In physician-assisted suicide debate, language matters

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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: Q&A: Christopher West reflects on the Passion ‘like you’ve never heard before’

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Christopher West has never been one to play it safe.

His talks on Pope St. John Paul II’s revered Theology of the Body go against basically every modern-day notion of human sexuality, and it speaks to the work’s relevance that West is always able to tie it into some element of pop culture. He recently released a free eBook titled Theology of the Body at the Movies that points out examples of JPII’s teachings on sexuality in modern films.

On Wednesday, April 12, West is paying a visit to St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen for a free talk and Q&A session titled “A Reflection on the Passion, Death & Resurrection of Jesus Like You Have Never Heard Before.” Denver Catholic caught up with West ahead of his visit.

Denver Catholic: Without giving too much away, why will your talk on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ be “like you’ve never heard it before”?

Christopher West: Few of us have heard the passion of the Lord presented as so many of the saints and mystics describe it – as the consummation of a marriage. Saint Augustine, for instance, describes the Cross as Christ’s marriage bed. And the Byzantine Church, in fact, calls Holy Week the “Week of the Bridegroom.” Saint John Paul II lamented how this spousal vision of the most important event in human history has been largely lost in the modern view of Christianity, and he sought to reclaim it for the whole Church. In this presentation, we’re going to reverently pull back the veil and enter into what Pope Benedict XVI described as the “mad Eros” of Christ the Bridegroom loving his Bride, the Church, from the Cross.

DC: What can the culture today learn from JPII’s “Theology of the Body,” especially when it comes to hot-button topics such as gender ideology and same-sex relations?

CW: We live in a world that is telling us our gendered bodies are meaningless. Christ not only reveals that our bodies have a meaning, but that the human body is a message from God that reveals Ultimate Meaning … This is what Christmas means. If you believe in the Incarnation, if you believe that God took on flesh to reveal himself to the world, you believe that the human body reveals Ultimate Meaning. You believe the human body is not only biological; it is, as Saint John Paul II proclaimed to the whole world, theological.

We’ve been blinded to the meaning of gender in the modern world, and this can be traced back in large part to the 20th Century embrace of contraception. Contraception is a direct attack on the meaning of gender. Gender shares the same root as words like generous, genesis, generate, genitals, progeny, genealogy. The word “gender” means the manner in which one generates. When we fail to respect the fact that our genitals are meant to generate, we eventually degenerate. This is what we are now living through. For such a time as this have we been given Saint JP II’s Theology of the Body.

DC: You recently published a free eBook called Theology of the Body at the Movies. Where did the idea come from, and what’s the aim of the book?

CW: I’ve always been a bit of a movie buff. It’s one of the most powerful modern art forms, and I’ve been drawing from my favorite movies for years in my courses, lectures, books and blogs. I’ve finally collected all that I’ve written about movies over the years into this one new resource. Hollywood produces a lot of awful films. It also produces some real gems with incredibly powerful lessons. You can get Theology of the Body at the Movies for free at my ministry’s website corproject.com.

DC: Anything else you’d like to add?

CW: For readers not familiar with the beautifully liberating vision of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, there are lots of ways you can learn more. You can begin just by Googling the term and doing some reading. We offer ongoing formation at The Cor Project (cormembership.com) and an annual TOB-themed pilgrimage. This July we’re going to Ireland (corproject.com/Ireland), and a few spots are still open.