Caring for the sick and dying: the respect owed to life

UPDATE (26th of June): I’m copying the following line off a missive from the English Bishops. There will be a separate post later:

On Monday 12 July at 7:30pm, Baroness Ilora Finlay and Robert Preston will look behind the slogans of the debate to help inform your view. Visit the event page on Eventbrite. Founding Director of Living and Dying Well, Robert is a former civil servant and parliamentary official. Baroness Finlay is a cross-bench member of the House of Lords and one of Europe’s leading palliative care consultants. Both have extensive experience of this complex and sensitive subject. They make clear from the outset that, in their view, the case being made for changing the law to legalise physician-assisted suicide does not stack up.

Death by Appointment: A Rational Guide to the Assisted Suicide Debate, [link]

I’ve lifted the title of this short post off the poster for next weekend’s Day for Life commemoration that is attached below. The rest of this post is also a series of quotes lifted off that poster. In short, as the Bishop warns us, there are powerful people lobbying to legalise ‘assisted dying’ in our country. That’s euthanasia to you and to me and the Church stands firmly against the idea that we can so freely take the lives of the poor and vulnerable, while pretending to care about their human dignity. It is abhorrent. Here’s the first quote from the poster, which treats the ongoing tragedy of the current epidemic and the response of the medical community.

“The fragility of life and the reality of death have been brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK alone, more than 126,000 people have died from Covid-19. Each of these lives is precious and every life matters. Behind each statistic there is a person, with a family, with friends, with a story, with a life of infinite value and worth. Each death has rightly been mourned as a tragedy. This tragedy has been further compounded by the inability to be physically present with loved ones at the end of their life, due to the restrictions of the pandemic. The pain of this separation and the preciousness of a loved one’s final moments has been keenly felt by many.”

Day for Life poster

“Yet against this bleak backdrop of suffering and separation, we have witnessed the extraordinary dedication of healthcare professionals and their loving care for the sick and dying. Their presence at the side of a dying loved one has been a source of comfort and consolation for many grieving families. As a nation, we have celebrated the care and commitment of those on the front lines during this pandemic. We too have each played a part in tackling this pandemic through our collective effort and sacrifice to ‘stay home and save lives.’ These acts of heroic love are a powerful testimony to the fundamental dignity of the human person and to the respect owed to each life, particularly through proper care and love in the last moments of life.”

Day for Life poster

All very well, it’s wonderful. As with other priests and people who have regularly encountered medical staff treating patients in the last eighteen months, I have been impressed with their dedication, especially the nurses who I have found on duty. They seemed to take the new infection and all the associated regulations well in stride. But the poster, challenged for space, cuts to the chase and decries the new push for ‘assisted dying’ and brings the Holy Father into the fight.

“Assisted suicide, as Pope Francis reminds us, is a ‘false compassion’ and its remedy is one of true compassion, a patient ‘suffering with’ the vulnerable, sick and dying. A ‘true compassion’, he says, is ‘the just response to the immense value of the sick person.’ This is a compassion which finds expression in treating the dying person with love, with dignity and by making use of appropriate palliative care. Life is a gift to be valued until its last breath and countless people have witnessed to this holistic vision of dying, encompassing the relational, spiritual, emotional and physical dimensions of a person and their family.”

Day for Life poster

Consider that the medical establishment, established to protect life, will be further drawn into the contrary position of ending it. Next Sunday, we shall observe the annual Day for Life and we are being encouraged to join battle for the cause of Life, defending this time against this new push for euthanasia, and working in the cause of authentic compassion in the treatment of those who are sick and dying. Our primary weapon is prayer, but some of us will have other means and we must, if possible, engage in the political process to challenge these new policies.