Tag Archives: euthanasia

Aging Gracefully

28 Oct

holding hand of elderly personAs I turn 55 this month, I’m looking forward to all the senior discounts, especially now that my kids have outgrown the children’s menu. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect on aging.

When my family moved to Ohio in 1993, we invited my mother Eileen (“Mom”) to come live with us. While still capable of living on her own, Mom was beginning to feel the effects of age and heart problems, and it was increasingly burdensome for her to maintain her condominium. Plus, we considered “Grandma” part of our family, and valued her time with us. So we warmly welcomed her–and her cats!–into our home.

In December 1998, Mom was hospitalized with pneumonia. Complications ensued after Christmas. She developed a serious infection and became septic. She went into respiratory arrest and was placed on a ventilator and ultimately a feeding tube was inserted. She spent the entire month of January in intensive care, and the doctors were not at all optimistic about her recovery. So many machines, so little change in Mom’s condition. I had to consent to a dizzying array of procedures and tests on her behalf. But mostly, we were praying and waiting.

In February, Mom’s condition had improved enough for her to be moved out of intensive care. Even then, her doctors gave us little hope of her ever being able to come home, and had recommended various institutions where we could put her. After all, she needed so much personal care, and she’d likely be tube-fed for the rest of her life. We pleaded, cajoled, and argued with the doctors to let her come home. On Holy Saturday, a couple hours before the Easter Vigil, our request was granted.

At home, Mom’s condition steadily improved. We gradually were able to return the various hospital apparatus the state and local agencies provided us. We even weaned her from her feeding tube. But more than all the milestones and improvements Mom made, what stuck with me most was the doctor’s comment at one of her post-hospitalization visits. He admitted that he underestimated the ability of our family to care for Mom, and, in fact, that we were able to do more for her than he could.

We moved to Olathe in 2007, and Mom was still with us. In 2008, her conditioned worsened, and we were so grateful to have the Villa St. Francis nearby to care for her during her final months. She passed away in February 2009.

I really don’t see our family’s approach to caring for Mom as being particularly heroic. Having multiple generations under one roof can be very stressful at times, and we didn’t always show one another the love and respect Our Lord expects of us. Yet with God’s grace we made the effort, firmly believing that this is how Our Lord wants us to grow in holiness.

I come from a very large family, from which I learned the value of extended family. And while my Mom, a convert to the Catholic Church, never talked too much about her faith, she did manifest it to me when I was a child as she daily cared for my handicapped grandmother. Given this background, it always seemed “natural” to have Mom live with us.

However, I’m fully aware that in welcoming Mom into our household — despite her infirmity — we were making a distinctively countercultural choice. Our society often tells us that the older generation is just as inconvenient and annoying as children. Openness to the elderly can be just as politically incorrect as openness to new life.

We saw in the 20th century how Planned Parenthood and the little-known, radical views of its founder, Margaret Sanger, incrementally thrusted its contraceptive anti-natalist, racist, and eugenic agenda on the world. The result has been that conduct once considered unspeakably evil–the killing of unborn or even partially born children–is not only accepted, but enshrined as an inalienable right. Some of us, however, may not be aware that a similar effort is well under way to legitimize the killing of our elderly and ill citizens.

In 1938, President of the Euthanasia Society of America (ESA) Dr. Foster Kennedy announced his organization’s support of legislation to legalize the killing of “defective” or “incurable” human beings–with or without their consent. Back then, such legislation was utterly intolerable to the vast majority of our citizens, so the ESA and other pro-euthanasia organizations eventually took a more strategic, incremental approach, employing deceptive language such as “death with dignity” and building upon the utilitarianism (“quality of life”) and radical autonomy (“right to choose”) mantras championed by secular society and sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many now see euthanasia as a topic of political discussion, not an abomination.

With advancing age the elderly develop an acute awareness of their own mortality, often accompanied by pain and loneliness. Yet, through faith and the supernatural virtue of hope, Christians understand the twilight of life as a passage from the fragile and uncertain joy of this world to the fullness of joy which the Lord holds in store for His faithful servants: “Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21).

St. John Paul II wrote that honoring older people involves welcoming them, helping them, and affirming their gifts. He stressed that “the most natural place to spend one’s old age continues to be the environment in which one feels most ‘at home,’ among family members, acquaintances, and friends.”

