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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

'And God Created Man...........'

Assisted suicide is not a subject about which I would normally choose to post, but sadly it appears more and more in the news these days, with numerous secular and humanist societies doing everything possible to make it 'respectable' and ultimately lawful. This is a difficult post to formulate, for inevitably there will be some who would say, "What does 'umblepie' know about suffering, real suffering? What right has he got to expound on 'assisted suicide?" With regard to the first charge, I can only admit to experiencing the normal vicissitudes of life, and with regard to the second charge, I believe that I have every right, as has every person, to express a view on this most important subject.



As Catholics we know that suicide is a grave offence against God, as is 'assisted suicide' which really is just a euphemism for 'murder'. We cannot know people's motives nor their most secret thoughts, nor their guilt in the sight of God - only God knows this, however we can make an objective judgement regarding the morality of actions deliberately taken to erase or destroy life. Wilful and deliberate murder, suicide, assisted suicide, abortion, all are mortal sins forbidden by the 5th Commandment- 'thou shalt not kill'.


We are privileged to know from our Catholic Faith, that this short life is but a preparation for eternity, and that whatever we suffer in this life is as nothing compared with the joy and happiness of Heaven, to which with God's grace, we work, pray and aspire. Suffering in this life is inevitable for all of us, and if humbly accepted as God's will and endured for the love of God, is regarded by the Church and by the Saints as an opportunity for great spiritual consolation and grace.

This leads me to the following open letter which was recently published on the BBC website, and which I think is deserving of considerable praise.

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Paralysed after being attacked by neo-Nazis, Noel Martin is planning a trip to Switzerland to commit suicide. Here, disabled broadcaster Liz Carr, who met Noel for a BBC Radio 5 Live report, writes an open letter urging him to think again.

Dear Noel,
Having met you last week, I felt the need to write and continue our discussion about your decision to end your life soon. I don't write this as someone with strong religious or pro-life views but as another disabled person, who like you uses a wheelchair, who became disabled and who needs round-the-clock assistance in their life.
Noel, is your life really not worth living?
In interviews, you repeatedly say that because of your accident, you can't feel, you can't touch the world and can only watch as it passes by. I disagree. Throughout the interview, when we talked for example about your beloved wife who you lost to cancer, you filled up, overcome with emotion.

MORE ABOUT NOEL MARTIN
Former builder - aged 49 - lives in Birmingham, UK
Paralysed from neck down after attack by neo-Nazis in Germany in 1996
Racing enthusiast and race horse owner
Wife, Jacqui, died of cancer in 2000

In a different way, when we discussed your ongoing fights for support and assistance with your care providers, you talked with passion and anger.
You proudly showed me the racing magazine where you were "owner of the month" after your horse won at Ascot. You asked one of your staff to read out the poetry you have written since your accident. You are definitely a man who can feel.
As for not being able to touch the world around you - from an onlooker's point of view this again just isn't true. You appear to touch the world in so many ways.
You have staff who clearly respect you and enjoy working for you. You have family, a grandson and friends. Through the neo-Nazi attack that led to your accident, you have become a celebrity, a campaigner against racism, a fighter for justice. You have organised exchanges for young people from Berlin to come to Birmingham to show them that integration is possible.
You have written your autobiography. In fact Noel, it seems to me that since becoming disabled you have actually touched more people and embraced life in ways that perhaps you wouldn't have if you hadn't had your accident. You are very much alive.
I know that at the moment, your situation is frustrating. Pressure sores - the result, you say, of cutbacks in the health service - mean you've hardly been out of your bed, never mind your house, for many months now.

Wheelchair-friendly beaches
You said that as a disabled person you'll never walk on the beach, be able to stand up and cheer when your football team scores, or kiss the head of your prize-winning racehorse. I think it's too easy for society to promote assisted suicide as a right rather than work to overcome the barriers to supporting older, ill and disabled people to live fulfilled and valuable lives.

