The blind leading the blind. Won’t they all fall into the ditch? A good lesson to learn from Jesus, but they’re still doing it. But what if they’re deaf too and those they lead can both hear and see? That’s an even bigger problem, that Jesus didn’t even consider. And Catholic leaders are like that. They can neither hear nor see. They simply won’t listen to people sometimes — especially if you’re suffering or dying; it’s as though the suffering and the dying are mute and invisible. The last pope actually said that when people ask for help to die, they are not really asking for help to die! He wasn’t listening. He could not hear. And what he said was a lie. He knew, just as you and I know, that people do choose to die, and that sometimes that decision can be rational and consistent with the life of the person who makes that decision. Which brings to mind the terrible story in the Daily Mail the other day. A woman suffering from MS asked her sister to help her get to Dignitas in Switzerland. According to the report:
When her sister refused to pay for her flight to the Zurich clinic, Carol Hutchins rode in her wheelchair for two miles to throw herself in a canal.
The paper is likely to have got this part wrong — journalists almost always do. The issue is complicated, and fraught with nuances and qualifications that newspapers are unlikely to reflect. Nevertheless, Carol was desperate. According to her father, who testified at the coroner’s inquest:
Carol was a very courageous woman but at the end of the day she has demonstrated a need for euthanasia in this country.
People say life is precious but there comes a point when life is not precious and it becomes torture for those that are living.
Carol had thought about going to Dignitas in Switzerland but it is very expensive and it puts other people in a difficult position.
It showed tremendous courage for her to do what she did all alone and I believe that she had planned it after having enough of being a prisoner in her own home.
She knew one more setback could leave her totally immobilised and she wouldn’t be able to do anything for herself and she would just be washed, dressed and stuck in front of the television. [my italics]
He called for assisted suicide to be legalised, which indicates that this was not the issue over which Carol and her sister were divided. I know what it’s like. My wife spoke about suicide long before she tried to die by suicide on her own, and only after that failed did she decide to go to Zürich, where Dignitas assisted her to die. Most people have no idea of the angst that the prospect of total paralysis, after years of losing one ability after the other, can bring. It’s not like becoming paralysed in an accident, when it happens suddenly and without warning. One’s body, bit by bit, fails to respond. It can take years. The determination to do something before there is nothing that you can do for yourself is overpowering. To have felt independence stealing away, step by excruciating step, is terrifying. When will freedom be gone entirely? What will happen then? Most people with MS know. They have gone to clinics. They have watched people failing, and have witnessed their helplessness. They may, like Elizabeth, have gone to a rehab centre for therapy, and have seen what they will be like in a year, or two, or three … well, eventually.
People speak about depression. Wesley J. Smith, without knowing anything about Elizabeth, said that she was depressed — a common feature of those suffering from MS. He had never met her. He wasn’t listening either. He simply knew. But Elizabeth was not depressed. Desperate, yes, the sense of desperation that gathers as one ability after another is lost, until it is plain that soon she would be as good as imprisoned in her body. She, who had once dashed up stairs two or three at a time, and literally ran rather than walked, wherever she went, would experience her body as a block of cement — as she used to put it: “It feels like I’m sitting on a block of cement.” She was depressed early in her illness, but not towards the end. Then she was only determined that she would not die the natural death that Catholics believe is so sacred, who are blind to the humanity of those who are suffering or dying, so deaf to their pleas.
Blind to their humanity, the doors of their compassion locked and double locked. They refuse to recognise that people like Elizabeth, like Carol Hutchins, can still decide for themselves the course their lives will take. Right up until this moment, they can make every decision regarding their lives, about treatment, therapy, medications — anything concerning their lives and their disease. But when it comes to the inevitability that all their powers — which have been steadily declining, randomly or predictably, for years — will be gone, and they have only one power left — to choose — they are told that that is a step that is forbidden them. All their abilities then are gone — every last one of them.
Let’s listen to Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto in the Roman Catholic Church, and a newly minted cardinal, blind as a bat, but without any echo-location devices — that is, deaf too — has to say about this in a recent Macleans magazine interview:
Q: You’ve been very active in what Catholics call “life issues.” Is that role going to increase when you’re a cardinal?
