprised that Baltimore Ravens executive O.J. Brigance, a linebacker and special-teams star in the team's first Super Bowl win, was asked to testify during the legislative hearings on a proposed "death with dignity" law in Maryland. Also, I was not surprised that The Baltimore Sun decided to lead its report on these hearings with this unique man's testimony.

However, I was surprised that Brigance -- one of the most outspoken Christians on the Raven's staff (click here for previous GetReligion posts on this) -- did not say anything about his faith during his testimony. Or, perhaps, the members of the Sun team were anxious to avoid the Godtalk during the debates about this hot-button moral issue?

First, here is what readers were told about Brigance:

On Tuesday, testifying with a machine that replaced the voice taken from him by ALS, the former linebacker told Maryland lawmakers that his most significant feat came after he grieved over his degenerative condition and decided to live.
"Because I decided to live life the best I could, there has been a ripple effect of goodness in the world," Brigance said. "Since being diagnosed, I have done a greater good for society in eight years than in my previous 37 years on earth."
His testimony came during an emotional hearing in Annapolis on a proposed "death with dignity" law, a measure that is named in honor of Richard E. "Dick" Israel, another prominent Marylander with a neurodegenerative disease. While Israel is spending his final months fighting for the right to end his life, Brigance says his terminal disease brought meaning to his.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

In a fascinating story, the Tampa Bay Times explores former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who died a decade ago after the feeding tube that sustained her for 15 years was removed.

The front-page report published Sunday focuses on Bush's decision to "err on the side of life" in a messy conflict over the fate of Schiavo, whom medical experts described as in a "persistent vegetative state."

The lede:

Tricia Rivas had never written to an elected official, but gripped with emotion, she composed an urgent email to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "Please save Terri Schiavo!" she wrote from her home in Tucson, Ariz., on March 20, 2005. "Do something before it is too late … please! Every parent is watching this drama unfold … and will remember the outcome in future elections." Schiavo would be dead by the end of the month at a hospice near St. Petersburg, but not before Bush took a series of actions that, looking back a decade later, are stunning for their breadth and audacity.
A governor who was known for his my-way-or-the-highway approach — and who rarely was challenged by fellow Republicans controlling the legislative branch — stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis in order to overrule the judicial branch for which he often showed contempt. Bush used his administration to battle in court after court, in Congress, in his brother's White House, and, even after Schiavo's death, to press a state attorney for an investigation into her husband, Michael Schiavo.
While many Republicans espouse a limited role for government in personal lives, Bush, now a leading contender for president in 2016, went all in on Schiavo.

Brief glimpses of faith and religion appear throughout the 2,200-word story. Unfortunately, those glimpses function more as flashing lights — as buzzwords — than real spotlights illuminating any kind of spiritual insight or depth.

Please respect our Commenting Policy