Deacon-structing: End of Life part 5

Resident Priest blessed centenarian at Little Sisters home in Washington  (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Sept. 30, 2009)

Resident Priest blessed centenarian at Little Sisters home in Washington (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec) (Sept. 30, 2009)

We’ve spent the last month looking at what it means to have euthanasia and/or assisted suicide legal in our country (see part 4, part 3, part 2 and part 1). Let me conclude by giving you some definitions to help you have this conversation with your family and friends.

  1. Passive Euthanasia: Some will claim that this is disconnecting someone from medical life-support equipment without which they cannot live. This is NOT euthanasia. Disconnecting someone from an artificial life support system is not euthanasia, passive or otherwise. It is called withholding extraordinary care. Disconnecting someone from a respirator without which their lungs (or heart) would not naturally function is not killing them. They are already dead without the machine. This is different than ordinary care, like a feeding tube. In the case of Terri Schiavo, the courts considered that she was receiving extraordinary care, even though she was breathing on her own and her heart was beating on its own. The “extraordinary care” in Terri’s case was a feeding tube. But feeding someone is not giving them extraordinary care – it’s feeding them. It’s no different than feeding a baby who can’t feed herself. Terri Schiavo didn’t die because they removed a medical life-support system without which she could not live. She died because she was starved to death. Tube or no tube, no one was even allowed to wet her lips with a towel. There’s no dignity, freedom or choice in that.
    NOTE: It is permissible to have someone on life support (extraordinary care) if there is hope of their recovery. It is permissible to withdraw extraordinary care if there is no hope of recovery.
  2. Self-Deliverance is suicide. It’s taking your own life.
  3. Assisted Suicide is Physician Assisted Suicide. A doctor prescribes drugs and then you take them yourself. He doesn’t assist you in taking them, he assists you by prescribing them. But you have to be able to take them yourself.
  4. Active Euthanasia: This is the only kind of Euthanasia there is (as opposed to passive euthanasia, which is not euthanasia). This is when the doctor (or someone else) injects the lethal drugs, because you can’t do it yourself. The current law in Canada calls this murder under the Criminal Code. Euthanasia can be voluntary (you asked the doctor to do it), or involuntary. Take note: 2400 or so cases of euthanasia and assisted suicide are reported each year in Holland. But in 1991, the Dutch Government conducted a study that found that there were actually closer to 12,000 assisted suicides that year. Of these, the patient did not request or consent to being killed in close to 6,000 cases. One of the doctors explained that it would have been “rude” to discuss the matter with the patients, as they all “knew that their conditions were incurable.” This is what could easily begin happening now in Quebec.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada defines Euthanasia as: to intentionally cause death by action or omission of an action, for allegedly merciful reasons. And Assisted suicide is to knowingly provide the means for a person to kill him or herself.

I’m sorry this is so long but we need to let Canadians know the dangers of having a euthanasia mentality. Once we legalize something, it becomes part of our collective belief system. I truly believe that. So, legalizing it today, means that three generations from now, it will be commonly accepted that it’s ok to resort to killing in order to deal with difficult situations. That’s the slippery slope. And there are no safeguards that will work. Once we accept that killing is OK in order to relieve suffering, killing will be the norm. Once we accept that killing is OK under certain circumstances, we’ll soon begin to think that killing is OK under ANY circumstances. And next thing you know, killing will be acceptable to rid us of other inconveniences.

For more information you can contact the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 4

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Priest offers Communion to elderly man in Chile (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters) (April 15, 2010)

 I had been explaining some red-flags that I found in the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry (see Part 3, and also Part 2), and ended up talking about relativism: You may not want euthanasia for yourself, but don’t impose your beliefs on someone else, which is the number one flaw with this book, and with the thinking of anyone who is actually considering that euthanasia or assisted suicide are viable options. We can’t all come up with these things on our own. Your personal autonomy shouldn’t be permitted to trump the safety and well-being of society. In the words of disability-rights-activist Catherine Frazee (she used to be the chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission), “It’s not about the particularities of a law and what it prevents and prohibits. It’s much more about the messages of the law and how those messages get translated into a social and cultural order.” (Catherine is featured in our documentary on Euthanasia, Turning the Tide, which I produced for S+L Television back in 2006.)

I spoke to Derek Humphry at the Right to Die Conference in Toronto in 2006. I said to him that I found his book compelling (which is true). But I had one difficulty and that was his use of the word “dignity.” I said that when people who believe in God use the word “dignity” I understand what they mean. But when someone, who doesn’t believe in God uses that word, it’s meaningless. I don’t know what they mean. So I asked, “what do you mean when you say “dignity?” He couldn’t answer me. He said that we all have to come up with our own definitions.

