I am a Roman Catholic priest and the Director of Pro-Life
Activities for the Diocese of Norwich. For some that is a reason to exclude my opinion from the current discussion of Physician-Assisted Suicide in CT. This reflects the prevailing societal philosophy/attitude that one’s dignity and worth derive from what one does or can produce. I reject that philosophy. My primary identity is that of a son and it is as a son that I wish to
speak on the topic of Physician-Assisted Suicide.
On February 3, 2014 I received a text message that no one wants to receive. My dad was trying to contact me. It said “Please call ASAP. Emergency.” Unable to contact my father or my brother I immediately called Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London where my mother had been admitted as a patient on Friday, January 31 . I was told the words that no son ever wants to hear: “I am very sorry, but your mother has passed.” Joking with the nurses just moments before, the nurses returned to her room and were unable to revive her. She died of cardiac arrest brought on by sepsus (MRSA). Jeanne, my mom, was suffering from dementia. Some say it is a blessing that she went so quickly and did not have to suffer. My heart does not agree.
Bedridden since Labor Day, Jeanne Nagle became a beacon of light in her suffering and pain. Her diminished mental capacity and physical capacity became a daily struggle but it is one my dad accepted with grace. She was not able to feed herself, she would constantly call me by my brother’s name (Marty). As a family we were fortunate to have the loving care of the Visiting Nurses of Southeast CT, Utopia, and Angel Care. This was an incredible blessing. Their care enabled my parents to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on November 30th, 2013. The aides even came on Christmas Eve and one of the Angel Care aides sang a German Christmas Carol in German. One very important point: Not long before my mother’s death she looked at me in perfect clarity and said “I didn’t expect it to end this way.” I didn’t expect for her to die alone, unattended, in a hospital room. I always envisioned her entering eternity surrounded by a loving family at her bedside. Regardless, beneath the dementia was a person very much alive and very alert to what was happening.
Why do I say all this? Some people, if physician-assisted suicide was to be made legal, may choose to end their life prematurely. This is a line that cannot be crossed. The argument is often made that no one should have to suffer uselessly. These days with advances in Palliative Care physical pain can be treated. In fact the father of Palliative Care in North America, Dr. Balfour Mount, himself a cancer survivor, is vigorously opposed to a Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill in Quebec. So is Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a community of people with mental disabilities. Both Dr. Mount and Jean Vanier can see the dignity of the human person beneath the outer appearance of physical or mental illness. It is argued that there will be strict provisions on who can qualify and who cannot. This is very subjective. Where does the medical community draw the line on what types of pain qualify for life-ending medication, and which ones don’t? It is like trying to compare grief. You cannot. It is personal. So is pain.
What I and others learned from Jeanne Nagle is that suffering can bring out the best in people. The aides loved to stop by the house and hear her say “You are pretty” or “You look really nice today.” Just because she couldn’t feed/bathe/wash herself and produce something for society doesn’t mean her life was without meaning. Her suffering brought out heroic love in those who cared for her. What does that say about us as a people? All she had was love…and that love transformed everyone around her.
In the last week Belgium has passed an assisted suicide law that allows for children of any age with a terminal illness. An op-ed piece in the LA Times lauded the decision and recommended that such laws be passed in the US. Do you see the slippery slope that Physician-Assisted Suicide brings? By their logic if you can take the life of an adult why not administer life-ending medication to children? You see how acceptance of Physician-Assisted Suicide opens a pandora’s box of other events.
Nobody likes to suffer. Nobody likes to be in pain. Instead of focusing efforts on how we can terminate a life under the guise of words like “Compassion” and “Choice” shouldn’t we build up a community of caring people who can be the hands and feet to build up the most vulnerable in our population? Was Jeanne Nagle’s story unique? No. There are many who suffer from Alzheimer’s/dementia. Have others suffered greater and longer and not had the positive experience we did? I am sure. However, every person created in the image and likeness of God has something unique and special to share with us. What is that something? Life is beautiful and it should be protected and cherished.
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
March 9, 2014
First Sunday of Lent
Matthew 4: 1-11
In this brief passage Matthew captures the essence of the trials Jesus would endure and over which he would triumph throughout his life.
