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November 28, 2011

Two Canadian reports released in mid-November highlight the grave moral crisis facing Western society. First came the report of a committee of the Royal Society of Canada advocating the legalization of euthanasia, even for cases in which there has been no diagnosis of terminal illness.

The Royal Society report was followed two days later by that of a parliamentary committee calling for more effective palliative care, suicide prevention and elder abuse intervention across the land.

On one hand, there is the view that life is something to be disposed of; on the other hand, the view that life is intrinsically valuable and must be supported by stronger inter-personal relationships.

The former view, the one that favours legalized euthanasia, understands even life itself in terms of its utility. If my life is no longer useful, if, for example, it is no longer pleasurable, then I should be free to dispose of it. This is the mentality of technology taken to its ultimate conclusion.

Technology, of course, has been of enormous value. The emphasis on finding practical solutions to vexing problems through human inventiveness has been of enormous benefit to humanity.

Technology, however, must always be what its name implies – a tool in the service of higher values. But when the existence of higher values is denied, technology becomes the robot that has gone berserk. Everything is reduced to its usefulness for some further end and there is no final end that gives meaning to all. Technology itself becomes that final end: If we can do it, it must be done.

Truth, beauty and goodness – even life itself – are made the slaves of the principle of utility.

The parliamentary committee report says, in effect, there is a better way. The human person is not some thing to be used, but is in fact a relational being. The person is of intrinsic value and is oriented toward an other, whether that other be another person, a higher value or God himself.

In fact, being itself is characterized by an orientation toward love. An act or law that is not formed by and oriented toward love ends up distorting and destroying the nature and destiny of, not only the person, but the cosmos itself.

This is perhaps heady philosophical thinking. However, the crisis in the Western world is a philosophical crisis. The human person and being itself – abstracted from God – have been reduced to static, fixed bits of matter of no intrinsic significance.

Euthanasia, of course, must be opposed and palliative care must be expanded. However, this is a battle that will be long and deep. What is ultimately called for is a philosophical revolution, a revolution that will re-shape the foundations of society from the sterile principle of utility to the fruitfulness of a culture of love.