But I looked it up:

Dig•ni•ty Pronunciation: ‘dig-n&-tE Function: noun Etymology: Middle English dignete, from Anglo-French digneté, from Latin dignitat-, dignitas, from dignus 1 : the quality or state of being worthy, honoured, or esteemed 2 a : high rank, office, or position b : a legal title of nobility or honour 3 archaic : DIGNITARY 4 : formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language

I don’t think he means “high rank, office or position” or anything about manner or language. He means “the quality or state of being worthy.”

If you don’t believe in God, from where does your dignity come? Nowhere. That’s where. There is no reason to consider human life has any value whatsoever if we believe we are the result of an accidental primordial blast and if we don’t believe there is anything after this life. I’m not saying you have to believe in God or in the afterlife, but if you don’t, don’t go around pretending that human life has value and worth. I’ve said this before, without God, we would be subject to entropy, which only leads to disorder and death. As soon as you accept that there is dignity in life, you have to accept that there is dignity in all life. I’m not going to decide which life is valuable and which one isn’t. Is Teague Johnson’s life valuable? Is Tracey Latimer’s not valuable? Was Terri Schiavo’s life not valuable (her brother, Bobby Schindler is also featured in Turning the Tide)? Are we suggesting that laws can be formulated to tell us whose life is valuable and whose isn’t? I currently working on Creation, a six-part series looking at the Catholic Church’s teachings on the environment and ecology. What I’ve discovered while working on Creation is that we can’t even come to the point of believing that we must care for the environment if we don’t first treat human beings and all creation with respect and all life with the dignity that comes with being created.

This leads me to my last point which has to do with the concept of quality of life. According to Humphry, self-deliverance should be an option when our quality of life has been reduced to mere existence. What are the criteria for life? Are some lives more valuable than others?

If you have life, then you have quality and value. Is it right for a depressed teen-ager that believes his life has no quality to kill himself? When I worked at Covenant House-Toronto, we did everything we could to help that teen-ager. We offered counseling and help. If we tell a person who is terminally ill that it’s OK to end their life, then we are actually saying that their life is not as worthy as another life. Your quality of life does not come from what you are able to do or not do; it comes from who you are. It comes from your relationships; how you relate to others. It comes from your ability to love and be loved. Compassion means giving them the proper emotional and physical pain control and being with them, loving them, caring for them, making them feel worthy. What we need in Canada is not legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide, what we need is better palliative care.

Come back next week for some final thoughts and definitions that will help you have this conversation with your family and friends.

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 3

Euthanasia

An extraordinary minister of holy Communion, visits with patient for World Day of the Sick (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic) (Feb. 10, 2012)

In Part II, I gave a background on the author of the book Final Exit, Mr. Derek Humphry and a bit about the Right-to-Die movement. I do believe that the book is very compelling, but it contains some red flags. Here are some of them:

Choice: We have been brought up to believe that freedom means choice. But freedom doesn’t mean choice. Freedom means not being imprisoned. Recently I watched a wonderful documentary, Irreplaceable, produced by Focus on the Family. In it, one of the experts explained that the three generations have been the most permissive and “free”. It is not coincidence that it is these three generations that also have been the most addicted and depressed. That’s because we think that freedom is doing whatever we want when in fact the one thing that holds us most captive are our own desires. That’s the problem with freedom and choice. And when it comes to life and death, once we accept that it’s legally OK to kill another human being, it is not a long way until we will claim that it is our basic human right to have options in how we kill each other.

For those of us who believe in God, ultimately choice is about control and the minute we take control, we take control away from God. If you don’t believe in God, of course that it makes sense that you should have control over everything that you do. But I can’t even think of one aspect of my life over which I should have control. In all things, God should be in control.

A Good Death: This is what Humphry says the dilemma is: “should you battle on, take the pain, endure the indignity and await the inevitable end, or should you take control of the situation and resort to some form of euthanasia which in modern language means, ‘help with a good death’?” According to Merriam/Webster, euthanasia is defined as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy”. I guess a “painless” way for reasons of mercy, equals a “good death”. I would claim that a good or bad death is directly related to whether you lived a good or bad life, not to the manner in which you die.

Suffering: Ask yourself this question, says Humphry, “Is your God willing to accept your suicide as a justifiable escape from further terminal suffering?” I suppose a non-Christian could consider this question. But if you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, find a crucifix and look at it. Is God willing to accept any human-controlled escape from any suffering? (Not to mention that there is only one God, not “your” god or “my” god).

