End of life choices
Newman College, Melbourne
The following talk was given by Sister Angela LSP during a forum on the topic of
“Dying: the Inevitable, and choices….Are we ready?"
‘How great is your name, O Lord my God, through all the earth’
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
The moon and stars which you arranged,
What is man that you should keep him in mind?
Mortal man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god” (Ps.8)
Dying: Choices: Are we ready?
As Little Sisters of the Poor, our readiness to face the possibility of legislated Assisted Dying, consists in bearing witness to respect for the life of every person, made in the image and likeness of God, and in supporting those who carry a burden which is seemingly too heavy and which could lead to the thought that it is ‘better to finish it all’.
Accompanying the person who is dying, is an integral part of the mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It is the summit of our apostolate, which consists in providing a Home for the elderly poor.
We are committed to giving skilled quality care to the elderly. In our Homes where the person is accompanied, we rarely hear a request to end it all. One will sometimes hear: ‘I am afraid of dying in pain’. With skilled palliative care and modern drugs, pain can be controlled and comfort given.
Each member of staff has a role to play and great collaboration is needed within the team so as to ensure that together we work to provide the greatest comfort for the Resident and every help and support for their loved ones.
We value our tradition of providing a constant, prayerful presence to those who have entered the dying process and we invite all those who collaborate with us – our Chaplain, staff, Associates, volunteers, families of the residents - to participate in this most sacred moment of a person’s life.
St. John Paul 11 once wrote, “… the temptation to give up in utter desperation, is above all a request for companionship, sympathy and support in the time of trial. It is a plea for help to keep on hoping when all human hopes fail” (E.V. no.67)
Even though our Foundress did not mention the term ‘palliative care’, she had its spirit and intuition. She used all the means available to her to bring comfort and pain relief and she surrounded the elderly with thoughtful attentions, visiting them and increasing contact with their families. Following in her footsteps, the Little Sisters have done this for more than 150 years.
The serenity of old age, in our experience, increases by having the security of being loved and cared for until death. Old age then becomes like a beautiful sunset, a life slowly ebbing towards eternity.
The well-known phrase of Dame Cicely Saunders –‘You matter until the last moment of your life and we will do all that we can, not only to help you die peacefully, but to help you live until you die.’ Is important. We strive to provide the means where residents can live and not just exist. Life is more than providing a roof above one’s head and something to eat.
AS DEATH APPROACHES
The room of the dying person becomes a sacred space. The door is open and staff and Residents are welcome to visit the dying person and encouraged to speak to them. There is great attention to detail, respecting the wishes and the tastes of the dying person. Flowers, family photos, music, religious symbols if desired, all have their place. In this way, dying takes on its true dignity. This atmosphere of peace and openness removes any fear that other Residents may have when they know that someone will always be with them and that they will be made comfortable.
As Little Sisters, we sometimes witness the extraordinary things that happen at the bedside of our dying Residents – striking acts of faith, graces of personal conversion and family reconciliation and exceptional gestures of empathy on the part of the staff.
SOME OF THE DANGERS WE SEE OF VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA
Voluntary Euthanasia could lead to:
Lack of trust between carers and patients
Pressure to yield to spoken or unspoken wishes of relatives
Voluntary now - but what of the future?
Choices: are we ready?
We believe that ‘accompanying’ embraces all the concepts of palliative care so that we can say with conviction: ‘don’t kill, accompany’.
St. John Paul 11 called this accompaniment “the way of love and true mercy.” This way of love, which our common humanity calls for, is the opposite of assisted suicide and euthanasia, which St. John Paul called a ‘disturbing perversion of mercy”. True compassion “leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” Compassion, or “suffering with” another, manifests what is best in us as members of the human family.Finally, in a society where the elderly may be seen as unproductive members, or a burden, Pope Benedict XV1 had this to say:
“Dear elderly brothers and sisters… never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness.”