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: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

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When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”