Compassion: “This is compassion.” Humphry compares it all with putting an animal “out of its misery.” Someone endorsing the book is Isaac Asimov who says, “it’s cruel to allow humans to live in pain in hopelessness, in living death.” The truth is that compassion means, “to suffer with.” Killing you so you don’t have to suffer is not compassion.

Freedom and autonomy: This is one of the most common arguments for euthanasia: If you don’t want it for yourself, that’s OK, but don’t impose your set of beliefs on those who would want it for themselves. But if we applied that argument to everything, what kind of world would we have? Or does it only apply if it’s doing something to your own body? Humphry says that “life is personal responsibility” and “we must decide for ourselves”. But truth is not relative. Truth is absolute. Whether killing (or suicide or self-deliverance or whatever you want to call it) is right or wrong is not relative. Either it’s wrong for everyone, no matter the circumstances, or right for everyone, no matter the circumstances. We can’t make that decision by ourselves. And you certainly can’t draw out a charter delineating when it’s ok to kill and when it isn’t. That would never work.

I’ll continue in a couple of days. Again, for more resources on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide visit our Turning the Tide page, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family site.

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 2

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Respecting End of Life: Part 2

As many of you know, on May 6, members of the Quebec national assembly voted in favour of Bill 52, the “Act of Respecting End-of-life” making “assisted dying” legal in that province. I recently wrote about that.

I had already written a bit about this in the past explaining why we should be concerned. I promised to write a bit more about it to help clarify some of the issues and to explain why I am concerned.

Four years ago, while we were producing the documentary Turning the Tide, I read a book titled Final Exit by Derek Humphry. I found the book to be completely shocking and even today am amazed at the fact that it is real.

In 2006, almost to reassure myself that these people are not fictional, I walked around the display tables at the Right to Die conference in Toronto. What I saw and learned gave me the chills. Let me explain. The book’s subtitle is “The practicalities of self-deliverance and assisted suicide for the dying.” In case you’re new to this, “self-deliverance” means, killing yourself.

So there you have it.

Derek Humphry is the founder of the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization — ERGO — and the founder of the National Hemlock Society, an organization that has redefined itself as “Compassion & Choices”. The Hemlock Society was an end-of-life care organization for those suffering from incurable illnesses. In 2003 they changed their name to End of Life Choices. In 2005 they joined forces with the Compassion in Dying Organization to become what they are now: Compassion & Choices. Their vision is to help build a society where everyone receives state-of-the-art care at the end of life, and a full range of choices for dying in comfort, dignity and control. What this means, of course is that if it is your choice to end your life, because you can’t deal with the pain, suffering and the “indignity” of disease and dying, you should be able to. They believe that to allow people this choice is treating them with compassion.

Mr. Humphry’s first book is called Jean’s Way, where he tells the compelling story of his first wife Jean’s debilitating illness and subsequent assisted death by him. Since then, he’s assisted his father-in-law and made the call to disconnect his brother from life support. (Mr. Humphry claims that this is euthanasia – however, let me be clear: The removal of extra-ordinary care is not euthanasia. Mr. Humphry’s brother died a natural death without the extraordinary care (life-support) that kept him alive.)

Mr. Humphry is also the author of Let Me Die Before I Wake and now has several editions of Final Exit. This book is the how-to book. It is very complete. It even includes a checklist. It explains how to handle your financial affairs, how to make sure you don’t hurt your loved ones, what pill combinations to take, which ones not to take and what their effects are. There is even a diagram showing step-by-step how to kill yourself using a helium tank in combination with non-prescription sleeping pills and a bag covering your head. He even includes the address of where you can order this “exit bag” kit for $50.

To be fair, Mr. Humphry does try to make it clear that he doesn’t believe this book is for everyone. He is very clear to warn us that if we believe in God, or any higher power, or if we believe that we don’t have a choice or that death is bearable no matter what, or if you are depressed, then this book is not for you. This book is for competent people who are enduring hopeless physical suffering, who are in a hopeless medical condition, whose illness is unbearable and who wish to have control over their death, so as to do so with dignity and comfort. The Australian Right-To-Die group’s motto is, “I have a right to a peaceful death.” The aim of the book is, in Humphry’s words, to “allow terminally ill persons painlessly and legally to end their suffering.” This is a book for (rational) people looking for options.

He says that he doesn’t advocate the killing of the disabled. He also says that many depressed people, some teen-agers even, have used his book to assist them in committing suicide. He says this is unfortunate, but that he cannot be responsible for those people. It’s interesting to note that when this book first came to Canada, it was banned, the ban was challenged in court and the challengers won. I guess the winning argument was that we have an “intrinsic human right to choose the manner, form and time in which we are to die.”

