Faith, hope and love are stronger than death

We need this reminder.

Lately, Pope Francis has been talking about death in messages like this one just over a week ago.

Noting that death is a reality that modern civilization “tends, more and more, to set aside” and not reflect upon, Pope Francis said that for believers death is actually “a door” and a call to live for something greater.

Christians endearingly celebrate All Souls Day and ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, remembering their deceased loved ones in special prayers and liturgies, for their ‘eternal rest’ and ‘life everlasting’. Some populations celebrate it as Día de los Muertos, a day when families create traditional altars in honor of their beloved departed, with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’. These altars are set up at cemeteries throughout the world including Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, with processions and music taking the faithful from one to another.

In northern Romania, one of Europe’s last remaining peasant cultures still observes a similar centuries-old tradition on this occasion. Villagers decorate and light candles on graves, many with already lavishly carved wooden grave markers in the ‘Merry Cemetery’. It’s a celebration of life, faith and hope in resurrection.

They observe these traditions because they live what they believe, that life is sacred and eternal. It’s distinctly counter-cultural to prevailing forces pushing a utilitarian ideology of human existence that exalts abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide as a ‘choice’ to eliminate suffering and inconvenience when each diminishes us all.

Pope Francis told people to prepare for death, which had to be a startling message for the current culture. And on Wednesday, when he greets and addresses the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, he shared what he would be doing on All Souls Day, inviting anyone willing to join him.

Before concluding his address, the Pope reminded the faithful that he would be travelling to the American Cemetery of Nettuno, South of Rome and then to the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument on November 2nd to mark the feast on Feast of all Souls. Pope Francis, said,” I ask you to accompany me with prayer in these two stages of memory and suffrage for the victims of war and violence. Wars produce nothing but cemeteries and death: that is why I wanted to give this sign at a time when our humanity seems not to have learned the lesson or does not want to learn it.”

(Emphasis added.)

Brittany Maynard ends her life

Prayer vigils and outreach efforts did not fail her. The assisted suicide movement did.

Brittany Maynard was the perfect poster child that movement never had before, short of Hollywood films such as ‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘You Don’t Know Jack’, ‘Sanctum’, ‘Amore’, and probably others. But those were slick productions, successful as they were in advancing the notion that ‘death with dignity’ was something saleable. They marketed it so well, the idea grew in the public consciousness, among more Americans, that maybe people should be able to have the choice to end their life if they were suffering.

Trouble is, there’s too much wrong with that idea to properly handle quickly enough to reach someone who comes along with a serious diagnosis of a terminal illness and has been stricken to the core with fear. Like Brittany Maynard.

So in the immediate aftermath of this sad but highly publicized story of human vulnerability, suffering, hope and a condition posed as ‘hopelessness’, here are some considerations of friends and colleagues I call on for bioethics stories regularly, who have taken keen interest in the Brittany Maynard story since it first surfaced, but more importantly, in the young woman herself.

Nurse Nancy Valko in The Public Discourse, a week ago:

Groups supporting physician-assisted suicide now call the promotion of Ms. Maynard’s story “a tipping point” in their decades-long push to gain public support for changing laws.

They have needed such a high profile case supporting their cause, because it so profoundly goes against our society’s Judeo-Christian ethic of life.

Society has long insisted that healthcare professionals adhere to the highest standards of ethics, as a protection for society. Without that clear moral compass, it has been said, the physician is the most dangerous man in society. The vulnerability of a sick person, and the inability of society to monitor every healthcare decision or action, are powerful motivators to enforce such standards. For thousands of years doctors (and nurses) have embraced the Hippocratic standard that “I will give no deadly medicine to any one, nor suggest any such counsel.” Erasing the bright line doctors and nurses have drawn for themselves—which separates killing from caring—is a decision fraught with peril, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

As a nurse, I am willing to do anything for my patients—but I will not kill them nor help them kill themselves. In my work with the terminally ill, I have been struck by how rarely such people say anything like, “I want to end my life.” I have seen the few who do express such thoughts become visibly relieved when their concerns and fears are addressed, instead of finding support for the suicide option. I have yet to see such a patient go on to commit suicide.

Valko’s decades-long experience as an acute care nurse, steeped in end-of-life care and palliative care and other issues of medical ethics, gives her far deeper insight and expertise on these issues and the human vulnerabilities involved in them, than agenda driven advocates can access.

