Dignity lies "in being children of God"

May 28, 2013

By James Buchok

To end her life on her own terms a Winnipeg woman traveled to Switzerland where assisted suicide is legal. Susan Griffiths died April 25 after drinking a lethal liquid. On May 16 St. Gianna Beretta Molla Church in Winnipeg hosted a discussion of euthanasia and assisted suicide that began with Griffiths' story.

Reaction to the decision made by the 72-year-old mother of three ranged from sympathy for the suffering she had endured living with multiple system atrophy, an incurable brain disease, to anger for not allowing family and friends to do all they could to care for her in her final months and days.

Griffiths had said she had lost her balance and some motor skills over the past year and was in constant pain. She needed medication every two and a half hours. Every night she carried ice packs to her bed. She faced a slow and unstoppable decline into death. She also said she did not believe in God or an afterlife.

But, said a number of those at St. Gianna's, when a person begins losing the ability to do what they once could, and is in need of medication, that is a part of aging.

"She cheated her family out of a chance to learn and experience and grow," said one participant. Another said there is "a lot of great compassionate care" available for the elderly and terminally ill.

The evening was led by Pastor Rev. Darrin Gurr and Monique Gauthier, Director of the church's Living Waters Columbarium. It coincided with the National Week for Life and the Family.

Gauthier spoke of living with dignity and dying with dignity and "the right to be valued." She suggested that what society values is productivity and results, accomplishments and acheivements, tangible contributions and personal independence. "These are all good things," she sad. "But they can be overdone."

She said in Christian Catholic tradition our true dignity lies "in being children of God. Shaped and fashioned in God's image. We are inherently dignified by virtue of being human. Being physically weak, ill or dependent on others has nothing to do with dignity. We need to acknowledge our interdependence, accepting mutual responsibility for one another," Gauthier said, adding "allowing others to support us and care for us is esential to the well being of the community." She quouted Henri Nouwen, the late Dutch Catholic priest and author who wrote: "Refusing to be cared for erodes the living bonds that form communities. We rob one another from developing into a caring community."

Gauthier said there are times when a person is transformed by illness or weakness, their own or someone else's. One person said they have been changed by caring for parents in a nursing home. "I am growing in the love of God by being able to care for others," he said. "I see the face of Jesus in them."

Rev. Gurr said suffering is not a part of God's creation "but suffering has become part of our human story of redemption. God allows it to continue because it is the result of our free will, however he has made it a vehicle for the fullness of our human journey individually and communally."

Gurr also quoted Nouwen saying "we sometimes ignore our greatest gift which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer."

Gurr spoke of redemptive suffering, suffering that is accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus. He said redemptive suffering gives meaning to the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and he linked the sacrament to scripture in which those who are anointed are about to do something special. "The Sacrament of the Sick recognizes those who suffer as the vehicle for bringing out the very best in us," Gurr said. "We anoint our elderly and suffering because they are working among us in a sacred duty."

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