Michael Cook

Life is valuable…even for the severely disabled

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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August 21, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - There can be no more difficult case for dispassionate discussion than the fate of Tony Nicklinson, a totally paralysed British man who wants to end his life. Last week the UK High Court denied his request for euthanasia.

After a catastrophic stroke in 2005, Mr Nicklinson is paralysed below the neck and unable to speak. He can move only his head and eyes. He communicates by blinking. Swallowing is laborious. He often coughs and needs to have saliva wiped from his face. Once a sports-event manager and rugby player based in Dubai, nowadays he writes his memoirs and watches a lot of television.

He describes his life in the bleakest terms imaginable: “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable. …it is misery created by the accumulation of lots of things which are minor in themselves but, taken together, ruin what’s left of my life.” Since 2007 his mind has been set on euthanasia.

Each of the three justices on the High Court took pains to express their sympathy for his plight (and the similar case of a man named Martin). But they reluctantly agreed that that the existing law on murder had to be affirmed. In England, euthanasia is still a crime. Even passionate supporters of legalised assisted suicide supported the Court’s decision. The head of Dying with Dignity in the UK, Sarah Wootton, commented: “his case goes way beyond what Dignity in Dying is calling for. We campaign for dying people to have the choice of an assisted death if they’re mentally competent and there are legal, upfront safeguards, and of course Tony is disabled, he’s not dying.”

But is death really the only solution to the dependence and limited possibilities of Mr Nicklinson’s existence? Perhaps it takes an extraordinary person, but even with locked-in syndrome, most people want to live. If the media didn’t suffer from congenital short-term memory loss, journalists would remember a French colleague who was even more locked-in than Tony Nicklinson. Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor of the French edition of Elle when he suffered a massive stroke. He retained his capacity to think and blink (only with his left eye, though).

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Crippled as he was, he wrote an international best-seller, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It was a poetic reflection on his dependency which was drenched with mordant humour and utterly devoid of self-pity. Here is he is describing his meals:

“By means of a tube threaded into my stomach, two or three bags of a brownish fluid provide my daily caloric needs. For pleasure I have to turn to the vivid memory of tastes and smells, an inexhaustible reservoir of sensations. Once I was a master of recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories. You can sit down to a meal at any hour, with no fuss or ceremony. If it’s a restaurant, no need to call ahead. If I do the cooking, it’s always a success.”

He never mentions euthanasia and barely mentions death.

Bauby’s is far from being an extraordinary case. The largest-ever survey of chronic locked-in syndrome patients found last year that only 28 percent were unhappy. Very few of them were interested in euthanasia – only 7 percent—or had suicidal thoughts.

The author of the study, Steven Laureys of the Coma Science Group at the University Hospital of Liege in Belgium, admitted that his sample size was small – only 65 patients in France. But it confirmed other research into how people adapt to calamities. It also suggested ways to care for these patients. For instance, nearly all of them felt that they were not engaged in worthwhile activities. Many of them wanted more social interaction.

Dr Laureys believes that the situation of locked-in syndrome patients will improve substantially as more sophisticated technology becomes available. “I predict that in coming years, our view of this disease is really going to change,” he said. “It makes a huge difference to be able to read a book or go onto the internet at will.”

In the light of stories like these, perhaps we should recalibrate our notions of “worthwhile” and “dignified”. In fact, commented a Canadian neuroscientist unconnected to the Belgian study, “We cannot and should not presume to know what it must be like to be in one of these conditions. Many patients can find happiness in ways that we simply cannot imagine.”

Not that patients delight in their disability. A year may pass before they reach a steady level of subjective well-being, said Dr Laureys. Hence requests for euthanasia soon after a stroke or accident are not well-informed: “Recently affected [locked-in syndrome] patients who wish to die should be assured that there is a high chance they will regain a happy meaningful life.”

A couple of years ago, a woman who has lived with locked-in syndrome for more than 30 years, Maryannick Pavageau, was awarded the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest civil honour, precisely for leading the charge against euthanasia. (See last year’s article in MercatorNet here.) Mme Pavageau flatly denied that her life was miserable:

“All life is worth living. It can be beautiful, regardless of the state we are in. And change is always possible. That is the message of hope that I wish to convey. I am firmly against euthanasia because it is not physical suffering that guides the desire to die but a moment of discouragement, feeling like a burden… All those who ask to die are mostly looking for love.”

Might that be the case with Tony Nicklinson? Perhaps the money used to promote his case and to pay for his legal fees should have been spent on a trip to Brittany to seek counselling from Mme Pavageau.

Besides, there is a significant detail in his application for voluntary euthanasia. He doesn’t want to die; he only want to be able to die. The judgement pointed out that:

“At the moment he thinks that he would probably wish to end [his life] in a year or two, but he wants to establish the right to die with dignity at a time of his choosing.”

Even though his life is “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable” he still wants to hang on to it. This suggests that he could respond if he were given more affection and stimulation.

None of us – least of all me – would want to be in Tony Nicklinson’s predicament. I fear that I would react more like him than Mme Pavageau. But it would be a heartless society which prefers to respect his “autonomy” by giving him a lethal injection rather than giving him and his family more support, affection and friendship.

In the end, making our own happiness is the supreme choice we have to make in life. As a New Zealand rugby player with locked-in syndrome wrote in the BMJ a few years ago: “It is definitely a crazy, mixed-up world. I’m just glad to still be alive—most of the time anyway… Shit definitely happens; I just have to make the most of each day in my journey towards recovery.”