I must admit, the book is very compelling. Mr. Humphry makes a very good case for his arguments. However, if you read carefully, you will note some flaws in his arguments. You will also note some red-flags. Tune in for my blog installment on Wednesday, and I’ll tell you all about them.

Until then, check out our Turning the Tide page for more resources on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, or visit the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, or the Catholic Organization for Life and Family site.

Deacon-structing: End of Life part 1

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May 6 this year will go down as one of the saddest days in the history of the province of Quebec. On that day, members of the Quebec national assembly voted in favour of Bill 52, the “Act of Respecting End-of-life.” Supporters call it “medical aid in dying”. I call it what it is: Euthanasia. It is now legal in Quebec. Very sad, indeed.

What’s interesting is that Euthanasia and Assisted suicide are illegal under Canadian Law, but because health is a provincial matter, Quebec pro-Euthanasia activists have managed to convince legislators that Euthanasia is a health issue. The bill says that medical aid in dying is part of “end-of-life-care” and so it was passed under the province’s health care act.

It is sad, because we know how this goes: A law like this gets passed in one province or state and that empowers others somewhere else to move for a law in their province and slowly, the slope gets slipperier and slipperier until, inch-by-inch they take over the country, and before we know it, we’ll be euthanizing children as in Belgium.

Unless we speak out. Those of us who respect the dignity of every human person, from conception to natural death need to take a stand in defense of the most vulnerable, especially the elderly and the disabled. We also need to insist that our country provides quality palliative care for all, not just for those in big cities or those with resources. Palliative care experts assure us that the pain is treatable. Palliative care should be the first response to dealing with suffering and pain. For those of us who are Christian – especially if you are Catholic – we have to be absolutely clear that killing another human being is never acceptable. We must educate ourselves on the issue so we can have these conversations with our friends and loved ones who may be swayed by the side that tries to convince us that it’s ok to kill someone to ease their suffering.

This may be the appropriate time to remind you of what the Church teaches regarding euthanasia.

A lot of people think that the Church teaches that we must prolong life no matter what. But that is not what the Church teaches. The Church instead says that we must not do anything to hasten death or in effect, kill the patient. If the patient is dying, then we are called to make them as comfortable as possible, ease their pain but not necessarily keep them alive by extraordinary means. However, if the person is not dying, breathing on their own, heart beating, as was the case of Terri Schiavo, then withdrawing food and water is, in effect, murder. Terri Schiavo was not dying – she was not on a respirator – she was healthy. Food and water were administered through a feeding tube, but feeding a patient who cannot feed him or herself is not considered extraordinary care. Food and water are very much ordinary care.

This was the reasoning behind the Canadian Supreme Court ruling last October in the case of Mr. Rasouli.

Mr. Rasouli was misdiagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state since October 2010. According to his family – and apparently this is the case- he is conscious and able to communicate. He relies on the use of a ventilator.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the unanimous decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal that requires doctors to obtain consent from patients or substitute decision-makers before withdrawing life-sustaining treatment where such a decision is anticipated to result in the death of the patient.

The case of Mr Rasouli highlights another concern which illustrates the slippery slope argument, that of consent. If Euthanasia and Assisted suicide were legalized, the fear is that doctors would be making decisions based on misdiagnosis or even on what’s more convenient or cheaper, rather than on what’s in the best interest of the patient. For some patients, their best interest is to let them die naturally and comfortably. Doing things to hasten their death or killing them is never in the patient’s best interest.

No matter what assisted death and euthanasia supporters say, human nature shows that no matter what we do, there’s always a slippery slope. And in matters of life and death, once we begin to believe that killing is acceptable under certain circumstances, we’ll begin to believe that killing is acceptable under any circumstances. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s ok.

Come back on Sunday to learn a bit about the right-to-die movement.

The Family at the Heart of Human Development

 Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of Pontifical Council for the Family

Below is the address given by His Excellency Most Reverend Vincenzo Paglia Archbishop-Bishop Emeritus of Terni-Narni-Amelia President of the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family On the Occasion of the 2014 International Day of Families United Nations Headquarters, New York City May 15, 2014.

The Family at the Heart of Human Development

The 20th anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family

 It is a great honor and a pleasure to address you in this Event being conducted in conjunction with the celebration of 2014 International Day of Families organized by the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to mark the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, which was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 to raise awareness of the importance of families, promote knowledge of socio-economic and demographic trends affecting families and stimulate efforts to respond to challenges faced by families.

I offer my sincere thanks to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, for all he has done to make our meeting today possible.

As we read in the Declaration of the Civil Society on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, “…as basic and essential building blocks of societies, families have a crucial role in social development, bear the primary responsibility for the nurturing, protection, education and socialization of children, as well as instilling values of citizenship and belonging in the society, and provide material and non-material care and support to its members….”

