Bishop's Blog

Dying with Dignity

St. John Paul II taught us how to live and taught us how to die.

The teaching of Pope John Paul II about sickness and death came not only from his speeches, and encyclicals. In the face of injury, suffering, hospitalization, illness and dying, he taught us that to understand death with dignity, first accept the dignity of life. Human dignity is an undeserved gift, not an earned status. The dignity of life springs from its source. We come to be by the loving action of God the Creator. “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? You have made him little less than a god, and crown him with glory and honour” [Psalm 8:5]. The dignity of life is beyond price. We have been ransomed not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.

Nevertheless, he explained that: “The church knows that the moment of death is always accompanied by particularly intense human sentiments: an earthy life is ending, the emotional, generational, and social ties that are part of the person’s inner self are dissolving; people who are dying and those who assist them are aware of the conflict between hope in immortality and the unknown which troubles even the most enlightened minds. The church lifts her voice so that the dying are not offended but are given every loving care and are not left alone as they prepare to cross the threshold of time to enter eternity” [Academy of Life, 1999].

There are many ethical questions and issues surrounding suffering and death. As Catholics, there are several foundational principles and practices. I want to cite three of them:

  1. Any action or omission which of itself or by intention causes or hastens death is a grave violation of the commandment: “You shall not kill.”
  2. We hold firmly that, while every person has a fundamental right to normal care and treatment, he or she has also the right to refuse procedures or treatments considered extraordinary or disproportionate; that is, overly burdensome, painful or of dubious effectiveness in restoring health. Likewise, the individual has the right to discontinue treatment under the same conditions.
  3. For those in the final stages of a terminal illness, the church is a strong advocate for palliative care. We applaud the progress that has been made in the field of pain alleviation and management. While acknowledging the human and redemptive value of suffering, we also recognize our common human responsibility to bring relief to suffering whenever possible. Thus in palliative care it is always legitimate to administer medication in doses adequate to control the pain, even if it is foreseen that death will be hastened, so long as the intent is to alleviate the pain and not to hasten death.

Willem Joacbus Cardinal Eijk, Archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands, recently told the Canadian Bishops that when confronted with people who say they want euthanasia or assistance in suicide, “look behind the question.”

A request for euthanasia or assisted suicide does not necessarily or directly contain a wish to die or for the termination of life. The question being asked is, “How can I (continue to) live with dignity in this situation?”

Experience teaches that a request for the termination of life is often prompted by fear for unbearable pain and by an aversion to personal humiliation. The emphasis is usually on physical pain. However, research shows that in only 10% of the cases is pain the only reason for a request for the termination of life. The primary problem is the preserving self-respect and human dignity. Put in general terms, the request for euthanasia or assisted suicide seems above all to be a request for help and relief. That is why it is very important to speak with the other person and discover with him the source of his request.

True pastoral care implies that the pastor leads people entrusted to his care to the truth, ultimately found only in Jesus Christ, Who is “the way, the truth and life” [John 14,6].

For Catholics, in order to receive the sacraments, one must have the proper disposition. The deepest meaning of receiving sacraments is that man entrusts himself to God’s loving mercy. Consciously and freely choosing euthanasia or assisted suicide implies that one is not entrusting oneself to God’s mercy, but is rather controlling the conclusion of one’s own life. Such a position is incompatible with the surrender to God’s loving mercy and it denies, so to speak, the strength that is inherent in the sacraments. Through the sacraments one participates in the suffering, the death and the Resurrection of Jesus and in the unconditional “yes” He spoke to His Father.

From this perspective, it is impossible to comply with a request for the sacraments when someone has planned to end his life or to have it ended actively. Such a person does not have the proper disposition.

Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are not a “solution” to suffering, but an elimination of the suffering human being. It is therefore the confirmation of despair, of the overwhelming feeling that all suffering can only end when the human person himself ceases to be. If the pastoral caregiver were to support the request for euthanasia, he would be capitulating to despair, which is contrary to the hope alive within him which he wants to proclaim. If the Church’s minister were out of a false of compassion accede to such a request it would constitute an enormous situation of scandal and denial of the truth, “You shall not kill.”

