News stories about issues in medical ethics -- take physician-assisted suicide, for example -- tend to be rather complicated affairs.
Add in ultimate questions about Catholic theology and things get even more complicated. Changing the name of the procedure in question to "medically assisted death" doesn't erase the moral and doctrinal questions involved in all of this.
Thus, editors at The National Post had to know they were headed into tricky territory when working on a recent story that ran with this headline: "Catholics hoping for a funeral after assisted death face different answers from different churches." Read the following carefully -- Catholic readers, especially -- and see if you can spot any problems that start right at the top of this story.
VANCOUVER -- A proper funeral is far more than an end-of-life celebration for practising Catholics, who believe last rites cleanse the soul of sin in preparation for eternal life in heaven.
But for the faithful questioning whether those final sacraments are available to a loved one who has chosen a medically assisted death, the answer may depend on whom in the church they ask.
See the problem? Have the journalists who worked on this story confused Catholic teachings about funerals with teachings about what are commonly known as the "Last Rites," in which a priest -- whenever possible -- hears a dying person's final Confession and offers absolution? The crucial Catechism reference states:
In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum. Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of "passing over" to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection. ... The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father.
A funeral service may be "final" rites for the deceased, but they are not the Last Rites, in the traditional sense. So, does the funeral service itself "cleanse the soul of sin in preparation for eternal life in heaven"?