Bishops – life always has dignity; we need compassion and hope at end of life

14 Jun 2024

  • Church marks Day for Life on Sunday with theme: The Lord is my shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life

Day for Life Sunday is celebrated annually with a special message by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.  It is a day dedicated to raising awareness and reflecting upon the deep value and meaning of human life at every stage, and in every condition.  Celebrated this Sunday, 16 June, the message for Day for Life 2024 has as its theme: The Lord is my shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life.
Welcoming this year’s message Bishop Kevin Doran said, “Far from abandoning people who are living with terminal illness, we need to surround them with the kind of love that enables them to live life as fully and as richly as possible for the time that is left to them.  This can be a time of growth and integration, both for the one who is sick and for those who gather around him or her.”

Notes for Editors

  • Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin and chairman of the Council for Life of the Irish Bishops’ Conference.  Bishop Doran co-authored this year’s Day for Life message with Bishop John Keenan of Scotland and Bishop John Sherrington of England & Wales.
  • The text of the 2024 Day for Life message is available below and also on
  • Day for Life has been celebrated annually in Ireland since 2001.  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 now saint proposed that “a day for life be celebrated each year in every country.”  Its primary purpose 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 specific day dedicated to celebrating the dignity of life from conception to natural death.  
  • Each year the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales publish a joint message for Day for Life Sunday and, since 2001, the following human-life related themes have been highlighted:

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
2020: Choose Life
2021: The Good Samaritan: A Model of Compassion
2022: Caring for the Older Person
2023: Listen to Her, focusing on the experience of a woman in the aftermath of abortion
2024: The Lord is my Shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life

  • Text of message for Day for Life Sunday, 16 June, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life’:

There has been much discussion in the media recently about “assisted suicide”, whereby people who feel they are overburdened by suffering will be facilitated in bringing their lives to a premature end by a change in legislation.  The Catholic Church opposes such proposals.
As Catholics, along with many people of other faiths and none, we share a different vision about what it is to be fully human, especially when we are suffering and approaching death in the hope of eternal life.  People who are coming towards the end of their lives are vulnerable, and recent research shows that many feel themselves a burden on their loved ones and wider society.  Jesus shows us that life always has dignity and that there is no such a thing as a useless life.  We are called to defend this gift of life to its natural end and to protect vulnerable citizens from a culture that could pressure them into assisted suicide.  We support people with the companionship of a listening ear, appropriate treatment, and the best of care, so that their last days can be times of grace, intimacy and love.
Jesus did not send the sick away.  Our Lady remained at the foot of the Cross to the very end as Her Son, Jesus, died.  Mary is the model of compassionate presence and prayer whom we are called to imitate.  People close to death and their loved ones, often go through similar darkness and pain but can come to a more complete acceptance and find peace in those treasured last moments accompanied by spiritual care.
Meeting Matt – the experience of one priest.  
I first met Matthew when he was about twenty.  His girlfriend, Claire, called into the house one day and asked if she could bring her boyfriend for a blessing, because he had been in hospital having treatment for Leukaemia.  He was back home, but he still couldn’t go into public spaces because of the risk of infection.  She suggested that she would bring Matt to meet me the following Saturday.
To be honest, when I saw him first, Matt looked a lot healthier and stronger than I had expected.  The impression changed a bit, when he took off the woolly hat, because he had lost all his hair from the chemotherapy.  We chatted for a while, initially about themselves and then about Matt’s illness.  He was hopeful, but realistic.  They had opened a door for me by asking if Matt could have a blessing.  We ended up celebrating the anointing of the sick and I gave them Holy Communion.
We kept in regular contact after that and I got to know Matt and his family fairly well.  A few months later, the leukemia took hold again and he was back in hospital.  It soon became clear, however, that Matt was not getting better, so he decided to come home and spend his final weeks surrounded by his family.  There was nothing more that medical science could do.  Matt was dying, but he was still surrounded by a community of care.  The hospice team called regularly.  Matt’s bed was in an alcove off the sitting room.  His parents and siblings and, of course, Claire, accompanied him with love every step of the way.
A couple of days before he died, Matt asked me to come and say Mass for him in the house.  He told me he had picked the Gospel himself; the well-known passage from St John: “I have given you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you”.  As I was setting up for the Mass, Matt said: “If it’s ok, I’d like to say a few words after the Gospel.”  He spoke very simply to those who were gathered around him about how, like Jesus in the Gospel, he would be leaving them very soon.  He reassured them that, throughout the experience of his illness, he had felt surrounded by love, and he encouraged them to continue loving one another”.  That was it; nothing complicated, but very powerful.
Matt did not just live with dignity through his final illness; he grew in his humanity and in his faith.  All we had to do was to accompany him and to make sure that he never felt abandoned or alone.  It was the story of the Good Samaritan in real life.