Do assisted suicide supporters really expect us doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on our ethics or our empathy? Do they realize that this reduces the second patient’s will-to-live request to a mere personal whim—perhaps, ultimately, one that society will see as selfish and too costly? How does this serve optimal health care, let alone the integrity of doctors and nurses who have to face the fact that we helped other human beings kill themselves?

Stories like Brittany Maynard’s can feed into a society that is fascinated by tragic love stories, but does not understand how such stories are used as propaganda to promote a dangerous political agenda that can affect us all—and our loved ones.

Personally, I will continue to care for people contemplating suicide or who have made an attempt regardless of their age, condition, or socio-economic status. I reject discrimination when it comes to suicide prevention and care. I hope our nation will do so as well.

Even, and especially, with Brittany Maynard carrying out her plans to end her life  on her terms, at a time of her choosing, for the sake of what she saw as autonomy. The group formerly known as ‘The Hemlock Society’, now known as ‘Compassion and Choices’, claims victory in this assisted suicide.

Advocacy group Compassion & Choices spokesman Sean Crowley on Sunday afternoon said he could not confirm Maynard’s death “in respecting the family’s wishes.”

He added that Maynard “is educating a whole new generation on this issue. She is the most natural spokesperson I have ever heard in my life. The clarity of her message is amazing. She is getting people to consider this issue who haven’t thought of it before. She’s a teacher by trade and, she’s teaching the world.

But what is her death by assisted suicide teaching the world?

Before it happened, noted bioethics expert Wesley J. Smith wrote this (read the whole piece, written while she was still contemplating suicide):

To put it bluntly, whether to legalize physician-prescribed suicide is about much more than Brittany Maynard’s individual circumstances, as tragic and emotionally compelling as that may be.”

Now that her own plight has ended in tragic circumstances of suicide, Smith only said this, for now:

I know that I am supposed to keep quiet and simply offer condolences. Frankly, I doubt her family would want them from me–given how her illness and death were politicized in the cause of using our great empathy for her to demolish laws against doctor-prescribed death and my implacable opposition to that dark agenda.

But, of course, I am saddened. Who wouldn’t be? Her cancer and death, if the report is accurate, are a terrible tragedy. I wish her husband, family, and friends nothing but the best.

Expect suicide advocates to now use her death to stoke emotions even higher around the assisted suicide debate. But emotionalism is the last approach that should be taken in pondering such a radical, culturally transforming agenda and the impact legalization would have and its potential impact on the most weak and vulnerable.

They need our help, everyone’s help, in living natural life to the fullest with the utmost help and companionship for the trial and journey, our help ‘suffering with’ them, otherwise known as true compassion. Not our help in hastening death.

Brittany Maynard as a cause and a person

One side wants to advance her advocacy for assisted suicide. The other wants to save her life.

Recalling Joseph Stalin’s remark that ‘one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic’, all the attention focused on Brittany Maynard may be serving the purpose for which she put her suffering self out there, to advance assisted suicide. But since it’s gone viral, it has also humanized the suffering of millions of others, and personalized them, too.

Just to recap this dramatic story,

Brittany is a beautiful young newlywed. Tragically, Brittany has a brain tumor that is expected to end her life in the near future. She and her family have moved to Oregon so she can legally take a doctor-prescribed lethal overdose, to avoid the suffering she expects as she approaches death.

Maynard has also joined with “Compassion and Choices” to promote their campaign to legalize physician-assisted suicide throughout the United States. In the last few weeks, C&C’s video telling her story has gone viral and been picked up by news organizations all over the world, including People magazine.

Groups supporting physician-assisted suicide now call the promotion of Ms. Maynard’s story “a tipping point” in their decades-long push to gain public support for changing laws.

That’s why this must be addressed and engaged.

So just to clarify, ‘Compassion and Choices’ is the very cleverly chosen name for the former Hemlock Society. They haven’t had a poster child for their cause of advancing the right to end life, your own or someone else’s (commit suicide or help kill someone else, to put it in raw but real terms) like Brittany Maynard and they are making the most of every minute she’s in the spotlight focusing attention on her right to die when she chooses.

But that attention going viral has forced the aggressive advocacy of assisted suicide and euthanasia into the news and the forum of social media. It’s about time.

Here are a few results, a fraction of what this story has generated in public reaction globally.

From the young Catholic seminarian with the same condition as Maynard.

I was diagnosed during my second Navy deployment to the Northern Arabian Gulf.  After many seizures, the ship’s doctor sent me to the naval hospital on the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain, where my brain tumor was discovered.  I remember the moment I saw the computer images of the brain scans – I went to the Catholic chapel on base and fell to the floor in tears.  I asked God, “why me?”  The next day, I flew home to the United States to begin urgent treatment.  A few months after radiation and chemotherapy, I was discharged from the Navy and began formation for the Roman Catholic priesthood, a vocation to which I have felt called since I was nineteen years old.

