Francis Phillips

‘I am very happy now’: my brother’s last words

Francis Phillips
By Francis Phillips
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November 9, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - Last Thursday, All Saints Day, I sat down to write a blog about the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP). Since I had last written on this topic there have been an alarming number of newspaper articles describing the sadness and anger of relatives when a dying family member has been put on this “Pathway” without their knowledge or consent. The LCP grew out of the hospice movement and its original purpose was sound: not to make inappropriate medical interventions when a person was obviously dying and to alleviate any pain during this process. 

However, it seems that this good practice has been abused; now standard in most NHS hospitals, there are too many stories of imminent death being diagnosed wrongly, food and water being withdrawn too soon and drugs being deliberately administered to induce speedy unconsciousness for a deep disquiet not to be felt by members of the public. Indeed, the widow of a man who chose to commit suicide in the Swiss clinic, “Dignitas”, has added fuel to this general concern; interviewed on the “Today” programme recently, she made it clear that not only is euthanasia a good thing but that, through the LCP, “it also happens over here, but quietly.”

Even more shocking than widespread fears that all over the country, with an increasing number of frail, sick, elderly people in hospital, the LCP is being used as a covert method of euthanasia, was the news, given headline coverage in the Telegraph on November 1, that “the majority of hospitals in England” are being given financial rewards for placing terminally ill patients on a “pathway to death.” According to the Telegraph report, “almost two thirds of NHS trusts using the LCP have received payouts totalling millions of pounds for reaching targets related to its use.” It seems that in some case “trusts are given specific targets to ensure a set number of people who die in their hospital are on the pathway”. A consultant geriatrician was quoted as saying that “there should be questions in Parliament as to who instigated this policy and the cash payments should be stopped. You can’t pay people to use a certain protocol that everybody knows to be lethal.”

As I wrote at the beginning, I had sat down to write a blog on the LCP, with the indignation of Melanie Phillips’ own article in the Daily Mail on the subject, when the phone rang. It was from my niece in Ireland, to tell me that my older brother, Johnny, who had been taken into hospital a few days earlier with what they thought was a problematic lung infection, was not responding to treatment; he was now in a very critical condition. I instantly dropped what I was doing and caught the next plane to Cork. I arrived late the same night. Early the next morning, All Souls Day, I went to the Bon Secours hospital where he was lying in the intensive care unit. There was my dear brother, only a year older than me, who had stayed with me only a fortnight before and with whom I shared so many memories of the past, now lying helpless and struggling to breathe, with an oxygen helmet on his head and surrounded by bleeping and flashing machines.

But he was also entirely conscious and completely at peace. The first thing he said to me (he had been an army officer for thirty years and had always described himself as a “bluff soldier”) was, “I think courage and dignity are required right now”, with a wry smile. The second was, “Do you remember Churchill’s last words?” I quoted them. We had both shared a great interest in Churchill’s life and I was always looking out for memorabilia relating to him to give to Johnny. I reminded him now that my best find had been a 1940s biscuit tin at our local waste disposal dump, decorated with the key quotes from Churchill’s wartime speeches.

The third thing he said was, “A friar in sockless sandals came round earlier and, to use an old-fashioned word, he has shriven me.” He then told me the hymns he wanted at his funeral, the simple inscription for his grave – no mention of honours or army rank – and the words for a memorial card. They were from St Thomas More, and Johnny recalled his own father, to whom he had been very close, telling them to him: “Do thou pray for me and I will pray for thee, that we may meet merrily in heaven.” The word “merrily” particularly mattered to him. He always had a great, if sometimes mordant, sense of humour, and heaven had to be a merry place. When someone placed a blanket over his feet so they wouldn’t be cold, he said with a characteristic smile, “Don’t worry, they will be the first to burn”.

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These little conversations and remarks went on for most of the day. Johnny’s children never left his side. My brother and sister joined us. A palliative care doctor came by and gently indicated that his lung capacity was decreasing and that his oxygen levels were dropping. A nurse quietly and sensitively monitored the situation, explaining to us that they would only give him morphine when his breathing had clearly become very distressed. A young lay pastor came and prayed a decade of the Rosary with us. A huge plate of sandwiches materialised from nowhere in the relatives’ waiting room. The sockless friar (a Capuchin) came back with Communion, the nurse opened a small aperture in Johnny’s “helmet” and he received a fragment of the Host with great reverence and recollection. He called for a sip of cordial and managed to suck a tiny amount with a straw. He also had a spoonful of ice cream. He made it clear that he didn’t need any more food.

