‘Assisted suicide’ is killing

Marketed under terminology crafted to trigger sympathy and compliance, it still is what it is.

The former Hemlock Society changed its name to Compassion and Choices. Sounds nice and fuzzy. So does Death With Dignity, though less so Aid In Dying although that still softens the fact that someone is ending someone else’s life. At least Mercy Killing uses the word, though softened with the spiritual concept of charity.

Working closely with Terri Schiavo’s family and some of their legal and spiritual counselors during that ordeal which erupted on the national and then international consciousness in early 2005, I did investigative reporting that turned up facts, claims, contradictions and records that mostly didn’t make it to big media reports on the story, though my radio network covered it all. Someone sent me a letter from a man in the Netherlands warning that if America let this woman die by court ordered starvation and dehydration, Dutch euthanasia would come to this country. How prescient that was.

Not long after, Hollywood gave the euthanasia and assisted suicide movements huge momentum, though not without warning there, either. Hollywood professional Barbara Nicolosi laid it all out here.

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.

That was 2011, we’ve had heroes and storytellers since then, but we still need that shrewd and all-encompassing cultural strategy. Because death has been peddled as an available and increasingly acceptable option, through semantic engineering. Barbara Nicolosi, one of the heroes, swung for the fences in this appeal to awareness and action, sanity and reason.

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.

That message got a lot of currency with the sad and tragic Brittany Maynard story used to the advantage of the assisted suicide movement and sensationalized by complicit media. What didn’t get so much coverage were the stories, names, faces and voices of others who faced and knew extreme suffering, and tried to witness to the truth of Nicolosi’s message about human life, dignity, and living through suffering.

Like the seminarian who kept trying to reach Maynard through Facebook posts and interviews, mostly in pro-life media, with true compassion. Philip Johnson had the same diagnosis and knew the pain.

And Lauren Hill, the determined teenager, who played her beloved sport of basketball even through pain and increasing disability, because her motto was “never give up.” If you don’t click on these hyperlinks to check out the stories, at least read this short one on her legacy, written on a Marine news site by Pfc. Ned Johnson.She was a basketball player — an athlete. She scored legitimate points for her junior college. But more importantly, she scored a lot of points in life.

Hill was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Cancer. In high school. At 18.

That’s when Hill proved she was more than many of us could ever hope to be. She went to college with this tumor. Then she made the basketball team, scored 10 points across four games before her body became too weak for her to continue.

She started a fundraiser that raised more than $1.5 million for pediatric cancer research…

There are many others who witness to courage and hope and true dignity, through their own suffering. Mark Davis Pickup is one, and he’s appealing to California legislators to consider the gravity of the bill before them this week, and the consequences of their vote.

I am a Canadian. As you know Canada’s Supreme Court recently struck down my nation’s laws against assisted suicide, opening wide the gates for physician assisted killing of suicidal sick and disabled people. Please do not take California down a similar path. It is not the hallmark of a “civil society”. There is nothing civilized about euthanasia or assisted suicide. Do not be fooled by euphemisms for killing like “death with dignity”. Dignity is not bestowed on people by injecting them with poison when they are at their lowest point. That is abandonment not dignity. Death with dignity is not an event, it is a process, the end result of having lived a life with dignity, benefiting from the best 21st Century palliative care (which is capable of eliminating physical pain), and being surrounded by loved ones.

Someone may say “What about those who do not have loved ones?” Precisely! What about them? Is the answer to euthanize them or seek to include them within the tender embrace of community? Another person may say, “I should have the autonomous right to determine the time and place of my own death.” Really? That presumes decisions only affect the individual making them. That is not true. Our decisions always impact others. The idea independent personal autonomy is diametrically opposed to the concept of interdependent community.

If I choose suicide (assisted or otherwise) it will not affect just me: It will affect my wife, children and grandchildren. It will impact my community and my doctor for I will ask her to stop being my healer and become my killer. And it will affect my nation by helping to entrench the notion that there are some lives unworthy to be lived.

Doctors, patients and healthcare experts are appealing likewise to California lawmakers and the people who elected them to protect and defend human life at all stages. That state’s lesislature is poised to vote one way or the other on the assisted suicide bill before them. Stephanie’s Journey puts a personal face and family on a profound call for care taking in this delicate process. Carolyn Moynihan covered it well here.

Disability Rights & Defense Fund expert Marilyn Golden testified before the California State Senate Health Committee with this comprehensive, riveting report, so lawmakers at least would make an informed vote.

I’m covering this on radio Wednesday with a California expert speaking for the disability community, to hear what he’s been saying in calls to legislative offices in the state, and hearing in response.

Because as Terri Schiavo’s family continues to proclaim, in carrying on her legacy and give voice to the voiceless, where there’s life, there’s hope.

‘The globalization of indifference’

Pope Francis has a unique way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted.

He took that to another level in a little known, brief visit outside Rome to a small island at the southernmost point of Italy. It was his first apostolic journey, hardly noticed by media, a couple of weeks ago, to the island of Lampedusa.

The main point of the location and message was reaching out to the members of humanity seeking a refuge, a safe harbor, a new life, since Lampedusa is the Ellis Island of Europe.

I’ve wanted to write this post since the day I read about it which was the day he visited, but have been sidetracked with other work covering other stories, and had to keep this on hold. I’ve had two public speaking engagements in the past two weeks and brought it up both times. I’ve brought it up on radio several times, and made sure listeners heard about it and the central message the pope gave there, which knocked my socks off, to use an old and odd phrase.