This is important to stay with a little longer.

I have lived through six years of constant turmoil, seizures, and headaches. I often changed hospitals and doctors every few months, seeking some morsel of hope for survival. Like Brittany, I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer the likely outcome of this disease. I do not think anyone wants to die in this way. Brittany states relief that she does not have to die the way that it has been explained that she would – she can die “on her own terms.” I have also consulted with my doctors to learn how my illness is likely to proceed. I will gradually lose control of my bodily functions at a young age, from paralysis to incontinence, and it is very likely that my mental faculties will also disappear and lead to confusion and hallucinations before my death. This terrifies me, but it does not make me any less of a person. My life means something to me, to God, and to my family and friends, and barring a miraculous recovery, it will continue to mean something long after I am paralyzed in a hospice bed. My family and friends love me for who I am, not just for the personality traits that will slowly slip away if this tumor progresses and takes my life.

Obviously, I have lived much longer than originally expected, and I attribute this to the support and prayers of others who have helped me to keep a positive outlook. I will never claim that I have dealt with my illness heroically or with great courage, no matter what others might observe or believe from my reserved disposition. I am shy and introverted, so I have not let many people become aware of the depth of my suffering. There have been times over the past six years that I wanted the cancer to grow and take my life swiftly so that it would all be over. Other times, I have sought forms of escape through sin and denial just to take my mind off of the suffering and sadness, even if only for a few moments. However, deep in my heart I know that this approach is futile. My illness has become a part of me, and while it does not define me as a person, it has shaped who I am and who I will become.

In Brittany’s video, her mother mentions that her immediate hope was for a miracle. My response to my diagnosis was the same – I hoped for a miraculous recovery so that I would not have to deal with the suffering and pain that was likely to come. However, I now realize that a “miracle” does not necessarily mean an instant cure. If it did, would we not die from something else later in our lives? Is there any reason that we deserve fifteen, twenty, or thirty or more years of life? Every day of life is a gift, and gifts can be taken away in an instant. Anyone who suffers from a terminal illness or has lost someone close to them knows this very well.

I have outlived my dismal prognosis, which I believe to be a miracle, but more importantly, I have experienced countless miracles in places where I never expected to find them. Throughout my preparation for the priesthood I have been able to empathize with the sick and suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. I have traveled to Lourdes, France, the site of a Marian apparition and a place of physical and spiritual healing that is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. I have had the great opportunity to serve the infirm there who trust in God with their whole hearts to make sense of their suffering. Through my interaction with these people, I received much more than I gave. I learned that the suffering and heartache that is part of the human condition does not have to be wasted and cut short out of fear or seeking control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Perhaps this is the most important miracle that God intends for me to experience.

Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take. As humans we are relational – we relate to one another and the actions of one person affects others.

I just re-read his sincere expressions of hope and faith and encouragement, sharing his firsthand experiences for whatever good they may serve countless others, and I saw so much in this young man’s effort to reach Brittany Maynard and anyone else. He says a lot here.

So does this other young adult, this one a woman, who knows pain and suffering and the temptation to avoid it all. She’s passionate in her argument against the false narrative advanced by the assisted suicide movement.

Sometimes I can’t believe we’re having this argument, about autonomy over our lives, including when life itself should end. I shouldn’t be, in a culture that largely denies the transcendent and has no moral reference point, a culture ‘that acts as if God did not exist’, as Pope Benedict often cited.

Which is why Jessica Keating sees a culture afraid of suffering and death feeding into the drive to legalize assisted suicide as an early exit from potential pain.

Maynard’s narrative awakens our own slumbering fear of death’s arbitrary cruelness, as well as the suffering that can precede it.

The grammar of fear is suffused throughout this story. Yet I have come across relatively little in the media’s coverage of Brittany Maynard that even hints at the acute anxiety that bubbles to the surface each time she speaks of her disease…

“I’m dying, but I’m choosing to suffer less,” she says in explanation of her decision, “to put myself through less physical and emotional pain and my family as well.” Indeed, People reports, “Maynard says it’s easier to bear the pain now that she knows she is in control […] That’s left her space to make the most of her remaining days.”

