- 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 … To introduce a `Dying with Dignity` Bill at this time is disingenuous and unnecessary. – Bishop Crean
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 circumstance 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 honour
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 judgement of our humanity. Assisting in suicide is a false exercise of compassion and tolerance of its practice is flawed in its moral judgement.
We pray for the blessing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on all who make these critical decisions on our behalf.
Notes for Editors
- Bishop William Crean is Bishop of Cloyne. This homily was preached on Sunday 4 October in Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh.
- Day for Life has been celebrated in Ireland since 2001. The Day for Life was initiated by Pope John Paul II, to encourage the Catholic Church worldwide to promote and celebrate the sacredness of life. In his 1995 Encyclical Letter ‘Evangelium Vitae’ (‘The Gospel of Life’), the late Pope proposed that “a day for life be celebrated each year in every country.” The primary purpose of this day should be “to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church, and in civil society, recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition” (EV #85). Day for Life is the Church’s special day dedicated to celebrating the dignity of life from conception to natural death. Since 2001, the following themes have been chosen to celebrate the annual Day for Life:
2001: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life
2002: End of Life Care – Ethical and Pastoral Issues
2003: The Wonder of Life, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II
2004: Life is for Living – A Reflection on suicide
2005: Cherishing the Evening of Life
2006: Celebrating the life and presence of people with disabilities in the Church and in society
2007: Blessed is the fruit of your womb – dedicated to protecting all human life
2008: Mental Health – mental ill-health can happen to anyone
2009: Focus on suicide, particularly the pastoral dimensions of this difficult and sensitive subject
2010: The meaning of Christian death and care for those who are dying
2011: A call to solidarity and hope in difficult times
2012: Choose Life!
2013: Care for Life: It’s Worth It
2014: Protect and Cherish Life #Livelife
2015: Cherishing Life: Accepting Death
2016: Everything is Connected
2017: Fostering a Culture that Protects Life and Respects Women
2018: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery
2019: The Scourge of Domestic Abuse
- A special web feature is available on www.catholicbishops.ie which includes a video message from Bishop Kevin Doran on this year’s Choose Life theme; the text of the pastoral message in English, Irish and Polish: Prayers of Intercession, Homily and Scripture Notes for Sunday 4 October.
- The Council for Life website www.councilforlife.ie has additional resources including web and social media visuals as well as digital copies of the Day for Life pledge.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm +353 (0) 87 310 4444.