Respect Your Elders

Anyone who follows my blog  knows that I spend a lot of my time with the elderly in nursing homes, convalescent hospitals, and retirement communities. In fact, I would say I spend more time bringing communion to these men and women who simply are unable to get to Mass than any other ministry I am involved in.

This has been an unbelievable experience for me. It has truly opened my eyes to the wealth of love, knowledge, and common sense that we as a culture have cast aside. I have learned so much that I could never express enough gratitude to these men and women for what they have given me, and all I had to do was be there, and ask.

It isn’t all a bed of roses though.

I also bring communion to some who are in a near coma state. I bring communion to many who don’t remember who I am week to week. (It’s kind of funny to have visited someone every week for a year, and have every time be the first time!) I have several who do not remember who they are week to week. I have some that would truly like to die. They are just waiting for the dark man with the scythe to knock on their door.

This is part of my daily experience, and I have watched as many of them have slowly declined, passing onto that journey we all must make. It has been hard, and I have often wondered why the Lord lets them suffer so when they are so close to Him already.

That does not mean they are worthless, and should be discarded. People should never be discarded.

Now in this case I am pointing this conversation towards the elderly, but this is not a concern that only applies to them. There are many cases in which a younger person might feel the desire for voluntary euthanasia, due to something as intense as terminal illness, or clinical depression.

Let’s start working this out.

First, involuntary euthanasia. This is where someone else decides to end the life of another. In any other circumstance, this would be considered murder. If I decide to take your life, and plan it out, then I am killing you, plain and simple. I don’t care if you don’t have room in the facility, or if you think I’m vegetative, it amounts to the same thing. If I am happen to be walking around mumbling to myself, it gives you no right to kill me.

Even thinking of walking down this path is a very slippery slope. How are you going to decide who’s life is worth keeping, and who’s is not? At what point do we start killing people with mental disabilities like cerebral palsy or downs syndrome? Hopefully no time soon, as some of my most meaningful relationships were with kids with these issues as a counselor in my youth. At what point do we decide it’s just people who think differently then ourselves?

A story seems a good idea, so here goes. I have a very good friend who was taking care of his father for many years. He had to feed him, change him, take complete care of him to the point where he could not really go on vacation with his family. It was an intense struggle for him, but he simply loved and respected his father too much to throw him in a home, even if his father could not communicate with him anymore. I saw this go on for years. He would stand there, holding onto the mantle and give intermittent yells for no reason. I have no doubt this was terribly frustrating for the whole family, but it was grandpa, and they just loved him. Then one night, I was over at their house for dinner, and we decided to pray a rosary. My friend grabbed a child’s rosary and put it into his father’s hands, and his father came alive. I watched a man who I had never seen any real communication from suddenly become articulate as he prayed the entire rosary with us. It felt downright miraculous, and I have never forgot it. Afterwords he disappeared back into his former self.

He couldn’t eat, or go to the bathroom or hold a conversation, but he sure knew how to pray. I remember him crying.

There is no way I can vote for anyone who would support the killing of the innocent. Don’t get me wrong, if someone you love is being kept alive artificially by machines for an extended period of time, it might be time to pull the plug. But if all they need is a feeding tube and they can continue their lives, then their life is worth living, and we have no right to take it from them.

What about people who want to die? Is this something we as a society should accept?

Let’s shoot straight here. If someone really wants to die, good luck stopping them. There are no shortage of high buildings, bridges, guns or knives in this world. Good luck stopping someone who is serious about killing themselves.

The real question here is should we make it clean, easy and socially acceptable for them to do so. This is a very different question indeed.

Let’s not use hope as a reason, I think that’s naive. Sometimes there is no hope. Sometimes all there is is pain, loss, and loneliness, and in endless quantity.

Unhappiness and pain is simply not a good enough reason for the premature ending of life. Yes, I know it can hurt, but life is simply like that sometimes. That does not take away the value of the life itself. Much of what is truly great in this world was born of suffering. Suffering is an important part of the human experience, and has true and real value.

More importantly, life has value, and we as a society cannot condone it being taken prematurely as a matter of course. To take any life unnecessarily is evil, and wrong in the deepest sense. We can never allow this to become a socially acceptable way to handle problems, and must fight any legislation that would allow it to become so with every ounce of power we have.

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