Friday, October 23, 2009

Redefining "Pro-Life."

Using the story of Jesus' healing of blind Bartimaeus' as a metaphor for how "pro-life" supporters must daily open their heart to new ways of seeing and redefine the definition of "pro-life," Father Thomas Rosica writes today at Salt+Light:

Disciples of Jesus have vision problems. How often do we use the metaphor of blindness to describe our inability to grasp the meaning of the suffering we endure? We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but that is a rather simplistic analysis. More worrisome is the inherited blindness which so often assumes that there are no lessons left to learn. Arrogance is very often the root of our blindness. We need the miracle of restored sight each day.

What corners of the Church, of society and of our culture need serious healing, restoration and reformation in our time? Where are our blind spots? Where are the big problems with near-sightedness and far-sightedness? How often do we prefer monologue to dialogue, refusing to believe that we might learn from those who oppose us and disagree with us; refusing to engage the culture around us and preferring a narrow, obstinate and angry way of existing? How often do we say that there are no other ways to look at an issue than our way…or the highway!

This promising plea for open minds then trails off into a reminder that abortion is not the only "pro-life" issue on the platform.

If our sight, pro-life energies and efforts are limited only to atrocities against the unborn, it can lead to blindness. We must not ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Congresses or Parliaments but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Euthanasia is false and misguided mercy.

To say that we are pro-life means that we are against whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction. We stand firmly against whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, and disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons. All of these things and more destroy human life and poison human society.

I am personally delighted by entreaties by pastors to focus on poverty, imprisonment (though he qualifies "arbitrary"), rights for the impaired, the disabled, the abused. For far too long, "pro-life" has been used to mean anti-abortion. Recent Catholic writings have worked to expand that definition to include "unjust" war and capital punishment as well as other injustices against society's disadvantaged.

Yet Rosica's call for renewing the definition of "pro-life" would be more meaningful to me if it weren't, as I suspect, being used to focus the Church on euthanasia. To be clear, as aid in dying is legal in some parts of the world, it is almost exclusively used for the terminal, in other words, for someone who is already dying from some crippling disease for which there is no cure.

The patient, of sound mind and less than six months to live, is already condemned to death. They probably love life and deeply regret its impending end, yet realize that the end is nonetheless coming. They don't wish to kill themselves - depression is not the cause of their death wish; they wish to end the suffering caused by their disease in a way that is humane and dignified.

I've read a lot of hideous commentary lately about how suffering is redemptive, how it has meaning and makes us better, how it is God's will that we should suffer to emulate his death on the cross, that God does not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle. I find it all blasphemous and degrading to the afflicted patient. It reeks of justification of illness, as illness as punishment by God.

It is the disease, which we have failed to cure, that causes the suffering. It is the disease which has determined the terminal patient's end. It is the disease which has struck them down and ended their vitality. And it is the disease that will cost them quality of life, dignity, and comfort.

Rather than see the Catholic Church promote the ghastly suffering of afflicted patients, I would prefer they focus on scientific research into the causes of these diseases, into the corporate deregulation that has allowed the polluting of our water and environment, into the medical industry that over-treats and over-medicates us so as to turn a grotesque profit on our pains.

Yet, I know that my definition of "pro-life" will have no effect on the great Catholic Church or it's teaching, I am encouraged by those denominations that do understand that "pro-life" should also include work to end suffering. These denominations espouse the true meaning of life. They are the religious left. It is their message that I find most uplifting as we face new diseases, work to end continued injustices, and challenge society to alleviate the suffering of "the least of these."

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church continues to be hindered by its own blindness.

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