In our world of numbers and statistics, a 70% poll figure in favour of euthanasia wins out over the authority of one sovereign conscience. On March 18th, Luxembourg enacted legislation to permit doctors to execute assisted suicide, making it the fourth nation to acknowledge as law the “right to die”. To make that happen Parliament had to go to the extreme of modifying Luxembourg’s Constitution to overrule the sovereign’s veto power over the bill.
It seems to be yet another victory for the pro-choice movement over the pro-life movement. But being outnumbered and overrun does not mean defeat. It’s not over till … the Grand Duke makes his last stand. Instead of resorting to political debating, Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg chose a classier approach: a three-word sermon on “reasons of conscience”.
What is conscience, anyway? Is it just a place where I make personal decisions? Or does it give me reasons to make decisions? “I did it for my peace of conscience... in my conscience I think that... I had a guilty conscience so I...”
A recent controversy in Italy got both Church and State up in arms: the Eluana Englaro case. After 17 years in a vegetative state, her father petitioned doctors to disconnect her feeding tubes so that she be allowed to die. When his request was granted, her father said that his “conscience was finally at peace.” It seems that Eluana’s father has a different idea of conscience than Henri.
Let’s take a look from the other end and see what a two-millennium organization has to say about the matter. “Conscience is man’s most inner core and sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice is always calling him to do good and avoid evil.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches great doctrine in a simple way. Simple, isn’t it?
The problem of conscience narrows down to: am I in charge, or is God in charge? The answer was already given by the Grand Duke Henri: “reasons of conscience.”
Every individual is obviously the one in charge of his life: his liberty gives him the power to make decisions for himself. But in that decision making process he is guided by his conscience that gives him the right reasoning for acting. It is said that conscience is an interior place where one makes ones decisions. I just have one thing to say to that definition – it’s incomplete! Conscience is an interior place where one discovers what the right decisions are; after that it’s obviously up to you to choose what your conscience is telling you or to ignore it. It’s kind of like Captain James Cook discovering Australia: it was already there. It didn’t suddenly pop into existence because he wanted it to, any more than my deciding on something makes it automatically the right decision just because I want it to be so.
But conscience doesn’t impose laws; it doesn’t twist your arm but whispers in your ear. It requires you to listen ... and to think. We all have trouble listening to our conscience at times. How can we learn to be better listeners? Fortunately, there are lots of hearing aids out there such as the Catechism, a priest, or a reliable friend or family member.
At first glance, the Grand Duke’s statement might seem shameful: one man’s conscience trying to impose itself on a whole country. But the real shame was that his decision wasn’t broadcast in world headlines as: “Devout Roman Catholic invites others to live by their conscience.”
His constitutional straight jacketing may have limited Henri’s leadership in Luxembourg’s society, but not his leadership as a Christian. Only 30% of Luxembourg supported the Duke, but at least he was willing to give 100% support to the truth he discovered in his conscience.
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