In that context, I am in agreement with Resolution 2012/10 adopted by ECOSOC that stresses the need “for undertaking concerted actions to strengthen family-centered policies and programs as part of an integrated, comprehensive approach to development”; and that invites States, civil society organizations and academic institutions “to continue providing information on their activities in support of the objectives of and preparations for the twentieth anniversary.”

While, however, I am in full agreement with the Theme of the International Day of Families, that is, “Families Matter for the Achievement of Development Goals,” my message today is that the family not only “matters,” it is rather at the very heart of human development, indispensable and irreplaceable, and at the same time beautiful and welcoming. Truly, it is a precious resource, an incomparable font of life for the affective, spiritual, other-serving and generative aspects of our human existence.

The Catholic Church is an enthusiastic participant in the initiatives that the United Nations undertakes to enable each people, within itself, and all peoples, as a world community, to develop as a family where the members, while maintaining their own individuality, live together in harmony and peace.

The fact that with me today on the dais are representatives of the three great Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each harking back to one great Patriarch, Father in Faith and Prophet, shows that diversity does not make us foreigners to each other, or worse yet enemies, but rather offers us a chance to develop all the richness and harmony of which the human family is capable.

Moreover, the decision of the United Nations to ask all governments and all Civil Society Organizations to rediscover the central place of the family in society and human development is not only timely, it is inspired. The family – if I may say so from the very beginning of my presentation – is the right road to travel on the journey to human development, so allow me to offer some reflections that have led me to that conclusion.

1) There is nothing quite like the family

First, the family is a unique social phenomenon in that it combines in a lasting fashion two kinds of relations characterized by radical differences, one being male and female, and the other being parent and child. Unlike the individualism, with its ideals of autonomy and independence, that rules society today, and unlike procedural and abstract concepts based on a “quantitative” notion of equality and rights, in the family we find both “elemental and formational interdependence” as well as “asymmetrical reciprocity.” That is, we find a difference between members that is qualitative and irreducible but that is protected and accompanied by ties that bind and by reciprocity.

Next, in today’s world, where choices are always and only temporary, the family is the locus of strong relationships that deeply affect, for good or ill, the lives of its members. In the family “otherness” loses its connotation of that instability that it now has in most social milieus, and not just digital ones. Change channel, friends, political party? No problem! When we look only for someone who is like us, we avoid any confrontation with “otherness,” and life becomes one big hall of mirrors, one big echo chamber. In the family, however, the “other” cannot be ignored. The family – male/female and parent/child – is a unique social structure, a very special school of education in “otherness.” In that sense, it is not only a resource, it is as well a flowing spring that empowers social interaction between us and those who are different from us, but without swallowing up our differences. Parenthood itself, understood as openness to the transcendence of the child, in fact implies “otherness” and non-preferential love. The individual child, happily and at least to date, is not selected. And the child does not select its mother and father.

2) The Family at the Heart of Development

History shows it is the family that has made possible what we commonly call development. In cultures where the two formational aspects of the family – “male/female” and “parent/child” – have not been integrated with each other, development has been more difficult. For example, in countries where a man’s responsibility for his children is not a structural element of society, the process of social development is adversely affected, particularly with respect to women and children. On the other hand, think of the role that the family plays in the education of children, in the creation of family economic resources, in the starting of family businesses, and in mutual assistance (particularly intergenerational) among family members. The family, by making possible a delicate but stable community of life among different persons, has been able to foster and protect the sensitive relations between individuals and diverse social realities, thus allowing for the harmonious development of society as a whole. Is was not by chance that families, open to joining with other families, were responsible for the formation of cities as alliances between families, and subsequently for the notion of citizenship, which is based on the recognition of the value of every single individual. In this regard, Cicero, a great thinker in ancient Rome said that “The family is at the beginning of the city and is, as it were, the seed-bed of the republic.” We can summarize this point by saying that without the capacity for self-organization found in the family, the development of society as we know it would scarcely have been possible.

3) Changes in the Configuration of the Family over Time

Over time, the family has organized itself in very diverse ways, but always within its two formational dimensions, “male/female” and “parent/child,” each of which has had its limits and problems. We can see that only over the course of centuries has the family learned to respect individual freedom and create the conditions necessary for a more
effective mutual respect. In a certain way the family has “purified” itself little by little. In particular, family relations have over time been freed from the idea of “possession” and from a facile acceptance of the models of inequality accepted without thinking in certain cultural milieus. It is enough to mention how the relationships between men and women and parents and children have profoundly changed over time, and have allowed families to become more able to progress in their own development.