Such assertions are shot through with contradiction. For all our planning, any one of us could die suddenly and tragically at any moment. But what I find more puzzling is the author’s assertion that an absolute sense of control over diminishment, suffering, and death gives meaning to one’s life and capacitates one for joy. Statements like the one found in People belie the insidious logic that Guroian observes in Life’s Living Toward Dying. “Secular moderns,” he writes, “cling to the belief that they can celebrate life at the same time they embrace a culture of death. Some argue that they can best embrace life by putting an end to the lives they no longer value” (17). To kill oneself is to say, at least implicitly, “I am better off dead because my life no longer has value.”

Maynard wants her death to be on her terms, as painless and as uncomplicated as possible; she wants to die comfortably in her own bed, surrounded by her family and friends, in control of her body and mind. We all want a death like this; indeed, Catholics petition for this kind of death every night in Compline when they pray, “Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.” This certainly includes a death without suffering, but it does not foreclose the possibility that a peaceful death may be a painful one. We need only look to the witness of the martyrs to see such a logic unfold. With the advance of medical technology and utilitarian idealism, however, it seems this may become for many the only kind of acceptable death. Unhinged from a scriptural and ecclesial imagination, the idea of a peaceful death has been reduced merely to the absence of pain, and a painless death has begun to chip away the value of a life with suffering. Likewise, death has begun to chip away at the value of life, and in this configuration death is easily commodified. If we can’t master death, at least we can control it, make it more efficient and convenient, and make it involve less suffering, less anguish.

For Catholics, how providential the timing that this planned event comes on the weekend that observes both the Feast of All Saints (countless of whom suffered indescribable pain and torture) and All Souls (ditto).

Seminarian Philip Johnson is as hopeful as anyone that Maynard may change her mind.

I will continue to pray for Brittany as she deals with her illness, as I know exactly what she is going through. I still get sad. I still cry. I still beg God to show me His will through all of this suffering and to allow me to be His priest if it be His will, but I know that I am not alone in my suffering. I have my family, my friends, and the support of the entire universal Church. I have walked in Brittany’s shoes, but I have never had to walk alone. Such is the beauty of the Church, our families, and the prayerful support that we give to one another.

May Brittany come to understand the love that we all have for her before she takes her own life, and that if she chooses instead to fight this disease, her life and witness would be an incredible example and inspiration to countless others in her situation. She would certainly be an inspiration to me as I continue my own fight against cancer.

And to countless others, those who have devoted days and weeks of prayer for her change of heart and mind, those who have suffered through what she has, or have lost loved ones who have, but stayed the course to the bittersweet end of a full life and natural death. I devoted part of a radio show to coverage of Maynard’s story with bioethics nurse Nancy Valko and didn’t even mention phone calls, but they came in anyway. One woman told, with shaken voice, of her daughter’s diagnosis of such a brain tumor, but not wanting to hear the prognosis nor consider how she might avoid pain and suffering. Another woman said it was her husband who suffered through this illness. Other callers shared their stories in the little time we had, and they each and all told the poignantly painful story of suffering as part of the drama of human life, each accompanied by the love of family and friends and faith that whatever purpose it all serves transcends what we can know.

They, and seminarian Philip Johnson, will be happy to hear the latest news is that Brittany Maynard has called off her assisted suicide. For now, anyway. She probably has no idea how many people are praying for her. Nor how much her face and name and personal story have become the ‘every patient’ story of those who suffer serious illness or diagnoses, and who have countless, faceless and nameless friends caring greatly for them, and praying for their health and peace.

Deny conscience and redefine ethics

And still call it health care?

Yes, in many places. Start with Sweden.

The Swedish parliament has overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortions.

Read that again. The Swedish parliament overwhelmingly voted to deny doctors their fundamental conscience rights to practice moral medicine.

The Riksdag passed a resolution, by a vote of 271 to 20, to condemn an October 2010 PACE document supporting conscience rights for doctors.

This is surreal. But it’s really happening.

John Smeaton, head of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, commented: “Sweden’s vote today shows the lengths to which the supporters of abortion are prepared to go to promote the killing of unborn children. There are no international conventions which recognise a right to abortion, whereas conscientious objection is a basic principle of international human rights law.”

This is a new world, and it’s not so brave. It’s seeming more like Wonderland all the time.

In Britain, there’s this:

A survey conducted recently of disabled people in Britain, commissioned by the disability group Scope, found that 70 percent are “concerned about pressure being placed on other disabled people to end their lives prematurely” “if there were a change in the law on assisted suicide.” More than a third were worried they would personally experience such pressure…

“Disabled people are already worried about people assuming their life isn’t worth living or seeing them as a burden, and are genuinely concerned that a change in the law could increase pressure on them to end their life.”

