LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Dying In-dignity

The new Government guidelines on ‘assisted suicide’ are nothing short of a disgrace.

Instead of taking the opportunity to say – as they ought – that anyone involved, in any way, in assisting someone to end his or her life will be prosecuted (not just investigated), and further, that no such person shall be permitted to benefit in any way from such a death – the Government has ‘copped out’ and given in to the Devil's ‘culture of death’ which seems to have taken over our modern world, in the interests of a so-called ‘dignity’ which is really only the ultimate indignity.

At this point someone will no doubt tell me that I don’t understand, and that if I knew what it was like to suffer from an incurable disease, and to be dying slowly in hideous pain, I would be more sympathetic.

Sadly, that argument is as fatuous as it is inaccurate.

I agree that I haven’t done it myself; but then neither has anyone who might put that point to me : but two people of the most tremendous importance to me have died in horrible ways, with a great deal of mental and physical suffering : and neither of them asked for a ‘mercy killing’ to shorten their sufferings; although one of them was compos mentis until shortly before the end, and the other one throughout – and indeed even rejected analgesia.

My wife would have scorned to ask for an ‘easy way out’; and she would certainly never have thought of it as ‘dignified’ to seek an early death, despite the weeks of mental anguish, not to mention the physical pain involved. Indeed, when someone asked if she was afraid of dying she said ‘Of course; but it’s like Easter, isn’t it – you can’t have Easter Day without Good Friday, and I can’t have the Resurrection without the Passion.’

Alright, in the event (and when she was barely conscious) she was given pain relief at the end; but ultimately she died in the knowledge – and the confidence – that (to quote the hymn)

‘Long years ago, when earth lay dark and still;
Rose a loud cry, upon a lonely hill :
When, in the frailty of our human clay,
Christ, our redeemer, passed the self-same way.’

She accepted that to die was only to go where Jesus had gone before her; and that there was nothing about it to be afraid of, except the fear itself : and the legacy she left behind of patient trust in God touched many people. Would they have been as impressed if she’d said ‘Oh well, if I have to die, I might as well do it now – give me the injection’ ? I very much doubt it.

And the other person ? Well, Jesus Himself, of course : and He even rejected the primitive painkiller of wine mixed with myrrh, so that He could drain the cup of suffering to its very dregs.

If you haven’t read ‘A Doctor at Calvary’, by Dr Pierre Barbet, I suggest you do; and once you have, I am convinced you will readily accept his conclusion that the death that Our Lord died was, if not (possibly) the most painful death anyone can die, at least the most painful death that it is possible for one human to inflict on another . . . and yet all he said was ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.

On Remembrance Sunday, the politicians will all line up at the Cenotaph to pay tribute to the thousands who have given their lives for this country. When they do so, perhaps they might bear in mind that they did so because they believed that there were worse things than pain and death. Violette Szabo met her death before a Ravensbruck firing squad; others died in the cells of the Gestapo, in unimaginable agony; or of typhoid fever in the squalor of Belsen or Dachau . . . but they died in dignity; the dignity of human beings who have faced the worst the world could do to them, and triumphed, remembering the words of Scripture : ‘He that endures to the end shall be saved’.

The politicians have obviously forgotten that lesson : and if another war comes, I trust they will not be surprised to find the youth of England queuing up for lethal injections, so that they have ‘dignity in death’, rather than taking up arms to fight for their countries; or volunteering to leave their children at home in order to serve in the Special Forces in enemy territory.

All that is shameful : but perhaps that is no more than one expects of politicians.

What saddens me is that the official reaction of the Bishop’s Conference makes no attempt to stand up for Catholic teaching about suicide, as set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church :

2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honour and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbour because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.’

Instead, its Press Release is almost laudatory of the Government, and notes that ‘the new Guidelines . . . now give greater protection to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’

With respect to the Bishops, that is fudging the issue.

I’m not going to wear out the internet by repeating Paul to Timothy yet again; but the Catholic position on suicide doesn’t just ‘give greater protection’ to certain people : it gives absolute protection to all, by making it clear that suicide is never acceptable, so that assisting people to do it is never acceptable.

What I want to know is why the Bishop’s Conference won’t say that : because I know many priests and religious – yes, and laypeople, who will; gladly, and whatever the cost.

England has a long tradition of Catholic clergy who have cheerfully given their lives for the Faith. I accept that the present Government seems to believe that it is Almighty; but it has not yet sought to reintroduce the death penalty for disagreeing with it – so what are the Hierarchy afraid of ?

I can only assume that the Bishops concluded that ‘co-operating’ with the Government might in some way allow them to safeguard Catholic interests for the benefit of the nation : but I have to tell them that, on the evidence of the last few days, it hasn’t worked.

Will they now, please, abandon this futile policy, and start standing up proudly and publicly for the Faith of which they are the custodians, and for which the English Martyrs died ? Alternatively, if they don’t want the embarrassment and opprobrium, will they please move over and allow someone else to do so ?

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the appropriate thing to say is ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’.


  1. Thank you for sharing what is obviously a very personal experience. It's not often we hear from people in your situation. All too often we hear from those who have 'helped' their loved ones to hasten their end. It's good to get a difference perspective.