The Holy Father by no means denigrated but rather praised “homes for the elderly,” especially those run by religious communities and volunteer groups that are committed to the care of the aged. What is most important, especially as America increasingly becomes a graying country, is to counter the culture of death by promoting a widespread attitude of acceptance and appreciation of the elderly, particularly within the family, so that people may grow old with dignity.

Leon Suprenant is the pastoral associate for administration in the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. For more information on the diaconate, visit www.archkck.org/deacons. This article, in abridged form, appeared in the October 24, 2014 edition of The Leaven.

Catechesis on the Fifth Commandment

27 Nov

This week we come to what at first blush seems to be the most straightforward of commandments:

You shall not kill.

As a child preparing for Confession I would routinely pass over the Fifth Commandment. After all, I hadn’t killed anybody that month! I was completely missing the spirit of the commandment, and in fact I was–and still am–frequently guilty of injuring others in thought, word, and deed. I failed to see that just as the positive antidote to sexual sins is chastity, the positive antidote to sins of anger, strife, and violence is kindness–loving others as myself.

In our sexually permissive society, it is critically important to reaffirm–clearly, firmly, and sensitively–the implications of the Sixth Commandment (“you shall not commit adultery”). Yet sometimes we may act as though Moses put an asterisk next to the Sixth Commandment, as though that’s the only commandment we really need to be concerned about. The truth is that we also live in an increasingly violent world. This has everything to do with the Fifth Commandment.

For most of us, the Fifth Commandment comes into play when we become angry or frustrated, or perhaps when we’re thinking too much of ourselves and not enough of our neighbor. Our Lord gives this beautiful application of this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:21-24).

To live this commandment, we should proactively practice acts of kindness (random or otherwise!), and reactively practice acts of reconciliation (sometimes a not-so-simple “I’m sorry” will work wonders!) when we cause friction with our neighbor. Continue reading

Statements from the U.S. Bishops and the Pope on Tomorrow’s Election

5 Nov

The Kansas Bishops:

http://www.kscathconf.org/election-2012/

Certain political issues place a special claim upon the Catholic conscience. These issues, where matters of intrinsic evil directly intersect with public policy, require unity from the Catholic faithful. Something is understood to be intrinsically evil if it is evil in and of itself, regardless of our motives or the circumstances. The Catholic faith requires Catholics to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the redefinition of marriage. These matters are not negotiable, for they contradict the natural law, available to everyone through human reasoning, and they violate unchanging and unchangeable Catholic moral principles.

The Catholic faith requires Catholics to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the redefinition of marriage.

While these issues are often adjudicated in the political arena, they are not, strictly speaking, “political issues.” Instead, they are fundamentally moral questions involving core Catholic teachings on what is right and what is wrong. Catholics who depart from Church teaching on these issues separate themselves from full communion with the Church.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia:

http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=36380

I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.

http://www.hliworldwatch.org/?p=1898

I think many of the Democrats have [taken] Democrat Catholic votes for granted because they’ll go with them no matter what the Party position might be on abortion. That’s why the position of the Democrat Party has gotten worse, and worse, and worse as time goes on because Catholics haven’t abandoned them as they’ve moved in that direction. So we just have to be insistent on that Catholic identity takes precedence over everything. Continue reading

The Church and Capital Punishment

8 May

When it comes to the controversial topic of capital punishment, Catholics are often divided along political lines: Political conservatives tend to favor capital punishment, while political liberals tend to oppose it.

But are the Church’s teachings on the death penalty so bland and/or confusing that our political affiliation should, by default, form our perspectives on the issue?

It seems that much of the disagreement on this subject stems from the fact that we have not allowed ourselves to be formed by the Church’s teachings in their fullness and that, at times, we have received a distorted presentation of such teachings. While immersing ourselves in the Church’s teachings will not eliminate all disagreement, it will at least allow us to understand the parameters of authentic plurality and perhaps come to a deeper appreciation of God’s plan for all humanity.

Now, the Church has never taught that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. Moreover, the Church has always recognized that the state has the authority, in certain circumstances, to impose the death penalty on one who has committed a “capital offense.” This point immediately distinguishes capital punishment from acts such as abortion and euthanasia, which are intrinsically evil and thus ought never to be chosen (Bl. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae [“EV”], nos. 62, 65 [1995]), and certainly can never be legitimized by the state (EV 73).

