Shirley Waite relates this family event:
When my parents were leaving after a visit, I told our 4-year-old, Laurie, I was going to drop Grandma and Grandpa off at the depot. In the car, Laurie began to cry, sobbing all the way to the Amtrak station. Arriving at the station, Laurie looked around. “Where is it?” “What?” I asked. “The deep hole you’re going to drop Grandma and Grandpa into.” [Christian Reader, “Kids of the Kingdom.”].
On this Respect Life Sunday we need to ask ourselves if we are doing the moral equivalent of dropping the elderly who are in the process of dying into a “deep hole”. Dr. William J. Dennis, MA, MD, a Philadelphia Pediatrician has this reflection:
Dying people are all too easily reduced to “thinghood” by those who can not bear todeal with the suffering and disability of the ones they love. Detachment is an understandable defense; but his withdrawal of contact, affection, and ate is probably the greatest single cause of the dehumanization of dying. If there can be any dignity in the dying, it must be the continued treatment until the very end of the person as someone made in the “image and likeness of God”.
A dignified death has nothing to do with the pulling of pugs or the administration of poisons; to think this way, as so often is the case in our secular society renders death even more undignified. If it is really death with dignity that we are after, we must think in human terms and not in technical terms. If we are talking bout dignity at the end of life, we are talking about helping one die and not making one die [Ethics &Medics, Vol. 32, No. 8 (August ‘07), p. 1]
The “Sanctity of Life” dwells not only in our first moment of conception but in the final breath of our life. This is what is at stake in Pope Benedict XVI’s reaffirmation of Pope John Paul II’s insistence that “the administration of food and water, even when provided by medical means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act” [Ethics &Medics, Vol. 32, No. 8 (June 2007), p. 3]
Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit has come down on us and remains in us. Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation God’s Spirit has given us the mission to proclaim and support the Gospel of Life. This means we need to support Life not simply by making our views known to those who believe as we do. What we are called to do is to be “a light to the nations”, that is, to reflect the light of our faith into the public debate of our American nation in which many do not believe as we do. We believe that our task is to help those we love to die as peacefully as they can when the time comes — and not to make that time come because we have decided we don’t like the quality of life they have.