The sick, the frail and the physically and mentally handicapped deserve our particular respect. They should rally our support and focus our thinking, because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Must we, in the case of terminal illness, do everything and anything possible to stay alive, despite the condition we may be in? The answer to this is cleary NO. There is no civil or religious law which says that we must stay alive at any cost. What is never permitted, however, is any act or omission which causes, or is intended to cause, death, in order to remove a person from suffering.

This is euthanasia, sometimes called mercy killing.

It is not necessary nowadays for anyone to die while suffering from intolerable, overwhelming pain. Effective palliative care and hospice care is increasingly available and improving.

We never have sufficient evidence to know that a dying person's request to be killed is rational, enduring and genuinely voluntary. A request to die may not reflect an enduring desire to die. Some attempts to commit suicide reflect temporary despair.

According to the doctrine of double effect, it is permissible to alleviate pain by administering drugs like morphine which, it is foreseen may shorten life (the intention being to ease distress). To give an overdose or injection with the direct intention of terminating a patient's life is morally indefensible.

If society allows voluntary euthanasia we will have set foot on a slippery slope that will lead us inevitably to non-voluntary euthanasia. Since the publication of the 1991 Remmelink Report into euthanasia in Holland, it has been shown that legally protecting voluntary euthanasia is impossible without also affording protection to non-voluntary euthanasia. Of those assisted to die under Dutch law, a little over half were clearly cases of voluntary euthanasia. Of the remainder, the vast majority of cases related to patients who at the time of the assisted death were no longer competent.

The deaths of some of these were brought about by withdrawal of treatment, others by interventions such as lethal doses of anaesthetics. "Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of 'over-zealous' treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2278).

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