Liz Carr
I can really relate to the idea that there are now things you can't do. I used to imagine walking hand-in-hand along a sunset beach with my lover. But the reality of not having four-wheel drive on my electric wheelchair and sinking, immobile into the sand, kept me on terra firma.
But if you're interested, I can let you know where there are beaches with sand so compacted that you can wheel on them with ease; others with boardwalks to the sea and there are now even beach wheelchairs.
Like you, I became disabled. But for me it was at the age of seven, following a childhood illness.
I know adapting to your new life and situation can be difficult. I remember as a teenager being too unwell to go out with my friends, thinking I'd always have to live with my parents and that I'd have no choice but to rely on my mum to look after me. Life wasn't much fun and at times I didn't see any point in the future.
Today, I have the assistance I need that allows me to live in my own home, to have friends, a partner and a career as a comedian. In other words, I have a life I could never have imagined back then.
How? I was lucky enough to get support, advice and information from other disabled people who've been in my situation, who showed me that there was another way and who taught me how to get what I need to live my life.
I know you've received only some of what you need in terms of access and assistance, and this has been hard won. Don't you think it's maddening that so many disabled people remain isolated, uninformed and unsupported in negotiating the confusing world of welfare, health care, social services, legislation, assessments and adaptations.

Scared of illness
Maybe that's why assisted suicide seems to be increasingly seen as an option by disabled people, not just those who are terminally ill.
Worn down, feeling like a burden and with their needs unmet, it's perhaps understandable why people like yourself might choose death. But surely before we even consider assisting people to die, we need to assist them to live.
One of the main problems I have with assisted suicide stories like yours, Noel, is that the media perpetuates the idea that to be disabled or ill must be the greatest tragedy of all. Disability inevitably equals no quality of life.
I know when people read your story, many will agree that yes, if they were in your situation then they would want to die too. Most people are so scared of illness, of disability, of getting older, that wanting assisted suicide is seen as an entirely rational desire. What scares me is that views like these will also be held by the doctors, the media, the courts, the government and all the others who have the power to decide if we live or die.
I'm sure by now you know how I feel about assisted suicide. Until the day when good quality health and social care are universally available regardless of age, impairment, race, gender or location, I believe there is no place for legalised assisted suicide.
I just think it's too easy for a society to promote assisted suicide as a right rather than work to overcome the barriers to supporting older, ill and disabled people to live fulfilled and valuable lives. Forget the right to die, isn't it more urgent that we campaign for the right not to be killed?
We may have differing perspectives on this debate but I think what we share is our respect for each other. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for letting me into your life. I hope your one-way ticket to Switzerland is an open one so we can continue this discussion over the coming years.
Until next time.

Liz Scott.

This letter is inspirational, in that it promotes the value and worth of life, even though only from a pragmatic viewpoint, without any obvious religious or pro-life sentiment. One wonders how much more would be the appreciation and respect for life when recognised and acknowledged as a gift from God. Liz Scott is to be congratulated for her principled stand against assisted suicide, and for having the courage to speak out against the sinister and real threat posed by the pro-death lobby and media, and for her compassion and honesty in her plea to Noe
l Martin. We would do well to remember both Noel and Liz in our prayers.

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I think it appropriate to quote just a short extract from a recent post on Philip Johnson's blogsite ...'In Caritate non ficta'. Philip is a 24 year old sailor in the US navy, Catholic and single, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
'While medical treatment and knowledge should not be avoided or ignored, we must always remember that we serve an omnipotent God whose plan for us is perfect in every way. In my own life, I often look back many years and realize why my prayers were sometimes "unanswered." God was executing His plan for me, and my desires didn't conform to this plan. This must be remembered as we "persevere in prayer," because God's plan is perfect, even if it involves suffering, hardship, and disappointment. As my beloved spiritual father often comments: "God's plans seldom correspond with our own, but His plans are perfect." I strongly recommend this blogsite and urge all to visit.
St Alphonsus tells us that.... 'the exercise which is most essential to be practised by a soul that desires to please God, is to conform itself in all things to the Divine Will, and to embrace with peace all things that are contrary to the senses in pain, sickness, affronts, contradictions, loss of property, and the death of relatives or of other persons who are dear to us.'

Finally to remind us of our absolute nothingness compared with the omnipotence of Almighty God, Isaiah (55:8-
9) teaches, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Nevertheless we know that we are created by God in His own image and likeness, to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, in this world, and to be happy with Him in the next.

Human life is God's creation, and it is for God - not man, to give and to take away.

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