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in most NHS hospitals, there are too many stories of imminent death being diagnosed wrongly, food and water being withdrawn too soon and drugs being deliberately administered to induce speedy unconsciousness for a deep disquiet not to be felt by members of the public.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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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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