The foundational aspect of all Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is the calling to honor the dignity of all human life. Human life has an intrinsic value because the human person is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). This likeness to God includes the potential for eternal life well beyond the short physical lifespan which one walks upon the earth. The human body can do magnificent things. However, unlike an automobile or a dishwasher, human beings have value beyond any functional performance standards. In the wealthiest countries around the world, the lives of individuals suffering with mental illnesses are at risk due to the governmental legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Mental illness impedes a person’s ability to function well. The lives of individuals suffering with mental illnesses are devalued in societies that only value a human person’s ability to perform well. In American society today, the ability to perform well physically is highly esteemed. Professional football, basketball, and baseball players earn extremely high salaries which are indicative of the value a society places on such traits. In several states within the United States, assisted suicide is legal for individuals suffering with a terminal illness who can no longer physically perform well. Assisting a terminally ill person to end one’s life is commonly called “mercy killing.” At this time in medical science, mental illnesses are considered chronic illnesses to be managed. Some may even consider mental illnesses, especially clinical depression or schizophrenia, to be terminal illnesses. One can easily recognize that it is a very small step to move from mercifully killing a physically ill patient to mercifully killing a mentally ill patient.
Mental illness often involves extreme suffering for both the patient and the family. Currently, American society flees, rejects, or attempts to medicate away all human suffering. The current major crisis in the United States is the epidemic to opioid addiction. In 2017 the number of deaths resulting from drug overdoses has reached its highest rate in all of history. The number of children in foster care has doubled due to the explosion of opioid addicted parents in the past five years in the United States. Morally, American society firmly rejects suffering to such a degree that the death of young adults is at epidemic proportions. One could even go so far as to hypothesize that many young adults in the United States today might truly believe — if life is not pain free — then life is not worth living. This is also the rationalization behind legalized abortion. It is deemed socially acceptable in the United States to end the life of a child who is not “wanted” because an “unwanted” child will endure suffering. Pope John Paul II referred to this mindset as “the culture of death.”
Catholic teachings promise the faithful that God the Father, who is the Creator of all things, will provide all of His children the grace to endure any suffering and through this suffering one will be united to the divine life of Jesus Christ. Since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, sin, suffering, and sickness have always been a part of the human condition. The objective to living a mentally stable life is not to reject suffering but rather to find the beauty in life despite the presence of suffering. The objective to living a holy life is not to escape all painful life experiences in order to experience a blissful nirvana but rather to allow the suffering inherent in one’s life to transform one’s soul into the pearl of great price.