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Euthanasia, Catholicism and youth suicide

Opinion Piece

Does the Catholic Church really care about youth suicide? Before anyone hits the keyboard, consider this opening paragraph in an article by Elizabeth Archer in the UK “Express”, June 4, 2019:

“The young man was sitting naked on a hard wooden chair, both wrists strapped to its arms, writhing in agony as a strong electrical current passed via a grey band into his forearm. Jeremy Gavins, then just a teenager, was not a victim of torture at the hands of some barbaric tyrant nor is this a historical event that happened in the Dark Ages. Jeremy’s only ‘crime’ was to be gay and the gruelling electric shock therapy was intended to ‘cure’ him of his attraction to men.”

Gavins “came out” as a student at St Bede’s Catholic School in Yorkshire in 1972, when he confided in his teacher. Just a month before his final exams that could get him to university, he was told his behaviour was “sinful” and given an ultimatum by his headmaster: be expelled or get treatment for his “disorder”.

His GP, a Catholic, referred him to a local psychiatric hospital for “treatment”. He was subjected to six months of “therapy” at a psychiatric hospital, even though the Sexual Offences Act had decriminalised homosexuality five years earlier.

He had been told that his biological nature was a disease and that he could be cured by therapy, but the “treatment” scarred the rest of his life. The electric shock “therapy” resulted in decades of post-traumatic stress disorder, characterised by depression, flashbacks, anxiety, and memories of the torture that gave him chronic pain for decades. In the decades following the “treatment” he attempted suicide several times.

No doubt some will say that Gavins’ headmaster, Monsignor Sweeney, was just one particularly “bad egg”, but here’s what Catholic doctrine has to say about homosexuality, in Catechism 2357, on “chastity and homosexuality”:

“Homosexual acts are ‘acts of grave depravity’ are ‘intrinsically disordered’, are ‘contrary to natural law’ and ‘under no circumstances can they be approved’.”

Faced with such opprobrium, Gavins’ suicide attempts come as no surprise. Had he succeeded in ending his life he would have become one of many such victims of Catholic bigotry.

So when Catholic campaigners against the End of Life Choice (EOLC) Bill resort to New Zealand’s high youth suicide as an argument, the rest of us must be forgiven for drawing breath in disgust. Here are just some of the dozens of examples of Catholics playing the youth suicide card:

Mary English (at a parliamentary hearing on the End of Life Choice Bill in August 2018): “If assisted suicide is a triumph for autonomy and choice, how can youth suicide be a tragedy?”

Simon O’Connor (Facebook, September 2017): “It’s strange that Jacinda is so concerned about youth suicide but is happy to encourage the suicide of the elderly, disabled, and sick. Perhaps she just values one group more than the others?”

NZ Catholic Bishops (Message, Nathaniel Centre, 27 September 2013: “The legalisation of euthanasia would send a mixed message about suicide when youth suicide remains at critical levels in New Zealand, well above all other countries in the OECD.”

Sir Bill English (Newstalk ZB, February, 2019): “How do we tell young people not to consider suicide as a solution to their depression on the one hand but, on the other, say that if you ask for euthanasia, the state will organise it and provide a doctor?”

It is high time the Catholic Church acknowledged responsibility for its part in youth suicide, and stopped its hypocritical use of it in its campaign against the EOLC Bill.

Martin Hanson