HALF HEARTED Cath olic protests having allowed the Abortion Act an easy passage, Cardinal Heenan is determined that the growing threat of a Euthanasia Bill will be fought from the outset.
Calling "voluntary" euthanasia "suicide at one remove" the Cardinal made the first appeal of the campaign to the annual meeting of the Catholic Nurses' Guild, an organisation that appeared illprepared to meet the challenge. He said: "If euthanasia is legalised, no self-respecting invalid would insist on being kept alive while those all around him were wishing him dead." A free decision was impossible under stress of acute pain, he said.
"It is important to stress the law of God does not require us to take extravagant measures to prevent the onset of death in a mortally sick patient," he said, quoting Arthur Clough: "Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive."
The Cardinal told the 150 nurses gathered in Bedford College, London, that he was responding to a request from "young Protestant doctors and nurses working with the dying and passionately opposed to euthanasia." A conference is to be held of all concerned with geriatrics and incurably sick patients in Westminster Cathedral Hall "within the next few weeks."
WI SH Y WASHY Miss Nora Griffiths, national president of the guild, agreed 40 per cent of Britain's nurses were Catholic. If her estimate is correct, it is hardly possible that the 126,000 abortions officially recorded last year could have been carried out without their cooperation.
Miss Elizabeth Mott, editor of the guild's magazine, one of the six nurses who went to Parliament to lobby MPs to oppose the Abortion Act, admitted she knew of Catholic nurses who took part in abortions. "Many do not understand why it is wrong. They have the legal right to refuse to cooperate, but very often they do not tell the hospital authorities that they are Catholics."
In an Edinburgh hospital where she recently studied midwifery, Miss Mott said patients having abortions shared a ward with those suffering accidental miscarriages. She thought this a very cruel practice. "But whatever one's religion one cannot get out of looking after abortion cases on the ward itself."
After the Anglican St. Barnabas Nurses' Guild produced a well-researched docu ment for submission to the Lane Committee looking into the working of the Abortion Act last year, the Catholic guild, challenged by their chaplain to do the same, eventually came out with something one reader described as "the usual wishy-washy Catholic 'let's not impose our views' sort of thing."
REPORTS Attending the guild's meeting I left far from confident that the Catholic nurses' organisation could effectively respond to the challenge of euthanasia any more than it had to abortion. The national president observed at the end of her address that,"it's surprising how few people know of what the guild does." Canon Davis of Roehampton, London, began the national chaplain's address by remarking: "There is, one feels, a crisis of identity in the guild."
Reports from diocesan secretaries, few of whom could have been much under 50, recorded retreats and the number at the guild's pilgrimage to Lourdes.
One group had a special guild stained-glass window put into a church, another told of its efforts to produce a guild monument complete with everburning candles.
All who opposed the passing of the Abortion Act, which has in practice led to abortion on demand, know it was pushed through by a very small but informed and determined group of individuals, many of them Humanists. Every fresh abortion guarantees the Act the support of one more voter and the Lane Committee's brief is strictly confined to examining the working of the Act, not considering its repeal.
Almost the same group of people support a Euthanasia Bill, proposed by ,Lord Raglan, which failed by only 61 votes to 40 in the House of Lords in 1969. The following year an attempt by a private member to have it discussed in the Commons was also unsuccessful, no vote being taken.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society's booklet noted that: "The Bill received substantial support. There was, of course, some outright opposition on religious grounds which conceded nothing to the principle of free choice, but other speakers holding official religious positions were by no means unsympathetic."
BIG INCREASE Mr. Charles Sweetingham, secretary of the Euthanasia Society, which occupies a basement of the British Humanist Association's Knightsbridge headquarters, told me this week that the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland had recently agreed that "passive euthanasia was in many cases justifiable" and maintained an "open mind" on the subject.
"There has been a tremendously big increase in interest in the subject this year, the medical world has terribly difficult problems about pro
longing life," said Mr. Sweetingham. "But if a person wants to live at the age of 90 or a hundred, good luck to them." He denied the society had any plans for a Euthanasia Bill "at the moment."
Last week two of the Euthanasia Society's speakers met their chief opponents, the Human Rights Society, in a debate organised by the Southwark Council of Social Services at Peckham Civic Centre, London. Mr. Bill Cooper, director of the Human Rights Society, said it was founded in 1969 to support the United Nations declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights.
"We find the greatest threat to human rights in Britain is coming through the euthanasia campaign," said Mr. Cooper. "We suspect humanists, who believe in a meritocracy, would get the Bill extended to get rid of Spina Bifida, thalidomide and mentally deranged cases."
He believes another Euthanasia Bill is being con sidered, despite Mr. Sweetingham's denial. "Rev. A. B. Downing. a Free Church clergyman, and chairman of the Euthanasia Society, last week mentioned 'the Bill we have going at present'. Cardinal Heenan has probably also heard something," said Mr. Cooper.
SURVEY A Human Rights Society survey just before the 1970 election found the majority of MPs against euthanasia. Mr. Cooper said the Euthanasia Society had been collecting signatures on a petition in favour of euthanasia and had got people to sign after the meeting in Peckham.
The Human Rights group in Manchester succeeded in getting local MPs to agree they would not support a bill. On January 26 Mrs. Jill Knight MP will be addressing an antieuthanasia meeting in Birmingham for the Society and Mr. Gordon Oakes MP will be speaking for them at a Liverpool meeting in February. He has recently had a request for a speaker for a meeting of the Union of Catholic Mothers in Lewisham, Kent.
Mr. Cooper advised Catholic organisations to inform themselves on the subject of euthanasia, to hold meetings and petition their MPs.
He sees "mercy killing" as yet another weapon in the hands of people who believe in population control. "There are many who want to see the population of Britain reduced to 30m., as outlined in the recent Ecology magazine document, "Blueprint for Survival" he said.
Mrs. Phyllis Bowman, press officer of the anti-abortionist Society for the Protectjon of Unborn Children, said she had heard hints from several sources that another humanistinspired Euthanasia Bill was being planned. "The Catholic bishops tragically failed to get the laity moving about abortion because they feared they would get politicians' backs up and did not want to make the issue a sectarian one, but I think they are now taking a more open stand to oppose euthanasia," she said.
Abortion and euthanasia are just two of the problems in the medical field where Catholic teaching conflicts with government policy. Genetic engineering and test-tube babies are likely to cause further battles in the near future. Cardinal Heenan, answering questions at the nurses' guild meeting, said prohibitive cost was forcing the closure of Catholic hospitals in Britain.
The role of Catholic nurses has therefore never been more important and will become increasingly so. The guild, to which the Cardinal appealed, has less.than 700 paid up members and Miss Griffiths, said numbers had been falling steadily for the last five years, though this year there was a growth in membership for the first time.
There is great danger that 40 per cent Catholic representation in nursing will exert as disproportionately little influence as it does in other spheres. Catholic representation in local and national politics, as recently pointed out by the Laity Commission, is way below what might be expected of a 5fm. strong denomination.
The Church, through its members, can make a major contribution to national thinking on subjects it is informed and concerned about. But there is every danger that a smaller but more determined group will succeed with euthanasia, just as they did with abortion, making a concept abhorrent to Catholics part of the British way of life.