So abortion and capital punishment are not morally equivalent, even though it should be self-evident that fundamental principles concerning the right to life should inform our thought on both topics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, despite its well-publicized opposition to the use of capital punishment, does not categorically condemn the practice. Rather, it affirms that in appropriate cases “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty” (Catechism, no. 2267).

This “traditional teaching” is found in the Roman Catechism produced following the Council of Trent (1545-63) and in the writings of many noteworthy saints, such as St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Paul himself taught that civil government bears the sword as the agent of God’s vengeance and therefore is “God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4).

Recognizing that the Church has always admitted that the death penalty can be a justifiable exercise of the state’s authority, we now examine why the Church opposes capital punishment today. Continue reading

The Third Option

25 Apr

Ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place? Mary Magdalene was on Easter morning.  Well, actually, it was Jesus’ body that was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and she seemingly had no way to get to him.  This consumes her thoughts on the way to the tomb.  How will I get that stone moved? Jesus needs to be anointed. If I ask the guards, what will they do to me? Can the disciples move it? They would be thrown in prison if they tried! And further, they don’t have a great track record of sticking around when things get tough…

What I think is most striking about this inner dialogue of Mary is that as she runs through the impossibilities in her head, she keeps moving toward the tomb.  It seems like she has two options: to incur ridicule or worse from the guards at the tomb, or to fail to give Jesus a decent burial.  Yet when she arrives, she finds something altogether different. Jesus has provided a spectacular third option she never could have dreamed of.

I have been reflecting lately how so many of our pressing social issues come down to a failure to see and embrace that third option.  Our society forces people in difficult circumstances into a false dichotomy of horrible solutions.  If you’re in a troubled marriage, you have two choices: the trauma of divorce or the long agony of staying together “for the sake of the kids”.  Young, pregnant and unmarried? Your choices are abortion or a doomed future of poverty and underachievement. This is a brilliant tool of the devil.  No one likes divorce or abortion, but if you juxtapose it with something equally devastating, it suddenly seems like a viable option.  The “lesser of two evils”.

Now enter Mother Church, who is increasingly a lone voice against some of these “lesser evils”.  Prohibit contraception? You want women to become helpless baby factories! Prohibit assisted suicide? You want Grandma to linger is meaningless pain! Prohibit IVF? You want to deprive people of the beauty of parenthood! What our culture fails to see in every one of these tough cases is the third option.  The Church never just slaps on a legislative cuff.  Instead she gently takes the struggling sinner by the hand and says, “this is extremely difficult, but you can do it”.  In short, the third option is grace.

Grace is a poorly understood concept today, but simply it means God’s supernatural power which we have access to by our Baptism and by the other sacraments.  What it means is that we never face our hardest times alone.  We face them with the same power that moved the stone for Mary Magdalene.  Grace opens doors where no doors should be able to open.

The third option is a transformed marriage where partners can learn to slowly rebuild trust and love again.  It is adoption, where an infertile couple becomes parents, the young person is able to continue with their education and the baby gets to live.  It is Natural Family Planning, through which couples learn to be generous in their love, open to God’s will for their families and through which they can either space their children or often conceive children despite low fertility.

I’m not naïve. I know that life is not a Hallmark movie.  That’s the beauty of grace! I know that sometimes the third option is an ability to survive one of the first two horrible options.  If Grandma is terminally ill, grace normally won’t provide a miraculous cure.  But God will illuminate the meaning of Grandma’s suffering.  Like all suffering endured with Christ, it can be a powerful avenue of grace for others.  This is true of any suffering we let God into.

Finally, the best part about the third option is that it is available even after one of the “lesser evils” is chosen.  There is hope for those who have divorced, whether that choice was made for safety, against one’s will or in the pursuit of a happier life.  There is forgiveness and healing for those who have chosen abortion, or IVF or contraception.  Here, too, the third option opens up floodgates of mercy and peace that never could have been imagined before.  No matter what the situation, choosing the third option of grace leads to a surprisingly rich joy.

So this Easter season, let’s approach the tomb with our deepest anxieties.  Let’s offer them up to the Lord and see what miracles await us.

Note: Grace is often channeled through practical avenues.  For help in understanding the issues raised in this post or in getting practical help, please contact your pastor or the Respect Life or Family Life Offices.