In physician-assisted suicide debate, language matters

I hope that you had an opportunity to read a front page article in the Aug. 28 edition of the Denver Post titled: “Matters of Life, Death and Language: The terminally ill are the focus of the latest tussle over terms.”

Given that the article reveals that the Denver Post has already made a choice into how they will report discussions on this issue (notice their use of ‘tussle’ in the subhead, indicating that this is all just a little something to get over), this article gives great insight into the power of words. The issue is a referendum which will appear on all Colorado Ballots this November.

Those who proposed this issue called their referendum: “End of Life Options.” The Secretary of State’s Office has called the matter “Medical Aid in Dying Initiative.” Consider that the “End of Life Option” to which this matter is referring is the ability to obtain a prescription from a physician to allow a person to take their own life, or to use language which is in common usage, “to commit suicide.”

“Medical Aid” is another euphemism, for the aid being sought is a cocktail of drugs which will allow a person to end their life.

Whenever Satan, the great tempter, raises his ugly head into the world, the first thing that he does is to seek a disguise. It has been a tired and successfully tested method to hide an ugly reality behind a mask, so that those who might be easily fooled don’t notice that something here is afoot. Death by our own hands, namely suicide, is what is rising up in our midst. And death is seeking some help: it wants doctors to do its bidding!

Years ago, strong, well-funded advocates of allowing adults to take the lives of their unborn children played just such a word game. They knew that it would be very difficult to get a majority of people to support abortion. So they changed the language. Aborting children became a debate about rights—the right to choose.

In this debate everyone lost. Pitting mothers against their unborn children who have no voice, has left all mothers poorer. For now, every woman who becomes pregnant can be isolated from the father who shares in the creation of life and the human community that might help to care for that life. Language has made the life and death decision about a human life simply a matter of a woman’s choice. Absolving fathers of any responsibility, except to cover the fee for an abortion, has removed the men of our society from the personal responsibility to consider their actions in the first place, which bring about the conception of children. And the most important change of all is simply this: children die, every day. Language matters.

Now advocates of physician-assisted suicide want you to be lulled into silence once again. “Medical Aid” and “Options in Dying” want to hide this real truth that human beings are asking not for aid or options, but death. John Stonestreet, who is with the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is quoted in this article as saying: “‘Dying with dignity’ is a euphemism for killing elderly and terminally ill patients by giving them a cocktail of drugs. ‘Medical aid in dying’ doesn’t convey the reality of what’s at stake. The phrase makes it sound as if doctors are only making their patient comfortable as they die, not providing the prescription that ends their life.”

It is a truth that each of us will die. It is also true that death is not clinical and pretty. People age, people suffer, some face long-term battles with debilitating diseases. But death should never be a quick fix. Death should require the most compassionate and personal response from families and communities, especially communities of faith.

For years, doctors, nurses, social workers, musicians, scientists and people of all walks of life have been working to help people as they die know their worth, know that they are cared for, know that they are surrounded by a community that has not forgotten them. We as a Church have a great and remarkable challenge to join in this most human act—accompanying those who are dying with love until their death.

The article in the Denver Post raises another challenging issue: “Coloradans probably will get tired of both terms by the election, after they are bombarded with TV and radio ads.” This is exactly what the proponents of physician-assisted suicide are hoping for. We do have short attention spans, and often find it troubling to engage with the issues of our modern age thoughtfully, prayerfully, and for more than 10 minutes.

But we also have the example of our God who walked among us. Not abandoning creation to its follies, God became flesh in our midst. Jesus walked the way of the cross, and as he hung dying, did not complain that he had had enough of this folly and zip off to other places in greater need of his attention. Jesus died on the cross. He surrendered his life to teach us that there are things worth dying for—namely all of us. Let us never tire of walking in his footsteps as we also take up our cross.

 This column was written by Father James Fox, pastor at Good Shepherd Parish in Denver.  The column first appeared in the Sept. 4 bulletin of Good Shepherd Catholic Parish. It has been slightly edited for style, and reprinted here with permission.

 

COMING UP: Pilgrimage: A journey through Church history

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“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul proclaims these words the end of the book of Acts, capping off the biblical narrative of the work of the Apostles. The story of salvation history doesn’t end with the death of the Apostles, however, but continues in the life of the Church, fulfilling the words of Paul. The Gentiles have accepted the Gospel and have built up the Kingdom of God on earth. This is our story and we continue it.

If you want to know how the story continues after Acts, I’ll be teaching a class through the Denver Catholic Catechetical School this year, called “Pilgrimage: A Journey through Church History.” It begins with the early Church and follows the story to today. The class explores the Church Fathers, the fall of Rome, the building of Christendom, the High Middles ages, the Reformation (perfect for the 500th anniversary this year), the expansion of the missions around the globe, the modern revolutions, and the Second Vatican Council. We’ll be looking at and discussing the most important historical sources and exploring the art of the various time periods. We’ll be entering into the Church’s story by allowing the key figures and events to guide us.

We see one turning point in the story in the year 430. St. Augustine lay dying in Hippo as the Vandals prepared to sack and conquer the city. Augustine lived at the end of an age as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, but also at the beginning of a new Christian one, an age he helped forge. The great doctor of the Church thought through the implications of the rise of Christianity in an age of political decline and saw right into the heart of history. History, unlike the focus of our textbooks, finds its true course not in politics or economics, but through love.

Augustine posited that all mankind belonged to one of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. One city took its shape by loving God before all else and the other in a love turned inward on oneself. Augustine taught us that we live as citizens of our true homeland above even within the midst of this passing world: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work. . . . I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious.” Augustine’s teaching laid the foundation for a new Christian civilization, Christendom, which sprang up amidst the ruins of Rome in Europe.

One young man unexpectedly began building the foundations for this new civilization. He was studying within the ruins of the decadent city of Rome in about the year 500 and fled the temptations of town to live as a hermit in the wilderness. Eventually, others flocked to him and he laid the foundations for monasticism throughout Western Europe. The monasteries provided the foundation upon which a new society was built. St. Benedict, for this work, has been recognized as a patron of Europe and a true father of Christendom. His Rule does not seek to build up the earthly city, but looking to the City of God to “hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.” And this is the key to Catholic culture and history: seeking the lasting the city helps us to live better in this life, with wisdom, courage, and hope.

We are all pilgrims, living in exile in the city of this world, and journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). And yet we have to build a city on earth and looking to the past provides inspiration for this great project. This is why we should study Church history, especially as our culture goes through a period of upheaval, not unlike St. Augustine’s time. We need the witness and the legacy of the saints and doctors to guide our pilgrimage as we continue the story of the Church. Looking to the past helps us to plot out our own path on our journey to eternal life.

Class details

“Pilgrimage: A Journey Through Church History,” John Paul II Center, Denver. Tuesdays, 9:00 AM. Information Sessions: Aug 1 and Sept 5, 9:00 AM. Classes begin Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1968327