A: I think it is the ultimate issue, the respect for life from the moment of conception to natural death. The challenges have always been in terms of abortion, and that’s still very true. But the challenge of euthanasia is another dimension to pro-life. We need to put our resources into providing palliative care, to helping people in their time of sickness. We all are called to die, but we are called to live here as long as God gives us the gift of life on this Earth. [my italics in the answer -- thanks to Veronica Abbass for the link]
“We are all called to die, but we are called to live here as long as God gives us the gift of life on this Earth.” That is simply arrogant and stupid, presumptuous stupidity, uninformed by the view of others. He should learn to speak for himself. He has no right to speak for others. That ‘we’ is an offence against freedom, the freedom that all should have to freely decide how their lives will go — or end. We are not called to die. We all will die, but speaking of a calling here is nonsense. Nor are we called to live here as long as God gives the gift of life. We do everything in our power to prolong our lives, to frustrate all of God’s designs. If our lives are a gift, then any disease might be, for aught we know, as John Donne, metaphysical poet and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, said in his book on suicide, that by which God had intended that we should die. So by curing our illnesses we might very well be opposing the will of God, if it is God who, in the end, takes us to himself — as Christians are wont to say.
It is in that arrogant blindness and stupidity, sheer, incoherent stupidity, that the Catholic Church rests. Its leadership is constantly interfering in the processes of law making and public decisions about things like abortion and assisted dying. That blind leadership has every right to say to its own people — who largely ignore them anyway — that Catholics should not ask for assistance in dying, that they should never have abortions. But that’s as far as their writ goes. They have no right to impose bans of contraception or abortion or assisted dying on anyone. Yet they attempt to do just that, to impose their belief that life is a gift from God, and that that life, no matter what its quality as seen by the person living it, may not be shortened for any reason. But they are blind and deaf. They refuse to listen to those who are dying, or to women who seek abortions. They have nothing to say. The cannot see the torment; they will not listen to their words; they refuse to accept that they can decide, that dying is something that we do. They should be able to see this. Collins calls it a calling (literally, a vocation), but then they do not want people to do it, to decide to answer the call. It’s a call that can only be exercised by the caller. That’s not what a calling is. A calling is something to which we respond, which requires our active participation. Why should Catholic leaders deny the suffering and the dying the right to answer the call, if that is what they choose to call it?
Because they are blind and deaf. They only talk amongst themselves. Pope Paul VI had advisors, who recommended a relaxation of Roman Catholic rules about contraception. He didn’t listen, and perpetuated the subordination of women to biological imperatives. Indeed, the church has been so blind and deaf that it has shown itself ready to kill mother and developing foetus rather than to approve an abortion to save the woman’s life. It has shown itself so blind to the desperation of a 9-year-old girl in Brazil, pregnant with twins by sexual abuse of a step father, that it excommunicated her mother and the medical team that carried out the abortion.
This, says Collins, is the ULTIMATE ISSUE. That means there are no exceptions. We can force people into palliative care, instead of acceding to their decisions to die. Did I say palliative care? It’s not care, when you are forcing someone into it. It’s not care, when they are not allowed to choose. And for people like Carol Hutchins or my wife Elizabeth, palliative care is simply irrelevant. People paralysed by MS can live for years. I’ve watched it happen. Paralysed, spastic, unable to speak or eat or go to the toilet, isolated, alone, often abandoned by spouses, and then forced to lie in bed for days and weeks and months and years, prisoners in their bodies, enslaved by the state. “But we hope for them,” said Pope Wojtyła, “when they can no longer hope.” Thanks but no thanks! This is empty talk, cruel talk, objectifying talk, like a torturer’s, like the god they believe in. No one can hope for another. And when hope is gone, there is no hope. But deaf, and blind, Collins thinks keeping them imprisoned and enslaved is the ultimate issue.
Theocratic nonsense like that should have no place in the discussion. It’s time for Catholic leaders to shut up. And that goes for the Anglican Church and its leaders, and the other churches and their leaders, none of which has yet seen or responded to the enforced and enslaved misery of those who are denied the right to choose to die when life has become unbearable. Instead they must, like Carol Hutchins, or like my Elizabeth, do what they must do before they can no longer choose, where their choices will be dictated by legislators who listen to bishops and archbishops, cardinals and popes, and can even see them in all their finery, rather than being allowed to act on their own, as free citizens of a free land. A pox on all their houses!