Nevertheless, these changes, which evidence real human development, are in no way an abrogation of certain characteristics that have always been identified with the family and with respect for the dignity of every individual. The first, as Pope Francis pointed out in his address to the leadership of the United Nations in Rome last May 9, is that human life is sacred and inviolable from conception to its natural ending, and the second is that protection of the family is an essential element of any sustainable economic or social development, particularly as regards societal opposition to an “economy of exclusion,” a “throw-away culture” and a “culture of death.”

On the other hand, we cannot overlook the risk of “familyism, ” that is, the inability to think of a larger group and the tendency to favor, even in matters not affecting the family, the members of the family nucleus. This tendency has been the cause of numerous “amoral” abuses, where the good of the smaller family group prevails over that of the larger community. Maintaining intra familial warmth and affection without compromising the public good and the “universalism” necessary in an advanced society has been and still today is, at least in certain areas, a difficult challenge. Proof of this is found in the oscillation between persistent forms of regressive “familyism” on the one hand and the affirmation of a radical individualism on the other that, by destroying the family reverses the progress of humanization, heedless of the long-term consequences of so doing.

4) The family regenerates society

It is true that in recent decades the family is in crisis, and the increase in divorce rates, the increase in out-of-wedlock births, the multiplication of one-parent families, and the decrease in the number of marriages are only the most evident results of that crisis. Some are even asking whether the moment has come to abolish the family altogether. This crisis is the result of two factors: hyper-individualism and “hyper-technological” culture, both of which are putting great pressure on this (and others) fragile institution, and risk destroying it. The negative consequences of this crisis for society are evident: from demographic anomalies to failed socialization and education, from the abandonment of the elderly to the spread of affective disturbances that lead to violence.

But the crisis that the family is going through now could also be an opportunity for growth. It all depends on us, and we should be decidedly more attentive to the deepest desires of today’s men and women. In fact, in spite of today’s hostile cultural environment, a clear majority of persons want a family at the center of their life, and it would be mistake to think the family can be done away with. If anything, we should foster a renewal of family models, a family more understanding of itself, more respectful of the ties that bind it to its surroundings, more attentive to the quality of its internal relationships, more concerned for, and more able to live in harmony with, other families. We could even say that if on the one hand there are fewer families, on the other hand there is more “family” in a qualitative sense, and for that matter there is no better place than the family for the complete humanization of those born into this world. We have to be much more cautious than we have been about weakening this fundamental unity that is not only the bearing wall of social life but that can also help us avoid the inhuman consequences of a society that has become hyper-individualistic and hyper-technological. The family remains – thanks paradoxically to its defects and limits – the locus the mystery of life and of history. Its vocation is to be the special place where the individual is protected in his individuality and society is protected against fragmentation. It is this unique character that renders it truly a patrimony for all humanity.

5) The Catholic Church and the Synod on the Family

The Catholic Church, for its part, never ceases to support and assist the family. Pope Francis –aware of the indispensability and dynamism of the family – has called a Synod which in two sessions will examine the role of the family today and the challenges it faces. The Pope’s clear intention is to put the family at the center of the Church and of all human reflection. There will be no question of ideological debates but rather of a consideration of the reality of the family today and of its mission in contemporary society. The Synod intends to discuss family questions and take decisions that will empower Catholic families to become active participants in a society-wide ferment that will move all peoples to a culture of solidarity. In this context we might even say that there is a necessary link between “the family” and the “family of peoples”: that is, the prospect of peaceful life together among different peoples – something that is learned in the family and extends to the city, the nation, and the whole family of nations.

Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets… in Ottawa and many other cities

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Last month on April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:


“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).”

 
Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. Let us never forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?
The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Cartias in Veritate.” When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”
The burning issues of the promotion of human life must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

If we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”
Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

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What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB CEO,
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

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Catholic Focus: Finding St. Anthony

 

How can St. Anthony’s story continue to inspire generations of believers? That was one of many questions I looked into, as I prepared for this latest Catholic Focus. So you know, St. Anthony to this day continues to be one of my favourite Saints in the Church. Besides helping me with lost items (like keys), I revere Anthony because he’s of Portuguese descent. Might I add, the fact that I say he’s Portuguese causes a little bit of controversy amongst our Italian colleagues in the office!

As you may already know, Salt + Light Television recently launched its newest documentary film, Finding Saint Anthony: A Story of Loss and Light on June 13 of this year. Directed and produced by filmmaker Edward J. Roy of J6 Entertainment in New York, the film is a one-hour documentary that explores the life of the thirteenth century Saint Anthony of Padua. The film takes viewers on a journey that is punctuated by moments of loss as young Anthony searches for the right path in life. That ultimately leads to the courageous choice of total surrender to God’s plan for him.

