Mary Wagner on Physician “Abetted” Suicide
My dear Christian Sisters and Brothers,
Since we are all so deeply concerned for our country and our world today, I would like to share some light that has helped me, as well as some further thoughts. (Thank you, dear Friends, who have helped me to get this letter out to you).
I recently had the blessing of speaking with a wise Carmelite Mother. While sharing with her my concerns in the wake of the Feb. 6th, 2015 Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, she recalled that Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to exhort the faithful to rejoice in the gift of living in such difficult times, because they give us such an incredible opportunity to bear witness to Christ.
She also gave me a copy of the Oct. 2015 issue of “Traces”, pointing out amidst its pages the luminous testimony of Fr.Ibrahim Alsabagh, a native of Aleppo, Syria, who has chosen to remain with the poor in the chaos of the ISIS controlled region. I highly recommend reading Fr. Ibrahim’s testimony. In the midst of deprivation, destruction and terror, his peace remains unshaken as his gaze is fixed on Our risen Lord.
Fr. Ibrahim spoke of a woman close to them who was bothered because the neighbouring homes, which had belonged to the Christians who fled the terror, were being purchased or rented by Muslims: “She felt that something major had changed – the air of the streets, the eyes of the people – and it made her uneasy. I told her, ‘Couldn’t it be that God permitted the people and the environment around us to change so that the fragrance of Christ can reach them, too? Could it be a beautiful mission that the risen Lord is asking of us?’ If that’s the case, there’s no reason for uneasiness, but to think only of what our risen Master is asking of us, of how we can witness the faith to the people who come”.
Here in Canada, as we face the reality that by decriminalizing physician-abetted suicide, the Supreme Court has set in motion “major change” in our country, Fr. Ibrahim reminds us that nothing is outside of God’s permission. We are not called, therefore, to dwell in complaint and lament. This is a mission God is entrusting to us, to bring his “fragrance” – his Light and his Love – into this beautiful country that has forgotten the Source of its beauty and greatness.
How are we to understand this mission with which Our Lord has entrusted to us? Fr. Ibrahim, who considers his own suffering “important and invaluable”, whose greater suffering is the sight of his neighbour’s suffering, offers us the following wisdom: “Through a profound posture of listening to what the Lord says and to the cry of the innocent, we are able to understand how to respond. For those heavy crosses, we really have to learn from Jesus who, during his three-hour crucifixion, still knew how to think of others…”
Who are the “others” who most need our attention? The Supreme Court’s dictate to involve physicians in their patient’s request for suicide would strip vulnerable people of protection in their darkest hour. Those who come to the conclusion that their lives are no longer worth living now have the Court’s agreement, (just as does a mother who concludes that her child in the womb is not worth being given a chance to live). They have been deprived of justice from a judicial system founded on the supremacy of God and Judeo-Christian values. In the wake of this grave injustice, has not our duty to love and protect them become all the more necessary and urgent?
Of this point, doctor-abetted suicide has not become institutionalized, as has the brutal killing of countless of our most helpless and littlest brothers and sisters. Our society, generally, still views suicide as something terribly wrong, an act of despair. This could change completely.
Consider a scenario in which you or I come across someone about to jump off a bridge: Who would not want to do everything they could to help that person- (not to end their life!)- to overcome their despair and receive the love and support they need to find their life worth living?
If this scenario illustrates our clear awareness that every life is worth fighting for, what would make us think differently when a suicidal person asks for “help” from a physician? Does our conviction that life is sacred change due to these circumstances? Does our responsibility for our neighbour diminish under the dictates of an abuse of power? Surely, they do not. The S.C.C.’s attempt to bully Canadians into accepting suicide under certain conditions in no way justifies suicide, or any form of co-operation with its process. Again, as our government tramples on justice, are we not called, in our dialogue and encounters with others to reaffirm that every human life is sacred, not counting the cost to ourselves but trusting in God and listening to him?
Having read “The Proposal” to the C.M.A. (offered by the Christian Medical and Dental Society and with the support of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians Societies and Canadian Physicians for Life), I fear that these associations, despite their earnest desire to resist doctor-abetted suicide, have succumbed to defeatism. “The Proposal” expresses a willingness to engage in what I understand to be formal co-operation with a patient’s request for abetted suicide:
“The Proposal” states that “physicians have a duty to provide complete information on all options and advise on how to access a separate, central information, counselling, and referral service”. Further, the assertion is made that one’s autonomy includes the right to take one’s life: (“The Proposal”) “respects the autonomy of the patient to access all legal services while at the same time protecting physicians’ conscience rights”. (Let us recall the normal human response to someone on the verge of jumping off a bridge and compare the difference).
In addition, the language employed feeds into the push to accept doctor-abetted suicide. Language matters. Not only in “The Proposal”, but also in Christian/Catholic media, doctor-abetted suicide has been replaced with such terms as “physician-assisted death”, “assisted death”, and “medical aid in dying”. Such language obscures the truth and will contribute to the acceptance of this evil. As Mother Teresa said, “words that do not bear the Light of Christ only increase the darkness”.
We are Christians. We know that God will not abandon us, even in death. No matter the circumstance, we are called to witness to the risen Lord with our lives. Our Brothers and Sisters are suffering terrible persecution elsewhere in the world, and Fr. Ibrahim says, “We don’t know when it will end… but it doesn’t matter when it ends; the important thing is not knowing how to save ourselves but to witness to Jesus Christ. We also need to think of a political solution – an action plan – but our first duty is to be witnesses of the Christian life, carrying the cross with love, forgiving, and thinking of the salvation of others as well…”
Our Lord gives us the grace to carry out the mission entrusted to us. He does not call us to defeatism, moral compromise, to the dismal task of harm reduction or to save ourselves. He is calling us to live the truth with love, which includes resisting the push of abetted suicide; such resistance is an affirmation that every human life is sacred. Every person of goodwill can join us in this necessary struggle for justice, for the dignity of the human person.
As Christians, however, we have received more than the hope of justice. We have the treasure of a Love unsatisfied with the fulfillment of duty alone. Christ, who laid down his life for us, calls each of us to share in his limitless gratuity: “Love one another as I love you” (Jn. 15:12).
Our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria, led by their shepherd, Fr. Ibrahim, are an incredible witness to a waiting world that love is stronger than death. Here in Canada, as we fight the darkness of death under other forms, let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us entrust ourselves, wholly and humbly, to the Light of Life, who alone can scatter the darkness. Let us pray for each other.