One of the attendees of the End of life Conference wrote up a wonderful report on the day:
On Saturday 15th June, several members of St Alban’s Parish joined with a large group of other Catholics at Thornycroft Hall for a Conference about ‘Accompanying People on Life’s Final Journey.’
Euthanasia or “Assisted Dying“ is now legal in eleven U.S states. There is a high profile campaign for the UK to follow suit with legislation in the next Parliament very likely.
The Conference’s aim was to show how the Church safeguards genuine dignity in dying and that a holistic approach to physical and mental suffering can make dying a peaceful process for the person and their family.
We had talks from two eminent speakers; Deacon David Harrison, Catholic Chaplain from Leighton Hospital and Dr Teresa Merino, Consultant in Palliative Care.
Deacon Harrison spoke of his encounters with terminally ill patients and how compassion and practical help for the family and patient, combined with the Sacraments of the Church, was both transformational and healing. (Healing being more than a cure – a repairing of body, mind and spirit). A sick person must never be made to feel a burden.
He cited cases where terminally ill Catholics he visited in hospital who had been away from their faith for a number of years, were able to re-connect with their faith simply through him spending time with them and encouraging them and offering friendship. This led to them opening themselves up to the Sacraments, – Eucharist, Confession and Sacrament of the Sick. The patients were able to face death with peace and hope impacting not only the patient but their family as well.
Rev. Harrison directed us to a letter written by Bishop Philip Egan to the Islanders of Guernsey where legislation of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia have become key issues. Bishop Egan outlined four reasons why Catholics should oppose legislation:
First, he said that it places an ‘intolerable and immoral demand’ on medical staff, doctors and nurses. Secondly, to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide ‘would undermine palliative care and the work of care-homes’. Thirdly, assisted suicide ‘puts intolerable pressure on the sick and the elderly’. Fourthly, the bishop said that the legislation would ‘gradually keep creeping forward, expanding to cover more and more categories’, citing examples of Belgium and Canada, where almost 5% of deaths are now by lethal injection.
The second speaker, Dr Teresa Merino who works in Palliative Care spoke to us about the founder of the Hospice Movement, Cecily Saunders, who founded St Christopher’s Hospice in 1967 introducing expert pain and symptom control with compassionate care. She quoted Cecily Saunders as saying, “ You matter because you are, and you matter to the last moment of your Life.”
Dr Merino spoke of the dignity and integrity of the individual. Dignity, to quote St John Paul ll is “the footprint of God in the soul.” It is given to us by God and we hope others recognise it in us. Dr Merino said, she said she cannot help someone else die, because by doing so she would lose her dignity by committing a mortal sin.
Dr Merino spoke of her work where there had been a focus on improving the end of life and giving the “softest landing possible” so that patients had the opportunity to reconcile with family members and receive the Sacraments. Palliative Care is about the family as a whole. She spoke of one patient who had been in the hospital for many weeks at the end of his life. He rarely had visitors. Over a period of time they got to know him and they found out that he had 5 daughters who were estranged from him. Through the prayers of the Catholic nurses and doctors who cared for him, one by one the daughters returned and were reconciled with their father before his death. She said that had Assisted Dying been available to him he would most likely have chosen that option.
I came away from the Conference with a strong conviction that as Catholics we have a moral duty to reject Euthanasia as a crime against Human life and that we must speak out against any potential legislation that is proposed. To quote Bishop Egan again, ‘For we believe in assisted living, not assisted dying. Death is not pain relief; it is the transition to a glorious new life in heaven with God our Father and Creator.’