Filmed in various locations in Portugal and Italy, the production of this film was made entirely possible through the generous financial contributions of the Longo family. They have dedicated the film to the memory of Rosa and Antonino Longo – who instilled not only a love of family, but also a solid foundation based on hard work, good values and a sense of doing the right thing, that guide and inspire their family’s legacy. The Longo family has a great devotion to St. Anthony of Padua and wished through this film to make his story known to contemporary audiences. If you missed our world television premiere, be sure to tune into our website for further details.

Join us tonight on our network, immediately following Perspectives Daily, as we dig deep and look into the life of one of the most revered Saints in the Catholic tradition. We will also reflect on our latest documentary film and the recent exhibition of St. Anthony’s relic that came to St. Bonaventure’s Parish in Toronto, Canada this past June.

Wednesday, July 10
7:05pm & 11:05pm ET
4:05pm & 8:05pm PT

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Credit: CNS photo

Andrew Santos is a freelance Associate Producer for Salt + Light Television. He currently serves as a Lay Pastoral Associate (in Youth Ministry) at St. Justin, Martyr Parish in Unionville, Ont.

‘Evangelium Vitae’ – Gospel of Life weekend at the Vatican

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A unique gathering taking place in Rome today and tomorrow, June 15 and 16 and sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, is expected to draw tens of thousands of parishes, communities, youth groups, voluntary associations for the sick and disabled and ordinary families. It will offer the opportunity for the faithful from around the world to gather with Pope Francis in a communal witness to the sacred value of all life and further study and discussion on the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life) promulgated by Blessed John Paul II in March 1995.  The Gospel of Life is the defense of all life. This major event gives witness to the consistent life ethic of the Catholic Church.

There is no question that the issue of abortion is certainly important and central to our struggle to uphold the dignity and sacredness of all human life.  We must be people who defend and speak for those who are suffering, for those whose lives are being marginalized by a culture of death.  We must be advocates for the disabled or ill who are not deemed by society to be ‘productive.’  We must care for the elderly in nursing homes, or those who are being treated in any way with violence and indignity.

On Saturday afternoon, June 15, there will be a pilgrimage down Via della Conciliazione to Pio XII Square, which will conclude with the recitation of the Creed in various languages and a vigil of prayer. On Sunday morning at 10:30, Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis will celebrate mass that will be will be broadcast globally through Vatican Radio and Vatican TV’s online player in 6 languages.

Human life has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers.  Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”.  This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency.  It is a war of the powerful against the weak.  There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection.

Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. It is important to recall Benedict XVI’s words and pro-life vision at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, on July 17, 2008:

“And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?”

The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person.   Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, ‘Caritas in Veritate’, (Charity in Truth), he addressed the dignity and respect for human life “which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples.”  Benedict wrote, “In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.”

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” said Benedict. “When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”

Pope Benedict summed up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words:  “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The Roman Catholic Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be “pro-life.”  Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice.  We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope.  Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum.  It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre!  If we are Pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it.  We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us.

Two role models of contemporary Pro-life prophetic women

Let us consider two outstanding, Catholic role models who can help us in our efforts to be prophetic, to be Catholic witnesses, and to be authentically pro-life.  First, a young Italian pediatrician and mother of a family, Gianna Beretta Molla, who died in 1962 at the age of 39, leaving behind her husband and four young children.

In September, 1961, toward the end of the second month of pregnancy with her fourth child, Dr. Molla had to make a heroic decision. Physicians diagnosed a serious fibroma in the uterus that required surgery. The surgeon suggested that she undergo an abortion in order to save her own life. A few days before the child was due, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: Choose the child – I insist on it. Save the baby.” She gave herself entirely, generating new life.

Dr. Molla was not the typical candidate for one of the Vatican’s most impressive ceremonies and most significant honors. Gianna loved culture, fashion and beauty. She played piano, was a painter, enjoyed tennis, mountain climbing and skiing. She attended the symphony, theatre and Milan’s La Scala Opera. Gianna also had a passion for nice clothes and enjoyed traveling. She loved children, the elderly and the poor.
In an age when permanent commitment is widely discouraged, when human life is cheap and disposable and family life is under siege, when abortion is all too available, when sacrifice and virtue are absent in so many lives; when many in the medical profession have little concern for the dignity and sacredness of every human life; when suffering is seen as a nuisance without any redemptive meaning; when goodness, joy, simplicity and beauty are suspect; St. Gianna Beretta Molla shows this world, gripped by a culture of death, an alternative gospel way of compelling beauty.

