Exposing Euthanasia through the Arts

“I killed my brother. But it wasn’t murder. I did what I had to, to stop his pain.”
— Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley, House

“Can you not read the signs of the times?” Perhaps Christ’s most ominous warning, it echoes down the centuries as an admonishment to every generation of believers. Why are we always playing catch-up with the forces of evil? Why are we always reacting years after a cultural battle has been decided, and generally in a short-sighted or ineffective way? Why do the Children of Darkness always eat the Children of Light for lunch when it comes to waging war for the hearts and minds of men?

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Sadly, we don’t have time to brood over these questions, because yet another battle is unfolding on the cultural horizon. And, once again, it seems that not only are we ignoring the signs of our times, but are turning away from them as though what happens in the world beyond our churches is no business of ours. I cannot count the number of Christians who have come to me almost bragging that they never watch movies or television, that YouTube and Facebook are to be spurned, and that they haven’t gone to a play or concert in years.

“Great,” I always think. “Let’s leave the masses to the whims of people who scorn our God and His gospel. Let’s pretend that our kids won’t eventually be drowned in the waves of their age. Let’s see how that works out.”

The 2011 Golden Globe celebration was only the latest sign of a frightening cultural trend. Winning the award for best actor in a TV miniseries, the HBO docudrama about Dr. Jack Kevorkian, You Don’t Know Jack, was also nominated for an astounding 11 Emmys. It ended up winning the top awards for star Al Pacino and, most significantly, for best writing. This blatant piece of pro-euthanasia propaganda was a huge force on the entertainment-award circuit in 2010, grabbing nominations and wins at the TV Critics Association Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the International Press Association’s Satellite Awards.

Critics fawned over Dr. Death and praised the show as a courageous new benchmark in the newest war for civil rights. The right? To die, and to kill. In the last five years, top-rated TV shows like House, ER, and Law and Order have ‘bravely’ presented ‘mercy killing’ in a positive or neutral light. Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and Weeds both weighed in on the side of killing the sick, and even The Simpsons did a comic take on the issue.

On the big screen, euthanasia continues to receive sympathetic framings in many films. How many parents realized, when you sent your teenagers to James Cameron’s latest 3D extravaganza Sanctum (2011), that there was a matter-of-fact mercy killing of four characters at the end? How many Christians are even aware of the pro-euthanasia messages in critically acclaimed films like Pedro Almodovar’s Oscar-nominated Talk to Me, and the Oscar-winning best picture films Million Dollar Baby and The English Patient? Most strident was the highly lauded Spanish film The Sea Inside, in which, shortly before he is euthanized by a group of loving friends, the paraplegic hero played by handsome star Javier Bardem, proclaims, “I’m just a head stuck to a body.”

The evidence is undeniable: Somewhere in the middle of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, Hollywood and the cultural left climbed aboard the latest human-killing bandwagon and have since thrown the weight of their talent and creativity behind it. As with abortion, the forces of darkness are outmaneuvering the forces of good on what will certainly be the moral issue of the 21st century.

If we lose the fight on euthanasia, we lose our souls. By removing suffering and the meaning of suffering from our culture, we make the final step in denying and defying our creature-hood. Once again, the seductive lie of Eden will trip us up: “If you will do this thing, you shall be like God.”


Our response to the mercy-killing machine must be more than an occasional op-ed piece; we need a shrewd and all-encompassing cultural strategy if we are going to make a good fight in the euthanasia war.

Shrewd means that we fight smart. It means appealing to the emotions of the masses through stories, not non-fiction tomes. Songs, not philosophical tirades. Heroes, not pundits.

Our approach must be all-encompassing, in that we use every means available to reach people.  We make TV shows for children featuring a kindly and wise grandmother. We commission popular songs from top artists about the precious gift that is a grandfather’s love. We make short films for the highly influential festival circuit about the infinite blessings that come through suffering. We make hero tales for teenagers about people who save and care for those who are helpless. We make thriller movies that unmask the lies behind those who would kill for cheap profits.

If we’ve learned anything from the abortion wars, it’s that the words “choice” and “right to choose” set our cause back decades. We need an emotionally winning language for this fight. The other side should not get away with christening themselves “mercy killers”; they are “death dealers,” “elder abortionists,” “needlers.” Please, not “death with dignity”; let’s get there first with “medical murder” and “unnatural death.” Not “end-of-life clinics” but “human garbage pits.” We need slogans like, “Make your insurance adjuster’s day; let him kill you.” Or, “Everything we know about euthanasia we learned from the Nazis.”

We must be aggressive in exposing the deceptions driving the euthanasia movement — lies like the implication that personhood can somehow disappear from a wounded human body. Or that a human life could ever lose its value. Or that suicide can be a courageous act. We must contradict the notion that suffering is the worst thing that can happen to a person.

If we’re going to win this fight, we need to convey to this generation the beautiful sentiments expressed by Blessed Pope John Paul II:

[It is in the context of daily life], so humanly rich and filled with love, that heroic actions are born. They are the radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one’s life for the person loved (cf. Jn 15:13). They are a sharing in the mystery of the Cross, in which Jesus reveals the value of every person, and how life attains its fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. (The Gospel of Life, Section 86)

If we would save our culture from this latest onslaught, we believers need to adopt the spirit of a new crusade. Christians who have been blessed with means must shift attention and support to intelligent efforts to combat support for euthanasia in our culture. Musicians, storytellers, and filmmakers of faith must find new ways to communicate the truth of human dignity and the value of suffering. In this fight, it may be that our best weapon is the power of beauty.


  • Barbara Nicolosi

    Barbara Nicolosi is a Catholic screenwriter and the executive director of the Galileo Forum at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. She has a Masters in Cinema from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Magdalen College in Warner, NH. She is the recipient of two Catholic Press Awards and the editor of the 2006 Baker Books release, “Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith and Culture.”

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