The tempter urges Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. Jesus rejects the temptation to reduce his divine mission to satisfying immediate, temporal needs. The tempter then suggests that Jesus prove he is really the Son of God by jumping off the parapet of the temple: God would send his angels to save him. Jesus rejects the temptation to put God to a test. Finally, Jesus rejects the temptation to idolatry, even if that worship would enrich and empower him with all kingdoms of the world.
1st Sunday of Lent: Temptation
They had lost their innocence. The first effects of their sin was that their eyes were opened, and they realized that they were naked. Of course I am speaking about Adam and Eve in the account of the Original Sin. Adam and Eve could no longer be comfortable with themselves. They ate from tree of knowledge of good and evil, and now they had knowledge of evil. In Scripture to know means to experience. Adam and Eve had an experience of evil. It was horrible. They were exposed, vulnerable, full of shame, full of guilt. Their choice of sin was a turning away from the Lord of Life. They chose that which is not life. They chose death. And all mankind suffered the result of their choice. All people would suffer from sin and the result of sin, death.
The Temptation of Jesus Christ in the Desert
The Temptation of Jesus Christ in the Desert is our meditation on the first Sunday of Lent. The purple color of Lent symbolizes penance, but it hints at more that that — as we remember how the first Adam failed the test and succumbed to temptation, we rejoice that Jesus Christ, the New Adam, triumphed over the deceiver and celebrate that we, sons and daughters of the same heavenly Father, can also win the battle against temptation and deception and be free.
Grow in Holiness This Lent
The Church provides the faithful with a marvelous opportunity and a distinctive journey for spiritual growth and conversion during the penitential season of Lent. Pope John Paul II said, “The time of Lent is a special time for purification and penance, as to allow Our Savior to make us his neighbor and save us by his love” (“Message of His Holiness John Paul II for Lent,” 1982).
Pope Benedict XVI reminded us what Lent is for: “It means accompanying Jesus as he travels to Jerusalem, the place where the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection is to be fulfilled” (Wednesday audience, March 9, 2011).
Beginning (Lent) with the Four Last Things
Traditional Catholic theology has distinguished the “Four Last Things” : Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. We are admonished to meditate upon these things frequently. We WILL die, be judged, and spend eternity either in Hell, or in Heaven (likely after some time in purgatory).
Beginning with the end, or starting with the last things, is paradoxically, a good place for Lent to commence.
Journey with Jesus through “Meditations for Lent”
I do not want to meet Jesus on my deathbed. I want him to already be close so that death is something we do together, just as in life.
Jesus told us to strive to enter eternity by the narrow door (Luke 13:24). That directive can leave us fearful. Is our life leading us to the narrow door? How do we get there?
“But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). We want to be fit for the kingdom; to enter through the narrow door. Pope Francis knows that way. For Lent this year, he encourages us to let go of the plow. He chose the theme: “He became poor so, that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Paul in Arabia: From Messenger of Satan to Ambassador for Christ
I went into Arabia (Gal 1:17b). To Arabia, but to what part? To Mount Sinai, to the Red Sea, and to the city of Petra, a tour of salvation history, for God through his grace equipped Paul to be the Ambassador for Christ.
To prepare himself, Paul spent forty days and forty nights in the desert in imitation of the Lord, and of his people, the Israelites, who God purified during their forty-year wandering in the Desert of Sin as he led them through the wilderness to Sinai, the mountain of grace. To Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus by the will of God, Sinai was a mountain in Arabia (Gal 4:25), the site where God handed down to his people through the prophet Moses the Decalogue, the Word of God intended to form the spirit of a nation through which the Messiah would enter the world.
Hidden Harmonies in the Gospels
It’s obvious that the four Gospels agree on the main facts about Jesus’ life:
– He lived in first century Palestine.
– He travelled through Galilee and Judea.
– He worked miracles.
– He taught.
– He was crucified in Jerusalem at the time of Passover during the
administration of Pontius Pilate.
– He rose from the dead.
– And so on.
All that’s obvious.
This great quote from St Ambrose bears deeper reflection; “Stronger than the person who conquers the strongest fortresses, is the one who conquers himself; nor is there any greater height of virtue.”
“Conquering self,” what is that all about?