Her action at the end of her life, in saving young Gianna Emanuela, her daughter, was heroic in that she prepared for her final action every day of her life. Her final decision for life was the natural flowering and culmination of an extraordinary life of virtue and holiness, selflessness and quiet joy. St. Gianna Molla continues to remind the church and the world of the necessity of a consistent ethic of life, from the earliest to the final moments of human life.

Gianna Beretta Molla is certainly not the first laywoman and mother to be canonized, but her contemporary witness is badly needed by so many people around the world today. Her life was truly prophetic.  In the simple words of one of St. Gianna’s closest friends, Piera Fontana, “50 years ago, before Gianna, how was it possible that only nuns, priests and friars were raised to the altar? Why were we never raised to the altar? Gianna was raised to the altar.  She represents all mothers. A mother has finally arrived.”

Dorothy Day: model of conversion, courage and commitment

The second example I would like to hold up to you is a very special woman in the Christian tradition, one closer to home for each of us: Dorothy Day.  During their annual General Assembly in Baltimore last year, the Bishops of the United States engaged in a canonical consultation regarding the cause for canonisation of Dorothy Day, a pacifist and convert to Catholicism from New York City. This unprecedented canonical consultation was a procedural step in the process toward canonisation.

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Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and leader of the Archdiocese of New York, was seeking the consultation of the full body of bishops. Dorothy Day already carries the title ‘Servant of God,’ a designation awarded by the Vatican when it gave her cause a Nihil Obstat, that is, a formal declaration that the Vatican has no objection to the cause moving forward. The American bishops gave unanimous voice through their vote to proceed with the sainthood cause for Dorothy Day.

She is a remarkable, prophetic woman of our times who transmitted the good news by her life and actions, and at times by her words. Born on November 8, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, Dorothy was neither baptized nor raised in the church. After dropping out of college in 1916, she pursued the radical causes of her day: women’s suffrage, free love, labour unions, and social revolution. But when a decade of protest and social action failed to produce changes in the values and institutions of society, Dorothy converted to the Catholic Church and the radicalism of Christian love. Her life was filled with friendships with famous artists and writers. At the same time she experienced failed love affairs, a marriage and a suicide attempt. The triggering event for Dorothy’s conversion was the birth of her daughter, Tamar in 1926. After an earlier abortion, Dorothy had desperately wanted to get pregnant. She viewed the birth of her daughter as a sign of forgiveness from God.

For 50 years, Dorothy lived with the poor, conducted conferences, and published a newspaper, all dependent entirely upon donations. She dedicated her life fighting for justice for the homeless in New York City and was co-founder the Catholic Worker Movement. Seventy-five houses of hospitality were established during her lifetime, where the hungry were fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered, the sick cared for, and the dead buried. She was put in jail, for the first time, at the age of 20 while marching in support of women’s suffrage. She was put in jail, for the last time, at the age of 75 while marching in support of the United Farm Workers. She was an avid peacemaker and a prolific author. Dorothy died on November 29, 1980, thirty-two years ago at Maryhouse in New York City, where she spent her final months among the poor. She was an average person who read her bible and tried to live and to love like Jesus. She challenges each of us to take seriously the message of the gospel.

In March 2000, the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York City, formally announced the opening of the Beatification Process for this great woman of faith, calling Dorothy a Servant of God. In his letter, he wrote: ‘It has long been my contention that Dorothy Day is a saint – not a ‘gingerbread’ saint or a ‘holy card’ saint, but a modern day devoted daughter of the Church, a daughter who shunned personal aggrandizement and wished that her work, and the work of those who labored at her side on behalf of the poor, might be the hallmark of her life rather than her own self.

The conversion of mind and heart that she exemplified speaks volumes to all women today on two fronts. First, it demonstrates the mercy of God, mercy in that a woman who sinned so gravely could find such unity with God upon conversion. Second, it demonstrates that one may turn from the ultimate act of violence against innocent life in the womb to a position of total holiness and pacifism. Her abortion should not preclude her cause, but intensifies it.

Dorothy Day’s life is a model for each one of us who seeks to understand, love, teach and defend the Catholic faith in our day. She procured an abortion before her conversion to the faith. She regretted it every day of her life. After her conversion from a life akin to that of the pre-converted Augustine of Hippo, she proved a stout defender of human life. This prophetic woman of our own time gives us courage to defend our Catholic faith, especially to uphold the dignity and sacredness of every single human life, from womb to tomb.  She shows us how to cherish the gift of human life. She helps us never to forget that we are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us.

Perspectives Daily – Thursday, May 30

Tonight on Perspectives: the faithful of Rome take to the streets, Canadian Catholics react to the death of an abortion crusader, and the American bishops press on in their battle for immigration reform.