By Vatican News staff reporter
"In the context of the recent proposal to introduce assisted suicide, both in Ireland and the UK, this year's Day for Life message invites Catholics to consider a more positive and compassionate response to the care of people who are in the final stages of life.”
Those were the words of Bishop Kevin Doran, president of the Irish Bishops' Conference's Commission for Life, recalling this year's Day for Life theme, to be celebrated this Sunday, 3 October; "The Good Samaritan: a model of compassion."
The Day for Life which has been observed in Ireland since 2001 was established by Saint John Paul II, to encourage the Church, throughout the world, to promote and celebrate the sacredness of life.
In his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II proposed that "every year in every country a day for life be celebrated" 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."
Good Samaritan a model for compassion
“Jesus gave us the image of the Good Samaritan as the model for our compassion and our solidarity with those who find themselves vulnerable and who fear being abandoned in their final illness," remarks Bishop Doran, recalling also the contents of the document Samaritanus bonus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the care of people in the critical and terminal phases of life.
The Bishop adds that in order to promote a culture of life, we must, first of all, overcome the fear of talking about death and specifies that in this, Christians are supported by faith in the resurrection of Jesus and that the support of prayer and the opportunity to share faith can be of great help.
In its Pastoral Message for this year's Day for Life, the Bishops' Conference points out that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light the fragility of life and the reality of death, and that in Ireland alone, more than 8,000 people have died as a result of Sars-Cov2.
The bishops note that just as an incredible spirit of solidarity was emerging in hospitals, testing centres, vaccination clinics, schools, churches, supermarkets and many other places, and attention was growing for those most at risk, Parliament was asked to debate legislation on assisted suicide.
The legislation was rejected by the Parliamentary Committee on Justice as flawed, but the Bishops' Conference expresses dismay that the principle of assisted suicide was not rejected and indeed it was proposed that the issue be explored by a special commission, which is to submit its own report.
"Compassion is often presented as a justification for assisted suicide," the bishops note, "but having compassion means 'suffering with' someone.
Accompanying terminally ill
Assisted suicide reflects a failure of compassion on the part of society. It is a failure to respond to the challenge of caring for terminally ill people, or those with disabilities or dementia, as they approach the end of their lives." For the Bishops, "those who witness suicide, whatever their motives, cooperate in the self-destruction of another person." "It is one thing to let life take its natural course, with appropriate pain and stress management, without artificially prolonging it with burdensome treatment," the bishops' conference points out, "it is another thing to actively and deliberately participate in the end of another person's life.
The bishops also note that a feature of the legalization of assisted suicide in some jurisdictions is that, having become legal, it is presented and perceived as something good to do, the right thing to do. The bishops' conference message adds that assisted suicide presupposes the presence of someone with specific skills, "ready to 'assist' in causing the death of another person," and that such "appropriately qualified persons" are presumed to be health care professionals.
But the bishops make it clear that health care professionals are granted privileged access to the human body and medications with the express purpose of healing and pain relief and that, instead, actually performing the act that ends another person's life would be seriously detrimental to the ethics and credibility of the health care professions.
Instead, the bishops' conference applauds the efforts of the Hospice Care Movement, which promotes a culture of living well until the end. "By doing normal things with the terminally ill, we can help foster their sense of 'normalcy' that can often be undermined by the 'routine of illness,'" the bishops note.
"The experience of presence, companionship and even acceptance of limitation and dependence, when we take time to appreciate them, can greatly enrich the later stages of life." Finally, the bishops conclude their message by recalling that Jesus' attitude toward the sick and marginalized has much to teach about the value of time devoted to caring for one another.