Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Honor of the Sick and the Dying!

By Father Benjamin Alforque, MSC, VF
Parochial Vicar, St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

The debate between Catholic morality and medical ethics, on the one hand, and secular scientific medical ethics, on the other, has been going on among academics, intellectuals and theologians.  In a society that is obedient to the law, respectful of the plurality of ideas and tolerant of religious beliefs, this polite conversation may continue until it is shrill to eternity. But the individual remains the final arbiter of his own decisions and actions.  God, relegated to the extreme as a subjective idea, has nothing to do with my scientific decision and my consequent free act.

But what escapes from this seemingly peaceful cacophony is the reality of violence that the patient and those who love him experience.  The cover-up of this violation of the absolute dignity of the human person and his fundamental rights is provided for by the cultivated regard for the law and by the system that comfortably works.  This objective regard finds its anchor in the subjective disposition of the patient and of those who love him: the fear of suffering, the discomfort and stresses of having to care for the sick and the dying. 

Violence against human life finds its legal expression once again in the physician-assisted suicide.  This physician-assisted suicide was first legalized in Oregon in 1994; a similar one was passed by a November 2008 referendum in Washington, then a Supreme Court decision in its favor in Montana and now the movement goes to other New England and Western states.

In the Catholic tradition, we are taught of the redemptive value of suffering, both for the patient and for those who care for him. The patient, who unites his pains and sufferings with those of Jesus, understands more profoundly the mystery of the cross of Jesus and of God’s loving works of salvation. Those who attend to him are able to participate in the caring compassion of God. They become the instruments of salvation for each other: the wounded heals even as the healer is wounded! The US Catholic bishops might come up with a statement on this matter entitled “To Live Each Day with Dignity”. But will we Catholics ever read it? Will we believe it and live it?

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