In a Letter to the Elderly in 1999, St. John Paul II shared his faith in these words: “It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God. At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life… And so I often find myself saying, with no trace of melancholy, a prayer recited by priests after the celebration of the Eucharist: At the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you. This is the prayer of Christian hope.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Catholic Life Euthanasia Death and Dying

Hearing the Screams

There is story told about passengers on a small commuter plane who are waiting for their flight to leave. They’re getting a little impatient, but the airport staff has assured them that the pilots will be there soon, and the flight will take off immediately after their arrival. The entrance opens, and two men dressed in pilots’ uniforms walk up the aisle – both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a seeing-eye dog, and the other is tapping his way up the aisle with a cane. Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin; but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes, and the engines start up. The passengers begin glancing nervously around, searching for some sign that this is just a little practical joke. None is forthcoming.

Soon the plane is moving faster and faster down the runway, and people at the windows realize that they’re headed straight for the water at the edge of the airport runway. As it begins to look as though the plane will never take off, that it will plow into the water, panicked screams fill the cabin – but at that moment, the plane lifts smoothly into the air.

The passengers relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon they have all retreated into their magazines, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands. Up in the cockpit, the co-pilot turns to the pilot and says, “You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re going to scream too late, and we’re all gonna die.”

Here are three examples of screams that I have heard recently:

1. On the campaign trail for the Progressive Conservative leadership, Jason Kenney blasted David Eggen, the Minister of Education for “lobbing rhetorical bombs” at the schools which are run by the Baptist Christian Education Society. Kenney suggested that the minister and his officials should not seek conflict in the media. According to the CBC, “If they have a concern or issue with individual schools, they should discretely and with respect and civility sit down and try to find a solution.”

The Baptist Christian Education Society’s board chair, Spruce Grove pastor Brian Coldwell, stated in August that the board’s two schools, which have a total of about 200 students, will not permit gay/straight alliances nor provide “polygender washrooms.”

There is no evidence that these Christian schools have a serious bullying problem, but a government problem – the imposition of the rainbow ideology where it doesn’t fit. Eggen responded in the media that he would “not rule out” cutting funding to the schools, which comprises about 70 percent of the private schools’ instructional revenue.

It’s ironic that a government committed to wiping out “bullying” is going to do so by being a bully, i.e. by repeatedly and habitually using force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. This is an imbalance of social and economic power being used to facilitate a unwelcomed social re-engineering agenda.

2. At World Youth Day in Krakow, Pope Francis screamed: “There are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? …In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: ‘Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator.’”

3. Finally, a “silent scream,” as it was not heard by the politically correct establishment, ostensibly because it questions many of the LGBTQ orthodoxies.

Sexuality and Gender published in August by a couple of scientific heavyweights, Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh, examined nearly 200 peer-reviewed studies in sexual orientation and gender identity. Four of the report’s most important conclusions are:

  1. The belief that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property –“that people are born that way”– is not supported by scientific evidence.
  2. The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex – so that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body”– is not supported by scientific evidence.
  3. Only a minority of children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behaviour will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood. There is no evidence that all such children should be encouraged to become transgender, much less subjected to hormone treatments or surgery.
  4. Non-heterosexual and transgender people have higher rates of mental health problems (anxiety, depression, suicide), as well as behavioural and social problems (substance abuse, intimate partner violence), than the general population. Discrimination alone does not account for the entire disparity.

“You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re going to scream too late, and we’re all gonna die.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Catholic Life Sex Same Sex Attraction Catholic Schools

Seeing with New Eyes

The world has again been stunned by a jihadist attack, after two knife-wielding men burst into a church in a suburb of Rouen, France, killed an elderly priest — Fr. Jacques Hamel — during morning mass, and took hostages.

Sr. Danielle, one of the nuns who attended the mass said that the men, armed with knives, forced the priest to his knees before cutting his throat. “They recorded it; it was like they were performing a sermon in Arabic around the altar. It was horrific.”