‘Life unworthy of life’ – or lebensunwerten Lebens – as Princeton Professor Robert George often speaks of, whether talking about abortion, euthanasia, Terri Schiavo and the cognitively impaired, or any group marginalized by a more powerful group.

And somehow, powerful groups are increasingly better-positioned to marginalize other human beings they consider unworthy of health care resources by a new calculus and tortured logic. Such as…ethics committees. Or some ethics committees in some places.

Piecing together the clinical picture of a complex patient is difficult enough. Add to the mix the patient’s value system, that of the family and those of various healthcare providers, and a case that might involve difficult decisions becomes even more daunting. That’s where an in-house ethics committee can step in.

That actually sets up a chilling premise.

Let’s jump to the section sub-headed ‘Common Conflicts.’

Patients and their healthcare providers frequently weigh the value of additional cancer-focused treatment versus comfort care only, as well as provision of other care such as dialysis, and artificial nutrition and hydration.

Stop right there. That’s a manufactured term, a misnomer. It was only in recent years that giving a patient basic food and water got labeled ‘artificial’ or ‘extraordinary’ care. For the very tendentious purpose of disqualifying it as basic and routine care.

Advance directives and appropriateness of a DNR order also fall under the goals-of-care umbrella, McCabe says.

As bioethics nurse Nancy Valko said on my radio show, advance directives were originally devised as a tool to facilitate the cause of euthanasia. Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death allegedly because she didn’t want any extraordinary measures to be applied to her care if ever she were to be in an impaired state. Which is far down the dark rabbit hole…but that’s another story for another time.

This is supposed to be about respecting choices, and advance directives are supposed to say what a patient doesn’t want done if they wind up impaired or in need of ‘extraordinary care’, and by redefining extraordinary care, pulling treatment can be ‘justified’ as patient choice.

However, choice falls apart when it doesn’t fit the scheme of withholding treatment or protecting life. Look at the end of this article:

Nurses also should understand their own value systems and set them aside when needed, because other considerations in an ethics case may trump personal beliefs.

Valko replies:

Conscience rights are not an optional ‘personal value system’ that can just be ‘set aside when needed.’ Conscience rights are a crucial protection against the ‘whatever is legal (or can be legalized) is ethical’ mentality that is overwhelming medical ethics.

Dr. George reminds anyone who will listen:

Since the life of every human being has inherent worth and dignity, there is no valid category of lebensunwerten Lebens. Any society that supposes that there is such a category has deeply morally compromised itself. As Leon Kass recently reminded us in a powerful address at the Holocaust Museum, it was supposedly enlightened and progressive German academics and medical people who put their nation on the road to shame more than a decade before the Nazis rose to power by promoting a doctrine of eugenics based precisely on the proposition that the lives of some human beings…are unworthy of life.

The new medical ethics are the old eugenics. And they’re not ethical, no matter what some committee decides.

“Suicide kits”?

Why would anybody devise a method to help people end their lives? And what in the world drives people to want it?

The culture of death. The message that suffering is an evil to be avoided.

Controversy is brewing over a so-called “suicide kit” you can buy by mail, and a 91-year-old San Diego County woman is at the heart of it.

For the past four years, she has sold “helium hoods”: a service that has generated considerable opposition. That opposition is continuing to grow, following the death of a young man who purchased one of those kits from an El Cajon senior to help take his own life.

But the woman behind this growing business says she is providing a valuable service.

“It is not my intention to hurt anybody, but to offer people comfort when they die,” said the 91-year-old, whose identity News 8 agreed to conceal.

When she first started, she said she sold, on average, two kits every month. Each kit, which essentially consists of a plastic hood and plastic tubing, costs $60 each.

“I’ve created a monster here,” she said, “because it takes so much time. But I’m up to 45 (of the kits) a month.”

One of her customers was 29-year-old Nick Klonoski, an Oregon resident who dealt with depression, but was not terminally ill. Klonoski used the kit three months ago, along with a rented helium tank and instructions obtained from the book “Final Exit,” to take his own life.

His suicide has now sparked a movement to outlaw the sale of these kits in Oregon.

Thank God. We are in dire need of a return to sensibility and humanity.

This story landed in my inbox from a friend, bioethics hero/nurse Nancy Valko, who attached her personal note with it:

In response to the death of a depressed, 29 year old man, note this from the article: “You can not end your life with this kit, so I think it’s totally unenforceable,” said Faye Girsh, president of the Hemlock Society of San Diego, which advocates for the individual’s right to decide when and how one dies. “If I were his mother, I’d be very upset,” Girsh said, “but I don’t think I’d be very upset because somebody provided a peaceful means to end his life.”

