28th Sunday (A)
11th October 2020
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Follow the Science”
The mantra these days is “Follow the Science” we must listen to the experts and follow their guidance and direction. We wish that it were so simple. “Doctors differ and people die” the saying goes. This week past brought this dilemma to a head. The science said one thing or indeed many things and the politicians chose another path and we know well the issue is not finished. Things remain up in the air because it is so difficult to project and plan in the midst of a pandemic – of its nature complex and global.
In the midst of the pressure and urgency nerves are getting frayed and real differences are becoming evident. Nevertheless, all are saying they are on the same team fighting on behalf of the people – especially the vulnerable.
The remarkable reality is that right in the middle of this battle for the health and lives of the vulnerable the Dáil voted through a Bill which proposes introducing assisted suicide as a practice in Ireland. The vote has moved into the next stage of the legislative process whereby it will be scrutinized and refined. But no matter how refined it might be the ultimate intention is clear – the medical profession will be asked to assist in the killing of another, solely on the grounds that they no longer wish to live.
In the early days, the proponents of this practice referred to it as “Mercy Killing”, later moved on to Euthanasia (from Greek – good death) to to-day’s title of “Dying with Dignity” – the language is softer but the harshness of the reality is undiminished – this week a majority of the same politicians who are so exercised by coping and living with the pandemic went through the “Yes” lobby. Surely a ‘mixed message’ which reflects confused leadership.
I wonder had they considered “Following the Science” before doing so? If they had they would have some most compelling evidence as to why they ought to. It comes from a letter to the papers from the Irish Palliative Medicine Consultants Association in which they state “we are gravely concerned by any proposal to legislate for assisted suicide and euthanasia in Ireland”. It is signed by the consultants of every major University Faculty and Palliative Care services in the country, seventeen in all.
They base their concerns on their collective experience over many decades of providing specialist care. Their letter is brief but very clear in the points they want the politicians to listen to:
1. The threat of damaging the true meaning of the doctor patient relationship
2. The impact on those who struggle to have their voices heard in our society. Older adults, the disabled and those with mental illness.
3. The risk of the vulnerable being made to feel a burden on their families and come under pressure to end their lives prematurely
4. Many people do not really know what dying is like or how rare it is that severe pain cannot be controlled.
Most people do not see that within the easing of physical, psychological or spiritual distress and addressing people’s fears, hopes, sadness and loss, the goal of palliative care remains to enhance the living of each life which often transforms the experiences of living, dying and bereavement for individual patients and their families.
Their conclusion – “We are convinced that as “dying with dignity” is already present within healthcare in Ireland, no change to our current law is required”.
Would that the politicians would “Follow the Science” and heed these experts in the field of Palliative Care.
And we ourselves must not take “our eye off the ball”. We need to make our voices heard in the name of those who have no voice.
The tragedy of this development is its perception as progressive, when in reality it is to forget and ignore the lessons of 20th century experimentations with the lives of the vulnerable.
Ignorance of our history condemns us to repeat its mistakes.