Fr. Bob’s Occasional
Last month, October, was Respect Life Month. As Catholics we seek to respect and protect human life against what Pope John Paul II called a culture of death in our society that too readily accepts abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, and war as the solutions to problems in society.
November is traditionally the month that we remember and pray for the deceased, those who have passed from this life to new life in the communion of saints. Remembering the dead and believing in their new life calls us to acknowledge and accept death as a part of life. As Christians we accept death with hope in our resurrection with Jesus Christ. So truthfully, November should be Respect Death month.
As humans, when we face serious illness, advanced age or imminent death, we can turn to certain guiding principles from scripture and Catholic tradition, but are also accessible to all persons as natural law. These principles are 1.) human dignity, 2.) duty to preserve life, 3.) fact of human finitude, 4.) the diversity of humans, and 5.) social nature of humans. Modern medicine provides us wonderful new technologies and treatments to help us preserve life, but medicine has limits and cannot postpone death forever. In addition, sometimes medical technologies and treatments intended to help actually hurt or burden persons under certain circumstance. What is our duty in caring for ourselves in such situations? What should be our loving and responsible actions for those we serve as caregivers?
Our Catholic tradition provides us very helpful guidelines in the Ethical and Religious Directives for healthcare givers (ERD). Depending upon the circumstances of a particular patient ―we respect his/her human dignity and unique nature and circumstances―some medical technologies and treatments may not be necessary to preserve human life and the patient can forego them. To the objection this seems like suicide or euthanasia the ERD would respond that foregoing these treatments, when they would provide little or no value to the patient or impose an excessive burden, is simply allowing a patient to die. Respecting life means respecting death when the times comes. As believers we allow the human person to move on to the next stage of their journey with God.
Our physical life is very important and we have a duty to preserve it, but it is not an absolute value. Our relationship with God ―our soul―is absolute. As Christians we place a limited faith and hope in medicine. Our absolute faith and hope is in the resurrection. In faith and hope we respect death.
There will be a workshop, Tough Decisions, on Saturday, December 1 when this issue and related issues will be discussed. All are welcome. Bring your friends and relatives.
Fr. Bob Cary, CSP