This reflects the true agenda and the supreme callousness of the euthanasia movement. I’m the mother of a 30 year old daughter whose suicide death was called “textbook Final Exit” by the medical examiner. I too am “very upset” but not not only by her asphyxia death which was anything but “peaceful” but also with the rabid selfishness of the euthanasia movement which tries to bully everyone – health care professionals, grieving relatives, the unsuspecting public – into accepting their lethal agenda.

This is more than callousness. It’s murderous. And any ‘movement’ that promotes it is dreadfully hopeless and wrong.

Don’t kill. And don’t make me help you die.

And don’t make me lie about knowing you’re killing yourself, either.

Since euthanasia laws are in place in some of our states now, and that movement is spreading like a cancer, some basic reminders are in order. Like the ones in this column.

People requesting suicide assistance are not required to tell their families, though doctors who choose to participate (nobody has to) must recommend that they do so. Life insurers may not deny payment, as some do in cases of suicide.

Doctors who write these prescriptions and pharmacists who fill them are protected from civil or criminal liability and from disciplinary action by professional boards as long as they report their actions to the state.

The law protects the interests of everybody but the medical examiner.

The act says that “the patient’s death certificate … shall list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death.”

This sounds like movie fiction. But read it knowing it describes the facts as they now are. 

The certificate may not reference the Death with Dignity Act, mention the drug used to terminate life or contain terms such as suicide, assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide, mercy killing or euthanasia. The manner of death must be certified as natural.

If any death certificate fails to comply, the Washington state registrar will reject it and require the medical certifier to sign an “acceptable correction” before issuing a permit allowing burial or cremation – “acceptable correction” meaning a misstatement of the facts.

The writer is a forensic pathologist, and serves as a country coroner. She decided to express herself from this unique base of experience. She’s okay with “the right of the individual to choose suicide”…

…and I accept that the majority may decide what laws they will be governed by, but the legal requirement for a cover-up is nuts.

Now that’s an interesting way to state the case. It’s unusual candor in print in any media.

Death with dignity is a fine phrase, but where’s the dignity in forcing doctors to sign certificates that misstate the facts?

I’m no fan of euphemisms or political correctness. Assisted suicide is suicide. Legalize it if you will, but call it what it is.

Yes. Call things what they are. Clarity is startling.

Stop killing the disabled

I remember receiving a notice in March 2005, a warning written by a man in the Netherlands, that if America allows Terri Schiavo to die in the manner that was unfolding so dramatically at the time, Dutch euthanasia would soon come to this country and there would be no stopping it. It has happened more than even he may have foreseen.

There have been so many other Terris since then, and the tireless work her family puts into Terri’s Life & Hope Network is making a remarkable difference in saving individual lives, assisting families of vulnerable and impaired people, and at least doing their best to inform the public and especially the recalcitrant and sometimes delusional media.

The Italian Terri Schiavo was back in the news recently with the news that Eluana Englaro’s death by starvation and dehydration shocked enough Italian sensibilities to put forward an anti-euthanasia law before their Parliament.

Now, it’s Baby Joseph, the child in Canada whose life is threatened by the hour and hangs in the balance between the hospitals eager to pull life-support and the parents desperate to stop them. Here’s the latest as of this writing, and it’s not the least surprising that Terri’s brother Bobby Schindler is at the heart of it.

“The family wants to bring their baby home and they’re being denied,” he explained.  “That’s what our family – we were fighting for the same thing, really.  To bring Terri home and to care for her and show her the compassion that really only a family can do.”

In a statement, the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network said “it is unacceptable for Canadian Health Allocation Officials and/or the Canadian Government to make decisions for baby Joseph and his family.”

“Every patient, regardless of age, has a right to proper and dignified health care. It is frightening to once again see government usurp the God given rights of parents to love and care for their child at home,” it added.

Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition called this a human rights issue, and how could anyone claim it is not?

“This is an issue that goes to family, this is an issue about who decides at the end of life issues, and we clearly believe that should be with the family, with the parents,” he told LifeSiteNews.  “So we’re here to support them, we’re here to stand with them, and we’re here to encourage them.”

And help them get Baby Joseph into his family’s care, essentially.

Joseph suffers from a severe neurological disorder, but his specific condition remains undiagnosed.  Doctors have given him no chance of recovery, so his parents, Moe Maraachli and Sana Nader, have asked them to perform a tracheotomy which would enable him to breathe on his own, so that they could take him home.  The doctors have refused, saying the procedure is too risky.