So what was the central message? It’s what prompted the trip, unknown by most of the world since it got virtually  no attention. What drew Francis to Lampedusa, he said, was learning about the many immigrants “dying at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death.” He said since learning about “this tragedy” just a few weeks prior, it had constantly come back to him “like a painful thorn in my heart.” So he “had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated.” He’s good at challenging consciences, and he certainly did in Lampedusa.

Putting aside the political issues around immigration for a moment since people are so divided over it in different places, the message at Lampedusa transcends one issue and permeates everything we’re dealing with globally today, without exaggeration.

Pope Francis made it a penitential Mass, with readings including the story of Cain and Abel (being your brother’s keeper), the massacre of the innocents (caring for the most vulnerable), and the psalm known as the Miserere (“have mercy on me, oh God”). That said a lot, right there.

He said more in his gripping homily. Here’s a snip:

“Adam, where are you?” This is the first question God poses to man after his sin. Adam lost his bearings, his place in creation because he thought he could be powerful, able to control everything, to be God. Harmony was lost, man errs and this error occurs over and over again also in relationships with others. The ‘other’ who is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply another person who disturbs our lives and our comfort.

Already poignant, and challenging. He continues:

“God asks a second question, ‘Cain where is your brother?’…How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live…we do not take care of that which God created for all of us, and we are no longer capable even of looking after each other…

How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity…

Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters; we have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, perhaps we say to ourselves: ‘poor soul…!’, and then go on our way; it’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured.

(Reminds me of the famous line in ‘Hotel Rwanda’ when UN Peacekeeping Forces leader Colonel Oliver says, regretfully, that they can’t intervene in preventing genocide, and that people back home would see it on television and say ‘that’s too bad’ and go back to eating their dinners.)

Here’s what Francis said next:

The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others indeed, it even leads to the globalisation of indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others, it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it is none of my business. The globalisation of indifference makes us all ‘unnamed’, responsible yet nameless and faceless.

And he wasn’t done there, powerful as that was.

We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – ‘suffering with’ others; the globalisation of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!…

Herod sowed ddeath to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble. And so it continues…Let us ask the Lord to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts; let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations…

He finished by praying…

Father, we ask your pardon for those who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts…

This is the social gospel, and the pope applies his scrutiny to himself as much as his listeners around the world, because there are so many ways this applies to us all. We live in a ‘culture of comfort’ and we’ve lost our bearings. We think of ourselves and live in ‘soap bubbles’ made of empty illusions that have, collectively, created the ‘globalisation of indifference.’ There’s a very real possibility that such a stark and defining reference as that exact phrase will become for Francis what the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ was for Benedict. An indictment of our times.

Pause for Thanks

This should be part of our daily lives. But at least we have one day set aside to remember that.

Years ago, I started the practice of giving thanks at the start of each day. It grew to more pauses throughout the day not only to realize gratitude for things, but to give thanks at regular intervals in the day. Different religions do that. The Muslim call to prayer throughout the day, the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, are manifestations of the human need to encounter God who directs all things.

It’s a core belief of mine that divine providence guides everything that is and that happens, and that it’s humbling to acknowledge that God is God and I’m not, nor are the folks around me. To acknowledge that it’s all grace, and it makes and keeps us human and caring and communal.

I’ve been seeing some great messages on Facebook lately by people dedicating each day to another thing or cause or gift for which they give thanks, and it’s uplifting. Meanwhile, turn on the news and see all the horrible violence and the physical and verbal assaults on people, and it’s easy for people to get lost in all that, in addition to keeping their demanding daily routines and extra demands of family or work or commitments, and they’re just too overloaded to think deeply (or at all) about life, and what a gift it is.

Family and close friends of mine know the story I frequently tell of the young man whose wife had just died, and he was understandably bitter and angry. When his wife’s sister came by to go through her clothing and belongings, she found beautiful things she’d never seen her wear. He said, painfully, “She was always saving that for a special occasion.” But then he added: “But every day you’re alive is a special occasion.”

I never forgot that. It’s so true. It’s a gift, worthy of regular celebration. And thanksgiving.

I am thankful for the supreme creator and author of all that is, the just judge and merciful God who gave us divine revelation and continues to reveal Himself through beauty and truth and order. Who is at the center of the human instinct and morally informed conscience to serve others, to love others and be kind and generous and helpful to others, respecting their innate dignity. To suffer for and suffer with others in the truest sense of compassion.

I’m thankful for family, the manifestation of ‘love beyond all telling.’ Being a mother has given me the most indescribable strength and weakness and love that calls for a stronger word than love, but ‘about which nothing greater can be said,’ to borrow from the phrase Thomas Aquinas applied to God Himself, since it applies to the ultimate.

The larger family, ‘the clan’ as I call it, is a great gift, and I am so grateful for every single human being in my family, oldest (my father) to youngest (children of nieces and nephews), and the connectedness we share. It’s beautiful. Family battles with diseases and personal issues and private struggles, when shared, have been exquisitely painful times of growth, in trust and the appreciation of human dignity and need for love and forgiveness and shared suffering.

Friends. God must have a great sense of humor, because I’ve landed a circle of them that only He could have designed. If any of them are reading this, I want to say ‘I love you, but you already know that, and I’m always here for you,’ as we share life. The story of my family and friends writ large tells the human story. I’m grateful to be a part of it all, every day.

Work. I thank God for work in the world that calls on our abilities and skills and talents and passions, because that’s how we best serve. I think I shall never retire, there is so much to do. So much in the arena of ideas, the life of the mind, the pursuit of truth and justice. People can come to you for what you work so hard to provide, or not, but having the work to do is worth all the doing. Especially in communications media. Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said a few years ago that we are less a world of nation states and more ‘citizens on continents in conversation.’ I love participating in that forum of information sharing.

And so much more…

For all of the above, I give thanks.