Caring For The Dying: Not Just For Religious

At the Catholic Herald, commentator Francis Phillips is concerned about the blossoming movement favoring euthanasia. He writes:

It strikes me that the push for euthanasia in this country is driven by a cadre of influential atheists with a fear of death for themselves and thus a sublimated death wish for others. They have an entirely pragmatic view of life; when someone feels, for whatever reason, that it no longer makes sense, why force them to go on living?

I think different people have different reasons. Many people are afraid of suffering. And the melodrama of modern media, from video games to sensational reporting to horror stories about medical malpractice all reinforce this fear of spectacle. Some people honestly do not want to lose their ability to care for themselves, to find their mind fading away, or to suffer in agony as cancer overtakes their bones and organs.

Of course, dying doesn’t have to happen this way. But the images of video game gore and the boogeystories of intense pain do little to calm this fear.

The real key, I think, is to begin to listen to people who are dying. And those in the movement who support an end to life. And find out if they are really afraid of death, or just intent on helping an aged parent or spouse avoid suffering.

Mr Phillips concludes:

Contrast it with the Holy Father’s words, “Those who practise mercy do not fear death”. This is not the false “mercy” of “mercy killing”; it is accompanying, supporting, a person approaching the end of their natural life. To watch over the dying is an act of Christian mercy that used to be practised by certain religious orders. Perhaps someone should start a new religious order for this purpose today?

There are religious orders who care for the dying. But I think we’re past the age in which every religious or spiritual solution is achieved by throwing celibate women at the problem. Why do people who care for the elderly and dying have to be vowed religious? I am sure the Little Sisters of the Poor would be very willing to form volunteers to do the basics of ministry. It’s not terribly hard. Discern with one’s spiritual director or pastor. Make a commitment to visit a care facility or hospice regularly. Visit one’s own relatives and neighbors who are in the denouement of their lives.

Part of the problem on the political front is the modern willingness to delegate difficult work to “specialists.” That’s not the way Pope Francis is pointing out. The solution isn’t about getting other people to do the work. If we notice a need, if we feel the nudge of grace, then we can likely count on the call being our own. Not that of a new religious order.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Caring For The Dying: Not Just For Religious

  1. Melody says:

    Complicating the discussion of euthanasia vs. care for the dying is the fact that Christians themselves are not in agreement as to how far we must go to preserve life. Case in point is this story:
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/amish-girl-leukemia-family-flees-us-avoid-chemotherapy/story?id=21040115
    Catholic teaching (as I understand it) is that we are not obliged to accept treatment which is excessively burdensome; but that both active and passive (such as withholding water or nourishment) euthanasia are forbidden. There isn’t a clear, bright line. What constitutes an “excessive” burden? At what age are we considered competent to make a decision about our own treatment? I agree wholeheartedly with the Church’s position on euthanasia; just pointing out that there are grey areas.

    • Todd says:

      Gray areas? Most definitely. When a person is actively dying, their digestive system shuts down. Food and water are no longer utilized, and even if consumed with difficulty, might well not be absorbed by failing organs.

      Sometimes reasons for extending life are non-medical: the need for personal reconciliation within families, for example. When my dad died, I felt he and I had always had a positive and enriching relationship. But my mother was not ready to let go, and there may have been other family members with concerns as well. These matters can also be taken into account.

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