Bishop William Crean is Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland. This homily was preached on Sunday, October 4, in Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh.
It has long been a feature of our prayer life to pray for the blessing of a happy death, the grace to let go gracefully and serenely of our earthly journey. I have no doubt that became part of people’s spiritual lives because they had witnessed so many who died in agony of body and spirit.
Sadly, in our own time, huge numbers of people die by violent conflict and war. Just in the Syrian conflict alone, the death toll is probably a million. This is not to speak of those who die by disease and infection. The remaining deaths come about in their own time by natural causes – our span of life has run its course and it is time to surrender to death. It is the last conscious act of life/living.
Though we are in the midst of a global Pandemic the Oireachtas are presently working through a piece of legislation that provides for assisted suicide. The reason offered by those who are proposing this new law is that we ought to have the freedom to choose the timing of our death and if we are not in a position to do so ourselves, we have the right to be helped to do so. The pretext for this right is that no one should suffer in the course of their dying so that they can do so with dignity.
Those who propose this law go on to suggest that great attention needs to be given to the details and circumstances where assisted suicide is permitted. It should be limited and rare in occurrence.
We know only too well these days how fragile life is. It is not too long ago since the right to life of the unborn was compromised. The argumentation was that abortion would be limited and rare. That the first year of the legislation registered 6666. That is not what was promised. Would you believe again in the promises of those politicians? I do not.
The life question will never leave the political agenda. Simply because it goes to the very heart of the nature of our society. How we treat the weak and powerless is the true test of our character and integrity as a nation. Just this week Pope Francis will issue a new Encyclical Letter to the Church and the world entitled in Italian Fratelli Tutti, in which he calls for a new global solidarity of peoples as sisters and brothers under our Creator God. Saint Paul, writing to the Philippians in the 2nd Reading invites them and us:
“Fill your minds with everything that is true,
everything that is noble
everything that is good and pure
everything that we love and honor
and everything that can be thought virtuous
or worthy of praise ……..
Then the God of peace will be with you”.
My friends, the one certainty in life is our eventual death. In life journey, there are many who fall victim to a terminal illness – which generates great sadness, anxiety, anger, and pain. With the advancement of palliative care, the medical and nursing professions along with appropriate pain management render outstanding service and care to those who are terminally ill. As far back as the 1950’s Blessed Pope Pius XII when speaking to a medical conference declared there was an obligation on doctors to alleviate suffering and pain whenever possible. He also declared at that same conference that there was no obligation on families to expend extraordinary means to ensure questionable medical treatment.
To introduce a “Dying with Dignity” Bill at this time is disingenuous and unnecessary. Is it not a contradiction of enormous magnitude to introduce a Bill of this nature in the middle of a pandemic? If the frail and elderly were fearful and anxious due to the virus, they have an added legitimate concern as to how much value is really placed on their life and their lifetime’s contribution to society.
The Day for Life is the Church’s annual flagging of these issues and they will not go away. They will not go away because our treatment of the vulnerable is the judgment of our humanity. Assisting in suicide is a false exercise of compassion and tolerance of its practice is flawed in its moral judgment.
We pray for the blessing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on all who make these critical decisions on our behalf.