The following comes from a December 2 Angelus article by Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk:
Sometimes people will point out: “We euthanize our pets when they suffer, and they are clearly creatures of God, so why can’t we euthanize a sick and suffering person who wants it? It seems like we treat our dogs and cats better than we treat our suffering family members.”
The way we treat animals, however, should not be the measure of how we treat fellow human beings.
In euthanizing a cat or dog, an assessment about the nature of the creature is rolled up into our decision to proceed. Our pets seem to process the world around them mostly in terms of pleasure and pain, oscillating between these two poles as they instinctively gravitate towards pleasurable experiences and engage in “mechanisms of avoidance” when they come up against pain or discomfort.
Animals lack that uniquely human power to reason about, resign themselves to, and allow good to be drawn out of pain. Animals can’t do much else in the face of their suffering apart from trying to skirt around it, escape the situation, or passively endure it.
But it would be false empathy, and a false compassion, to promote the killing or suicide of suffering family members. As human beings, we have real moral duties, and better options, in the face of our own pain and tribulations.
As human beings, we reach beyond the limits that suffering imposes by a conscious decision to accept and grow through it, like the athlete or the Navy seal who pushes through the limits of his exhaustion during training. We enter into an awareness of something greater behind the veil of our suffering when we come to accept it as an integral component of our human condition.
On the other hand, if our fear of suffering drives us to constant circumlocution and relentless avoidance, even to the point of short-circuiting life itself through euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, we can miss those mysterious but privileged moments that invite us to become more resplendently human, with all the messiness, awkwardness and agonies that are invariably part of that process.