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Inside the hospice: Clean living and assisted suicide

by Fr Peter Michael Scott

Recently I had a vegan ‘clean living’ dinner with my brother, his wife and two guests. An extra participant was Tilly, my brother’s shipoodle. Tilly is a clever hound: if you are a dog lover she automatically gets your attention, but if you’re not, she works on you with her cheery face and beaming eyes. Everyone ends up liking her. In the course of the meal, with Tilly eyeing my cauliflower steak, one of the guests asked why the Church is opposed to assisted suicide. She finished the question by looking at Tilly and saying ‘we put dogs down out of kindness, why not human beings?’

It is a common question, and one most likely born out of compassion. However, we people are made in the image and likeness of God, animals are not, and the reason we end dogs’ lives quickly and unnaturally is because we correctly apportion more resources on human health needs than on animals’. As a society, we cannot afford to give pets palliative care so we choose the cheaper option. Adorable as Tilly is, she will never be a human’s equal and people are far more valuable.

However, that does not answer the question of assisted suicide. Fundamentally we know that killing another breaks the sixth commandment, and that basic instruction from God is difficult to argue against. Loving another person is never about killing them; it is always about nurturing and protecting. Apologies if this all sounds blunt, but having worked in a hospice for the past four years, I know that good palliative care gives patients and their loved ones confidence in dying.

At the end of the day, I do not believe anyone wants someone to kill them, especially if they know that effective medical interventions will allow them to die comfortably and naturally with their family around them. It is in this measured and loved way that many families, while sad, have time to acknowledge the gift of the person dying and give them into God’s care. We seriously need to wake up to the benefits of palliative care and resource it properly.

By the way, the vegan meal was delicious and we all ended up approving the principles of toxic free clean living. Surely a natural death, with loved ones in attendance is clean living?

Please pray for the patients, staff, volunteers and Sisters of St Joseph’s Hospice.

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