Too risky for what? The child’s health and well-being? The child they’re trying to take off life support? They’re already intending to hasten his death. I saw his father on a television interview today. He said all they want to do is take Joseph home, so he can die peacefully there.  “He’s a human being,” his father emphasized, startled that he has to remind anyone of that. “I accept that he has a problem, but he has rights.” 

The clock is ticking for the family, however, as Joseph’s current hospital has asked Ontario’s Office of the Public Guardian to assume decision-making power after the family refused to have Joseph’s life support removed on Monday.  The public guardian could order it removed at any point.


If you’ve seen those gripping previews of the movie “Sanctum” and plan to see the movie, consider this a spoiler alert. At least, consider it an alert because people need one when Hollywood puts out films that as one critic put it, are visually stunning but morally vapid.

“Sanctum” comes off in the trailer looking like an action thriller, and it has a lot of that. You can even see in the commercials on television that there’s something not quite right about the dramatic conclusion the film seems headed toward, but it’s a fast-paced trailer and hard to make out what’s going on in those death defying scenes.

Trouble is, that’s where it’s headed, though what the story line defies is the traditional Judeo-Christian value that life is sacred and must be preserved or defended until natural death. The story weaves in killing, but peddled as usual under the guise of compassion or mercy or the only answer…

Somewhere in my stacks of research is the keen insight of Pope Benedict on the cinema becoming the new church, the place where modern culture goes to be fed and nourished on a new scripture for a new age.

Hollywood film expert Barb Nicolosi, a cutting edge Catholic industry insider and incisive critic, has a quote on her blog that sums up that thought.

“Theaters are the new Church of the Masses-where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human.” – 1930’s theater critic

Barb put out a warning about this film. She said she wants all the parents out there to be warned about the movie “Sanctum” produced by Avatar’s James Cameron. “In the end, it comes down to a gut-wrenching, irrational pitch for euthanasia.” Aimed at the 15 to 30 year old demographic, just to be sure to capture that generation in the cultural wreckage the Boomers wrought.

Trib movie reviewer Michael Phillips nails it.

An Australian production, the film contains a tiny kernel of “based on a true story,” that of a particularly rough underwater caving expedition undertaken by “Sanctum” producer and co-writer Andrew Wight, who’s a rock star in his field and a pal of diving enthusiast Cameron. That risky, dangerous 1988 expedition claimed no casualties. Grimmer than “127 Hours,” this movie is like a remake of “And Then There Were None” directed by Jacques Cousteau…

Here and there an image of spectral beauty, assisted by the 3-D technology, floats into view and captures our imagination. But the script, which really should’ve been called “Sanctimonium,” has a serious case of the bends.

As for the message to younger audiences about offing the suffering elders, a Facebook commentor remarked..

How old is James Cameron? He should be careful what he wishes for.

Pop media soft-peddling death

As usual, it’s being done under the disguise of compassion.

This storyline is getting mainstreamed, and even if well-intended, it’s dangerous.

I often think back on the tumultuous year that lapsed between my mother’s announcement that she wanted to “end things” and the night she succumbed to a lack of food and water, along with an intentional overdose of morphine.

The gulf in between is unchartered territory for families who haven’t been there yet, so this story is plausibly their eventual story, and they’re reading with an uneasy but inquisitive interest, no doubt.

What, I wonder, could my sisters and I have done differently? Should we have tried harder to talk her out of it? Insisted that she talk to a psychiatrist? Made sure she didn’t have access to lethal drugs or medications?

These are the kinds of difficult questions that face the friends and relatives of sick and elderly people who express a wish to end their lives. As my sisters and I can testify, the emotions stirred up by such a request can be intense and overwhelming. In our case, they ranged from sadness that our mother found her situation intolerable (she was suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease), to disappointment that she was “giving up,” to anxiety at the prospect of being there when she did it.

As my friend Nancy Valko points out about this story, which she saw featured on Oprah a while back:

The moral is apparently that when we put our own so-called bias aside and support the suicial person who has “the predictable effects of living with a SERIOUS OR DEBILITATING disease”, we will all benefit. (emphasis added)

Valko says this is dead wrong.

We have to get the point across that suicide is always the wrong “choice” and that we cannot discriminate when it comes to suicide prevention and treatment.

She knows this firsthand, both professionally as a longtime pro-life nurse/bioethics expert and personally as the mother of a young woman who tragically ended her own life.