At four in the afternoon he was asked if he would like some morphine to ease his, by now, very laboured breathing. He said “Yes” quite firmly. The doctor explained that the oxygen helmet was no longer of any use and it was gently removed. The machines were then unplugged and Johnny was made comfortable. He fell asleep. We all stayed with him, talked to him, sang to him, held his hands and stroked his head until, an hour later, he drew his last breath. My younger brother turned to me and said in a voice of awe, “What a mystery death is!” I thought of a favourite remark of Johnny’s, which he had repeated to me only a couple of hours before: “There are no pockets in a shroud.”The Capuchin returned and reminded us that All Souls Day was a wonderful day to die on. The palliative care nurse wept along with us all. I remembered that Johnny had chosen St Joseph, patron of a happy death, as his Confirmation saint and had always had a special love for him. In fact he had named a succession of his boyhood tortoises “Joseph” in the saint’s honour. In his last hours St Joseph had not deserted him.

I have described Johnny’s dying in this detail – and what a privilege it was to have witnessed such a death, his last loving legacy to his family – to show the kind of experience we would all wish for: sensitive and attentive care, spiritual and medical, by all the staff and the vital opportunity for Johnny to make his own inimitable farewells. It is a memory that his children and the rest of us will carry until our own dying day. It presented a significant contrast to the sad, hasty and solitary deaths so many are subjected to, not least on the LCP. Johnny died, as he said, in the country he loved and surrounded by the people he loved; “My faith, my family and my friends are what matter to me” he told us in his soldierly fashion. In the intensive care unit of the Bon Secours hospital, with its Catholic ethos and atmosphere – a crucifix on the wall and a statue of Our Lady in the corridor – patients are treated as children of God: “Johnny is in God’s hands” the nurse said as she monitored him. It makes all the difference – in life and in death.

And Johnny’s own last words, before he slipped into unconsciousness? “I am very happy now.”

Francis Phillips writes from Buckinghamshire in the UK. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License from Mercatornet.com.

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Cardinal Dolan: Debate on denying Communion to pro-abortion pols ‘in the past’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

As America heads into its 2014 midterm elections, a leading U.S. prelate says the nation’s bishops believe debate over whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians is “in the past.”

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states in Canon 915 that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Leading Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, have said this canon ought to be applied in the case of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. However, prelates in the West have widely ignored it, and some have openly disagreed.

John Allen, Jr. of the new website Crux, launched as a Catholic initiative under the auspices of the Boston Globe, asked New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan about the issue earlier this month.

“In a way, I like to think it’s an issue that served us well in forcing us to do a serious examination of conscience about how we can best teach our people about their political responsibilities,” the cardinal responded, “but by now that inflammatory issue is in the past.”

“I don’t hear too many bishops saying it’s something that we need to debate nationally, or that we have to decide collegially,” he continued. “I think most bishops have said, ‘We trust individual bishops in individual cases.’ Most don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat.”

Cardinal Dolan expressed personal disinterest in upholding Canon 915 publicly in 2010 when he told an Albany TV station he was not in favor of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. He said at the time that he preferred “to follow the lead of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who said it was better to try to persuade them than to impose sanctions.”

However, in 2004 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI the following year, wrote the U.S. Bishops a letter stating that a Catholic politician who would vote for "permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" after being duly instructed and warned, "must" be denied Communion. 

Cardinal Ratzinger sent the document to the U.S. Bishops in 2004 to help inform their debate on the issue. However, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then-chair of the USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, who received the letter, withheld the full text from the bishops, and used it instead to suggest ambiguity on the issue from the Vatican.

A couple of weeks after Cardinal McCarrick’s June 2004 address to the USCCB, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to well-known Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published the full document. Cardinal Ratzinger’s office later confirmed the leaked document as authentic.

Since the debate in 2004, numerous U.S. prelates have openly opposed denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

In 2008, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley suggested the Church had yet to formally pronounce on the issue, and that until it does, “I don’t think we’re going to be denying Communion to the people.”

In 2009, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. in 2009 said that upholding of Canon 915 would turn the Eucharist into a political “weapon,” refusing to employ the law in the case of abortion supporter Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, said in a 2009 newspaper interview that pro-abortion politicians should be granted communion because Jesus Christ gave Holy Communion to Judas Iscariot.

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However, one of the Church’s leading proponents of the practice, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, insists that denying Communion is not a punishment.

“The Church’s discipline from the time of Saint Paul has admonished those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin not to present themselves for Holy Communion,” he said at LifeSiteNews’ first annual Rome Life Forum in Vatican City in early May. "The discipline is not a punishment but the recognition of the objective condition of the soul of the person involved in such sin."  

Only days earlier, Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, told LifeSiteNews that he has no patience for politicians who say that they are “personally” opposed to abortion, but are unwilling to “impose” their views on others.

On the question of Communion, he said, “Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?”

Cardinal Christian Tumi, archbishop emeritus of Douala, told LifeSiteNews around the same time that ministers of Holy Communion are “bound not to” give the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Pro-life organizations across the world have said they share the pastoral concern for pro-abortion politicians. Fifty-two pro-life leaders from 16 nations at the recent Rome Life Forum called on the bishops of the Catholic Church to honor Canon 915 and withhold Communion from pro-abortion politicians as an act of love and mercy.

