27th Sunday B
October 3rd, 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Day for Life”
Just a number of weeks ago a very significant decision was taken by the British Medical Association in the light of a major survey that they undertook of their members. The decision is that as a body of doctors they have declared their neutrality on the issue that they refer to as Physician Assisted Dying. Other names are used for the same reality like Dying with Dignity and Assisted Suicide.
Place that fact beside the global experience of Covid 19 over the last 18 months. Globally Covid deaths have passed the 6 million mark. Ireland alone has spent over €17 billion in combating Covid – I billion a month. No questions were asked about the cost because every life was precious, every life mattered and matters. Those families who were bereaved due to Covid can testify to the sadness they experienced.
The irony is, during that time a Bill was being promoted through the Oireachtas to provide for Assisted Suicide. It was promoted under the benign description of Dying with Dignity. It failed to progress but not before the issue was handed over to a committee who will bring it back on the agenda again.
This issue is the one addressed for 2021 as part of its Day for Life. The Bishops as a body have a Council for Life composed of mostly lay professionals, Physicians and Theologians, who advise the Conference in the light of the most current medical practice in Palliative Care. In 2020, last year, while the legislation was going through the Oireachtas the entire group of Senior Consultants in Palliative Care in Ireland issued a statement expressing their considered view that such a practice as assisted suicide is not necessary such is the quality and nature of Palliative Care to-day. The hospice movement in Ireland is a wonderful witness to the culture of life whereby every life matters, is treated with dignity and is cherished to its natural end. In that regard our Christian faith is a real inspiration. It enables us to see our life as a gift from its defenceless beginning to its fragile end.
The hope of resurrection puts our life journey with its joy and sorrow, sickness and pain. In this vision of things life has meaning and purpose even in its darkest moment. However, fewer people embrace that perspective to-day.
Hence the growing sense that if one cannot have a particular quality of life physically or psychologically life can have no purpose or value so it is best ended. That is a great tragedy when a person chooses death over life. It is not natural. Neither is it natural or fair to ask a doctor whose whole training is to heal the wounded and bind up those who are broken to act in an entirely opposite way. The very ethos of the medical profession is undermined by becoming agents of health rather that life.
There is an added factor increasingly coming into play which is the fact that people are living longer and care for the aged is expensive. All of that reality brings an added pressure on people in their old age. There is a real risk that people will feel they are or have become a burden on their families.
My friends, the case for Assisted Suicide, Dying with Dignity or Physician Assisted Dying is invariably made on the grounds of compassion. In cases of Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Terminal Cancers, Neurological Impairment in the eyes of some, life is best terminated prematurely. It is an argument built on the shifting sands of emotion and it is understandable even if it is morally unsound.
In the past we seemed to live more calmly with death. It was inevitable and natural. That was reflected in our spiritual practice of praying for a happy death. I am sure you have noticed the more recent language shift round death and dying. He/she has passed rather than died. What does this shift represent?
This issue of assisted dying goes to the heart of our society. Whatever language we use we cannot avoid the human nature of illness, suffering, loss and death. We need to remain vigilant to the political process currently planning its development in Ireland despite our excellent Hospice Movement. Moral Compass?
He came that we might have life
and have it in abundance.