By Ed Mechmann
The Coronavirus pandemic is presenting us all with a myriad of challenges. Many of them will have significance even after the crisis is over. But to me, one is particularly troubling — the growing danger of rationing health care. This risks giving new life to the anti-life attitude that leads directly to euthanasia.
The trend lines of the pandemic are very clear. Our hospital systems will, sooner or later, be strained far beyond their capacity. Not only will hospital beds be scarce, all other elements of the health care system will also be inadequate — personnel, medicine, supplies, etc. Difficult decisions will have to be made about who will get what kinds of treatment.
There lies the greatest danger. Prof. Charles Camosy of Fordham has been doing a herculean job in exposing the disaster of what passes for contemporary secular medical ethics . That field is dominated by a utilitarian mindset that recognizes little or no intrinsic importance in any individual human life. Instead, it treats people as objects to be evaluated according to someone’s criteria of usefulness, quality or productivity. It’s no surprise that those criteria always favor the powerful over the weak, the rich over the poor, and the capable over the disabled.
Now, people are openly saying it would be appropriate to deny people life-sustaining medical care simply because of their age. The presumption is that old people are too much of a burden or they need to get out of the way so their grandchildren can have a better life. The head of the Washington State Hospital Association openly said recently, “If you are above a certain age and we have a shortage of ventilators, you don’t get one.”
There are reports that this is already being done in Spain (65 is the deadly age there) and Italy (it’s only 60 there). Washington State’s protocols also call for sending patients to palliative care to ease their death if they have a “loss of physical ability [or] cognition”. By that vague and subjective standard, every sick person is at risk of being kicked to the curb to die .
It’s no surprise that Washington State led the way in legalizing assisted suicide and continues to be a model for euthanasia advocates. This is how far the Culture of Death has advanced. We are now deep into what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture”. It is a scary place to live. We’ve been there before, where some people are deemed “life unworthy of life”
The pro-life movement and our own Church have not yet risen adequately to this very serious danger. Our movement has focused for so long on abortion that there seems to be limited bandwidth for end-of-life threats. We need to wake up, and right now.
I realize that the number of aborted children is far greater than the number of elderly who will be abandoned during this crisis. But we cannot let an inhuman rationing mentality get any further entrenched in our culture. How can it be possible that Andrew Cuomo, of all people, has been the leader in rejecting the rationing mentality? Our state health department has rejected using age as a criteria for rationing ventilators. The Governor himself said in an email:
I want to be clear: We are not willing to sacrifice 1-2% of New Yorkers to this virus. That’s not who we are. My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable. We will not put a dollar figure on human life. We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one. No one should be talking about social Darwinism for the sake of the stock market. The first order of business is to save lives.
He is obviously clueless about the horrible irony of those words, given his full-throated support for abortion. But we have to give credit where credit is due. He’s saying and doing the right thing, and we need much more of this, in a hurry, from our leaders.
Today, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, is the 25th anniversary of the prophetic encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Most people know it best because of its powerful reaffirmation of the Church’s teaching on abortion. But it equally strongly rejected any kind of anti-life mentality that devalued the elderly and disabled. At the very beginning, St. Pope John Paul reminded us of the foundational principle:
Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded. (2)
The gauntlet has now been thrown down to our Church and to the pro-life movement. None of us expected this new crisis or the challenge of allocating limited health care resources. But we cannot fail now to do our duty to God and to each other. We need to educate ourselves and others, and fast. We need to get out into the public square and confront the dangers of a rationing mentality. When we do this, we can’t just rely on secular arguments or anti-discrimination laws. We have to boldly affirm the intrinsic value of every human life because we are made in the image and likeness of God. We must argue from transcendent truths, not from mere man-made ideas or laws.
We also need to mobilize our movement to be as helpful to elderly and disabled people as we are to women at risk for abortion. Our prayer warriors and servants who help those moms have been heroic and steadfast for decades. We now need an equally heroic band who will do the same for those at the other vulnerable margins of life.
For every hospital that practices euthanasia, we’ll need a truly Christian hospice or nursing home. For every volunteer who walks with struggling new moms, we’ll need one who will do the same for an isolated grandmother. For every Holy Hour for the unborn, we’ll need one for the disabled and handicapped.
John Paul called upon us to proclaim, celebrate, and serve the Gospel of Life. Our goals is to build a true Culture of Life. So let me close my call to action with some beautiful words from Evangelium Vitae:
It is time for all of us… with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person… Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life, for the mystery of every individual’s call to share through Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our Creator and Father. (83)