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Living, Suffering, and Dying

By Judie Brown

Personal mortality dawns on most of us early in life. Though that’s not a bad thing, we must realize that there are many complications that we probably don’t think about. In our culture, growing older or simply confronting a major health challenge that could cut one’s life short can result in acceptance or death.

Take, for example, my friend Mark Davis Pickup, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 30 and later confined to an electric wheelchair. In a new video, he tells viewers that two to three years after this diagnosis his grief was so deep and his heartache so intense that his thinking became clouded. But fortunately—for all of us—he was surrounded by his loving wife LaRee, his children, and the Lord.

Today, at the age of 65, Mark’s MS has inexplicably gone into remission, and he is now able to walk with a cane. He writes:

“Unexpectedly, the course of my devastating disease seems to have changed course from continual degeneration. This is an example of why people in dire circumstances must not give up on life and opt for suicide or euthanasia! We just don’t know what tomorrow may bring.”

Mark is an example of a life spent in the ocean of loving kindness that should be available to everyone, but sadly it is not.

We see the opposite of that kindness in a recent news story about Doctor William Husel, who single-handedly used “mercy treatment” to end the lives of 25 of his patients by overdosing them with drugs. Registered nurse Nancy Valko wrote about this case and made a vitally important point, saying: “We need to fight against physician-assisted suicide laws and the seductive lie promoted by Compassion and Choices that killing can be ‘humane’ in some circumstances. Terminal illness, disability, fear of being a burden, etc. are never reasons to end someone’s life, even when the person himself or herself asks for the lethal overdose.”

Sadly, the Husel incident is not an isolated event. In fact, today the administration of palliative care treatment, which is supposed to be the art of relieving pain without killing the patient, has become a threat. If we are not aware of this, it could be deadly for a loved one or for you personally.

We are grateful to Mary Merritt, executive director of HALO, for reminding us what Patrick Henry wrote in 1775 about this situation:

We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. . . . Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

And that, my friends, is who we must be as well—people who are willing to face the truth and confront the challenges the culture of death is throwing at us, our grandparents, our children, and anyone at risk of being killed, whether born or preborn.

That is why we must educate ourselves on the facts regarding euthanasia, assisted suicide, and palliative care. To this end, there are several things we can do.

Read “Today’s ‘Palliative Care’ Disrespects the Natural Law” by Elizabeth Wickham, PhD. It is one of the best articles on this subject that I have read.

Talk to your children about the dangers of a culture-of-death mentality that perpetuates the lie that the lives of people who are disabled or near the end of their lives are expendable. The Culture of Life Studies Program has a fantastic new Conversation Starter you can use to help broach the topic with your teens.

Learn how to be a patient advocate for your loved ones and friends who may be alone.

Educate yourself about what having an ethics panel could mean in a hospital or hospice where your loved one is being care for. In some states, like Texas, those panels are death panels, so it’s important to find out in advance. In addition, ALL has an alternative to a living will called a Loving Will. This document will help both your healthcare provider and your family know what you want regarding treatment as you near the end of your life.

Most importantly, learn the art of unconditional loving. Mother Marie des Douleurs, OSB wrote: “In reality the effort to pay attention to someone, to discover one’s neighbor in what he mysteriously suffers from—and all suffering is an enigma—is an invitation to encounter God. You remember that line from one of the Fathers of the Church: ‘When you see your neighbor, you see God.’ Yet this demands that one truly makes the effort to see, to see the plan of God.”

When we see the face of God in others, we can confront any difficulty, no matter how challenging. We can do this because—in that moment—we realize that living, suffering, and dying are all part of God’s plan.