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Death with dignity and a respect for human life

I recently celebrated the funeral service for my Aunt Joanne Clarke. Joanne was the mother of six, who was a teacher by profession. She taught in her local school district for 30 years until she “retired”, then in a foreign country for a few years, then on an Indian Reservation in Arizona for 10 years before she truly retired and returned to her home in upstate New York.

Posted on October 7, 2016


While Joanne retired from working I do not believe she ever retired from teaching.   She battled cancer in her last years, a disease that eventually ended her life.  I believe though that she continued to teach her family and friends by the way she dealt with her illness right up until the final days of her life.  In those final days she was under hospice care in her own home.  With the help of her children and health care assistants she faced her death with dignity and grace as she place her trust in God.  Her wish after death was that her body be donated to science so that her body could be used to help teach the doctors and nurses of the future.   Unfortunately that wasn’t a final option, but her desire to continue to teach others after death was for me the strongest confirmation that her true calling and vocation in life was indeed that of a teacher!  I had the opportunity to see Aunt Joanne a week before she died and to pray with her and to anoint her with the Oil of the Sick. She was quite weak at that time and wasn’t able to converse much, but I had visited her and prayed with her back in June and she filled me in about how all her children were doing.  Not once did I hear her complain or even talk about her own struggles her concern even then was always for the well-being of others.

October is designated by our church as Respect Life Month, when we are called to reflect on the human dignity of all life from the moment of conception to the grave. The acceptance of abortion as a means of birth control is a grave affront in our times to the value of human life at its beginning.  Now we are facing political pressure to allow physician-assisted suicide. Now pending in the New York State Legislature are two bills that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for patients diagnosed with a terminal illness Bishop Matano wrote on this issue in March of this year.  The following are excerpts of his message that can be found in its entirety on the Diocesan website.   

The Catholic Church, united with persons of other faiths and people of good will, does care, especially for those who are the weakest among us! And our concern is not irrational. It is a very reasonable and noble concern, which appreciates the worth of the human person in his or her most difficult moments of life. In 2011, the United States Bishops stated: "Respect for life does not demand that we attempt to prolong life by using medical treatments that are ineffective or unduly burdensome. Nor does it mean we should deprive suffering patients of needed pain medications out of a misplaced or exaggerated fear that they might have the side effect of shortening life" ("To Live Each Day With Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide," USCCB, July 2011, p. 10, The New York State Bishops, in their 2011 "Catholic Guide to End-of-Life Decision-Making, Now and at the Hour of Our Death," note that "out of deep respect for the gift of life, we must always accept, and others must provide, ordinary medical means of preserving life. Ordinary means are those that offer us a reasonable hope of benefit and would not entail excessive burden on us, our family, or the community" (p. 3, But intentional euthanasia, the willful and conscious act of putting to death those who are sick, are disabled, or are dying, is morally unacceptable and a tragic offense against life!

I urge New York State lawmakers to reject the legalization of physician-assisted suicide, for it will inevitably put tremendous pressure on our most vulnerable citizens to end their lives. As the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law cautioned many years ago (1994), in an era of health care rationing and cost-cutting, assisted suicide could easily rise to the level of the most acceptable, inexpensive, and even expected "treatment" for terminal illness. We owe our brothers and sisters in the human family so much more.

I pray that reason will prevail and be guided by an even greater Wisdom. Shakespeare said it well many years ago: "There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we may" (Hamlet, V .ii). Indeed there is One greater than ourselves and He said, "I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Like my Aunt Joanne may we all teach others how to live and die with dignity and respect for human life.

                                                                        God bless you, Father Bill                                                                                                                                                                         





Words from our Pastor

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