Freedom is a highly cherished value in our society, not only in all aspects of life, but increasingly in aspects of death as well. The chant, "My life is mine'' has also become, "My death is mine".
'There is a move in our country and in the world to permit the terminally ill to end their lives through euthanasia. Some claim it is the ultimate civil liberty to decide the time and manner of one's own death. "
These are the words of Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life in the US who visited Australia last month.
Fr Pavone says the "right to die"" claim is based erroneously on the idea that life is a "thing we possess" and may discard when it no longer meets our satisfaction.
"Right to die thinking says there is such a thing as a "life not worth living".
"For a Christian, however, life is worthy in and of itself and not because it meets certain criteria that we or others set," Fr Pavone said.
Fr Pavone's visit to Australia coincided with continuing debate in New South Wales and the Northern Territory about proposed euthanasia legislation.
The Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, the first legislation in the world to allow voluntary euthanasia, is expected to come into effect by the middle of next year. The Northern Territory Chief Minister, Shane Stone, has said he will not allow a conscience vote on amendments to make the legislation operative when the Territory Assembly resumes in February.
Fr Pavone, who is a priest of the New York Archdiocese, became the national director of Priests for Life in 1993.
He travels constantly throughout the United States lecturing, giving retreats and teaching about pro-life issues.
Priests for Life, a New York-based association which began in 1991, is a network of priests and deacons in the US which provides homily materials and information about abortion and euthanasia and publishes a quarterly newsletter.
Although Fr. Pavone says euthanasia legislation is being "held back" in several US States, he believes it will continue to be pursued by the "pro-death" lobby.
"One of the problems with euthanasia is that many people do not distinguish between prolonging unnecessary treatment, which the patient can refuse, and actually giving someone a lethal injection. They are two completely different issues," Fr Pavone said.
Fr Pavone believes most people who think euthanasia is a good idea are motivated by the fear of pain and the loss of control they will experience in terminal illness.
"Yet there are very few situations in which pain cannot be managed medically," Fr. Pavone said.
"Regarding control over our life, we need to adopt the approach that if we cannot cure, we care.
"Caring comes through the presence of loving, concerned people with whom the sick can share their thoughts and feelings and from whom they can receive respect and care for their emotional and spiritual needs, even in the worst physical conditions.
"To give 'dignity' to the dying is to always respect them as human persons with an eternal destiny, not to push for the option to kill them," Fr Pavone stressed.
"For Christians this is fundamentally about charity. We have to spend more time with the sick and elderly -- not abandon them to nursing homes.
"If we say we don't want to be burdened by Aunt Mary, then she feels she is a burden and her life is hopeless. But this mentality is contrary to the Gospel because Christ said we must bear one another's burdens. "