Two nuns and one parishioner exited the church, followed by the attackers, one of whom was carrying a gun, who charged police shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great). The attackers were shot dead by police.

The perpetrators have been named as Adel Kermiche and Abdel-Malik Petitjean, both 19. Both attackers were known to the French security services, having tried to reach Syria to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) and been turned back. IS said two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack.

During the press conference on the flight back to Rome after World Youth Day, a journalist, Antoine Marie Izoarde, asked the Holy Father: “Why do you, when you speak of these violent events, always speak of terrorists, but never of Islam; never use the word Islam?”

Pope Francis responded: “I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy … this one who has murdered his girlfriend, another who has murdered the mother-in-law … and these are baptized Catholics!

There are violent Catholics! If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence … and no, not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent. It is like a fruit salad; there’s everything. There are violent persons of this religion … this is true: I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them. When fundamentalism comes to kill, it can kill with the language — the Apostle James says this, not me — and even with a knife, no? I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true.

I had a long conversation with the imam, the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar University, and I know how they think … They seek peace, encounter … The nuncio to an African country told me that the capital where he is there is a trail of people, always full, at the Jubilee Holy Door

And some approach the confessionals — Catholics — others to the benches to pray, but the majority go forward, to pray at the altar of Our Lady … these are Muslims, who want to make the Jubilee. They are brothers, they live …

When I was in Central Africa, I went to them, and even the imam came up on the Popemobile … We can coexist well … But there are fundamentalist groups, and even I ask … there is a question … How many young people, how many young people of our Europe, whom we have left empty of ideals, who do not have work… they take drugs, alcohol, or go there to enlist in fundamentalist groups?

One can say that the so-called ISIS, but it is an Islamic State which presents itself as violent … because when they show us their identity cards, they show us how on the Libyan coast how they slit the Egyptians’ throats or other things … But this is a fundamentalist group which is called ISIS … but you cannot say, I do not believe, that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist.”

I certainly don’t know how I would answer the question asked on the spur of the moment. I can understand the meandering of Pope Francis in trying to avoid identifying Islam with terrorism. After all, we all know so many tolerant and peace loving Muslims. With our Western eyes, we tend to see social alienation, unemployment, lack of adequate housing or education, feelings of hopelessness and the absence of ideals as the underlying causes of terrorism.

We have to see things with jihadist eyes. Those who slit throats or carry out suicide bombings clearly believe that their actions do owe much to their religious faith.

It is not politically correct to say so, but violence was definitely part of the rise and expansion of Islam. At the time, no one found anything blameworthy in Muhammad’s military action since wars were part of the Arab Bedouin culture. Today, the problem is that the fiercest Muslim groups continue to adopt that model.

In the Qur’an, there are verses in favour of religious tolerance, and other verses that are aggressive and openly opposed to tolerance. Therefore, the doctors of the Islamic law are obliged to say that they do not agree with those who choose to adopt the verse of the sword as normative, even if they cannot condemn them. There are two different choices, the aggressive and the peaceful, and both of them are acceptable. There is a need for an authority, unanimously acknowledged by Muslims, that could say: from now on, only this verse is valid. But this has not happened and helps to explain some of the silence of Imams and other Islamic leaders

This means that when some fanatic slits the throat of an old man or bombs women and children in the market place in the name of pure and authentic Islam or in the name of the Muslim tradition, nobody can tell them: “You are not true and authentic Muslims.” As Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, S.J. puts it, “All they can say is: ‘Your reading of Islam is not ours.’ And this is the ambiguity of Islam, from its beginning to the present day; violence is a part of it, although it is also possible to choose tolerance; tolerance is a part of it, but it is also possible to choose violence.”

We also need new eyes to revisit one of the themes of Pope Benedict XVI’s address given at the University of Regensburg in 2006, as how we understand God’s nature has implications for whether we judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable. This is not just an issue for academia but where the rubber hits the road.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Catholic Life Interreligious Peace Interfaith
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