Suicide is an unmitigated horror that is being soft-pedaled to the public while putting vulnerable people at risk as well as destroying our medical and legal ethics.

Don’t buy into this pop culture PR about ‘death with dignity’ because it isn’t. And what they’re peddling as ‘self-determination’ is nearly always someone else’s determination to hasten death exonerated by semantics.

Take the advice of Terri Schiavo’s family. Don’t wait until it happens to you to get informed about what to do, when it may be too late.

A humanist argument against euthanasia

The false premise at the center of the ‘right to die’ movement is that it upholds the very progressive ideal of radical personal autonomy. That, however, is a marketing ploy.

This self-proclaimed atheist and “radical humanist” challenges the premise and the whole movement. Which is rare, since the stereotype has it that enlightened liberals all see the only reasonable belief as the one they hold.

As a result, when I tell people that I am deeply uncomfortable with the campaign for the ‘right to die’, and I am not convinced that assisted dying should be legalised, they give me funny looks. They instantly assume that I must be one of ‘Them’ – one of those religious people, one of those strange individuals who thinks human life is so sacred that no one should ever be allowed to die until God wants them to.

But he’s an intelligent humanist who thinks for himself.

I think we need to start making the humanist case against this fashion for voluntary euthanasia.

There are two reasons why, as someone driven by a human-centred morality, I am uncomfortable with legalising assisted dying. Firstly, because it will be bad for the people it is supposed to help: terminally ill people who want to die. And secondly, because it will also be bad for those people who want to live, people who might be sick or disabled or old but who want to continue living.

Now he does go off in a direction of what he believes to be the more reasonable and compassionate way to protect but still enable people who want to end their lives.

The legalisation of assisted dying would replace love with law. It would put an end to ‘mercy killings’ carried out by caring families and compassionate doctors and replace them with state-sanctioned killings. This would be a blow to terminally ill people who want to die, because it would deny them the opportunity, at the very end of their lives, to make an independent choice with the help of their loved ones in private.

He is making a reasoned case, but one that keeps us on the ‘slippery slope’. But more on that in a moment….

The humanist case against legislating euthanasia continues, and here he makes a very good argument.

Secondly, legalising assisted dying would be bad for people who want to live, too. It seems pretty irrefutable to me that the campaign to legalise assisted suicide has become bound up with society’s broader inability to value and celebrate human life today. It is clear that society finds it increasingly difficult to say that human existence is a good thing – you can see this in everything from the environmentalist discussion of newborn babies as ‘future polluters’ to the widespread scaremongering about the ‘ageing timebomb’. And you can see it in the fact that some in the pro-assisted dying campaign want to go beyond having ‘mercy killings’ for people close to death to having ‘assisted dying’ for the very disabled, the ill and even, in the case of Dignitas in Switzerland, the depressed. This effectively sanctions suicide as a response to personal hardship, and gives a green light to hopelessness.

The campaign for the right to die has both been heavily influenced by and also influences today’s broader anti-life culture. It expresses a broader social pessimism, a shift away from improving human life towards focusing a great deal of our moral and political energies on bringing to an end damaged or impaired human lives.

Or unwanted ones. Or lives in any way deemed ‘unworthy’ of life. He makes this case very well.

This is increasingly how we judge human life today: not by its internal worth or moral meaning, but by its financial implications or environmental implications. It is not a coincidence that at a time when society is so down on the worth of human life, there is also a very vocal campaign for the ‘right to die’: these two phenomena are linked in subtle but important ways.

The fact remains, however, that only a minority of people in pain choose to end their lives; the majority think life is worth living. But the views of the very active minority of pro-euthanasia campaigners are likely impacting on the way the majority of people experience their lives, possibly making them feel like a burden – a social, financial and environmental burden – if they choose to continue living. And as a humanist, I am also opposed to any undermining of the majority’s quality of life by a tiny minority of campaigners.

Almost makes a pro-life person who opposes any aid in dying want to say ‘Bravo, well said,” and it largely is. This is the debate we must have, and make it a well-reasoned one with clear thinking and clearly stated beliefs. So here’s mine, and why I express that caveat on the ‘Bravo.’

Once we hold out for any type of “mercy killing” or “aid in dying” for even what seem to be the purest and most compassionate of intentions, we’ve allowed for exceptions to the ‘natural law’ that religiously-informed voices of “the new humanism” Pope Benedict often talks about. And that’s the belief that human life is sacred from conception to natural death. Church teaching on end of life issues is clear, comprehensive, and ultimately most protective of human dignity.