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‘His bones are basically like paper’: Parents refuse to abort baby with rare condition

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By Kirsten Anderson

At just 11 weeks old, little Layton Diven is not like other babies. Every time his parents pick him up or cuddle him, there is a chance they will break his bones. In fact, Layton has already suffered more than 20 fractures in his short life – beginning at the moment of his birth.

Layton has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a rare disease that makes his bones brittle and prone to breakage. There are several types of OI, and Layton’s type, OI Type III, is the most severe type found among infants. Most babies born with the disease, like Layton, are born with multiple fractures, especially along the rib cage. Many struggle to breathe or swallow. The incurable disease is progressive, so it will get worse as he gets older.

Layton was diagnosed with OI in the womb, but abortion wasn’t an option for his parents, Chad and Angela Diven, who considered their baby a gift from God, no matter his condition.

“We weren't going to have an abortion, so he was born with the disease,” Angela Diven told KSLA. “God chose me for him, to be his mom, so I have to take that huge responsibility and do what's best for him.”

That responsibility comes with a heavy price. Layton requires 24-hour care, but both Angela and Chad have full-time jobs. He can’t go to regular daycare, because it’s not safe for him.

“You can't just pick him up like a normal baby,” Diven said. “You can't dress him like a normal child; his bones are basically like paper. He can't go to daycare because of his condition. He's medically fragile, and a daycare can't handle him."

Childcare costs are just the beginning, though – the treatments Layton will need throughout his life are expensive and may not be covered by insurance.

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Layton is currently receiving pamidronate IV therapy, which will help to strengthen his bones. But in order to be able to stand or walk, he will need metal rods implanted in his legs – an operation that will cost the Divens $80,000. The OI specialist coordinating Layton’s care is in Omaha, Nebraska, while the Divens live in Louisiana. As he grows, Layton will also require special equipment, such as a wheelchair, along with extensive physical therapy.

Despite the hardships they knew would come, the Divens stepped out in faith to bring Layton into the world. Now, they are reaching out to the internet for help to shoulder the financial burdens that came with their baby blessing. The family has set up both a GoFundMe and a Facebook page called “Lifting Up Layton Diven,” where people can receive updates on Layton’s condition and contribute to the cost of his care.

To donate to baby Layton’s medical trust fund, click here.

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Sources confirm Cardinal Burke will be removed. But will he attend the Synod?

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By John-Henry Westen

Sources in Rome have confirmed to LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, known as the Apostolic Signatura, is to be removed from his post as head of the Vatican dicastery and given a non-curial assignment as patron of the Order of Malta.

The timing of the move is key since Cardinal Burke is currently on the list to attend October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He is attending in his capacity as head of one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, so if he is removed prior to the Synod it could mean he would not be able to attend.

Burke has been one of the key defenders in the lead-up to the Synod of the Church's traditional practice of withholding Communion from Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried.

Most of the Catholic world first learned of the shocking development through Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, whose post ‘Exile to Malta for Cardinal Burke’ went out late last night.

If Burke’s removal from the Signatura is confirmed, said Magister, the cardinal “would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of ‘cardinal patron’ of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.”

At 66, Cardinal Burke is still in his Episcopal prime.

The prominent traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli goes as far as to say, “It would be the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory, truly unprecedented in modern times: considering the reasonably young age of the Cardinal, such a move would be, in terms of the modern Church, nothing short than a complete degradation and a clear punishment.”

On Tuesday, American traditionalist priest-blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf also hinted he had heard the move was underway. “I’ve been biting the inside of my mouth for a while now,” he wrote. “The optimist in me was saying that the official announcement would not be made until after the Synod of Bishops, or at least the beginning of the Synod. Or at all.”

“It’s not good news,” he added.

Both Magister and Zuhlsdorf predicted that the controversial move would unleash a wave of simultaneous jubilation from dissident Catholics and criticism from faithful Catholics. The decision to remove Cardinal Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops last December caused a public outpouring of concern and dismay from Catholic and pro-life leaders across the globe.

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Both men speculated on the reasons for the ouster. 

Magister pointed out that Burke is the latest in a line of ‘Ratzingerian’ prelates to undergo the axe.

“In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most ‘Ratzingerian’ of the Roman curia,” said Magister.

He added: “Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta.”

Fr. Zuhlsdorf observed that Pope Francis may also be shrinking the Curial offices and thus reducing the number of Cardinals needed to fill those posts. He adds however, “It would be naïve in the extreme to think that there are lacking near Francis’s elbows those who have been sharpening their knives for Card. Burke and for anyone else associated closely with Pope Benedict.” 

“This is millennial, clerical blood sport.”

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