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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A protester rallies against Hobby Lobby, protesting against the Supreme Court decision Dan Holm/Shutterstock
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

DNC chairwoman exhorts constituents to boycott local Hobby Lobby store

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision was nearly two months ago, but the issue as hot as ever, as was demonstrated yesterday when Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, D-FL, urged constituents to boycott a Hobby Lobby store in her district.

In a press conference one lot away from the Hobby Lobby location in Davie, which opened in April, Wasserman-Schultz said that she wanted "people to know that this Hobby Lobby is here and they should vote with their purses and their pocketbooks, and women should not shop here."

"If you didn’t know this Hobby Lobby was here before, know it now and don’t shop here. They don’t deserve women’s business because they are the ones that all across the country have made it harder for women to get access to birth control,” she said.

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Wasserman-Schultz said that Hobby Lobby's corporate ownership "doesn’t support its employees" and "wants to be able to get in the personal business of their employees and make health care decisions and replace their own values, replace their employees’ health care decisions, with their values…."

She also criticized the Supreme Court's late June decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, which had sued the federal government over the Obama administration's HHS Mandate.

The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, say it violates their conscience to pay for coverage for the four abortifacients and potential abortifacients that the mandate required them to cover.

"The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not only disappointing, it was dangerous," said the Democrat. "No boss should have the right to dictate and employee’s health decisions because [they] don’t belong in the bedrooms, doctor’s offices or pharmacies of their employees.

"A woman and her doctor know what’s best for their body. Not an insurance company. Not a politician. And certainly not a manager at a Hobby Lobby."

The Supreme Court's decision allowed closely held corporations to not fund coverage of contraception or abortion drugs and devices.

Wasserman-Schultz's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Through a spokesperson, the Green family declined to comment about the Congresswoman's statements. 

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Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten

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America is rejecting abortion because pro-lifers are having more children: study

Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten
By Kirsten Anderson

According to a new Northwestern University study, American attitudes about abortion are trending more conservatively than other contentious social issues, a phenomenon the authors credit to the simple fact that pro-lifers have more kids.

“We find evidence that the abortion attitudes have lagged behind a liberalizing trend of other correlated attitudes,” the authors wrote. Using GSS data collected between 1977 and 2010, “We test[ed] the hypothesis that the comparatively high fertility of pro-life individuals has led to a more pro-life population.”

The authors wrote: “Support for abortion rights has turned flat after a period of increase following Roe v. Wade, and in recent years there are even indications of a reversal toward more restrictive attitudes. This U-turn is evinced particularly among younger cohorts, and is happening despite liberalizing trends in several ostensibly related issue domains.”

The authors speculated that the reason for the increase in pro-life attitudes among young people is that their parents had more children than their pro-abortion counterparts. When they examined the data, they found that pro-life individuals had, on average, 27 percent more children than those who considered themselves “pro-choice.”

Not only that, but pro-life parents appear to be much more likely to pass their views on to their children. The researchers found that the younger generation’s pro-life shift was too strong to be blamed solely on differences in fertility – meaning children of pro-abortion parents are rejecting their parents’ views.

“[E]ither pro-life beliefs are always more faithfully transmitted than pro-choice ones; or, there has been a cultural shift towards more pro-life beliefs that is being reflected in the parent-child correlations,” the authors wrote.

The study concluded that if it wasn’t for the higher fertility rate among pro-life people, the nation as a whole would favor abortion by about five percentage points more than it does currently – and researchers predict the pro-life trend will continue.

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“Taken together, these findings suggest that fertility has had at least some part in leading the population in a more pro-life direction over time,” the authors wrote. “Further investigation into this pattern indicates that not only are abortion attitudes associated with fertility, but in proportional terms—which is what matters for cultural change—the gap is widening.”

“Fertility has declined for both pro-choice and pro-life groups over the past 30 years, but fertility has declined far less markedly for pro-life individuals,” they added. “Whereas pro-[life] individuals born before 1940 were only having about 1.2 children per one child born to a pro-choice parent, this ratio has grown to over 1.5 for those born in the mid to late 1970s. This pattern suggests that future cohorts may place an even stronger demographic drag on the liberalization of abortion attitudes.”

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A declaration that PP is an 'enemy of the Church' would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication. American Life League
Lisa Bourne

New campaign asks Pope Francis to declare Planned Parenthood an ‘enemy of the Church’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

The Catholic pro-life organization American Life League (ALL) is launching a campaign calling for the Catholic Church to declare Planned Parenthood an “enemy of the Church.”

Using prayer and education, ALL’s Defend the Family campaign seeks to expose the nation’s largest abortion provider for contribution to the destruction of human lives, as well as the family. 

The campaign, said Jim Sedlack, vice-president of ALL, is quite simply “a way of calling attention to the fact that this is a very bad organization.”

“Planned Parenthood is attacking the family, either by killing preborn children or by robbing the souls of the older children,” he said. 

A declaration that PP is an “enemy of the Church” would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication.

Such a declaration would not be unprecedented. Popes in the past have identified and condemned organizations that posed a grave threat to the Church, most recently Pope Pius XII in 1949 with Communism and Pope Clement XII in 1738 with Freemasonry.

While specifics would depend on the wording of the Papal pronouncement, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews if the Holy Father makes the declaration there would be no mistaking its intent.

“When the pope makes the declaration it becomes crystal clear,” Sedlak said. “There’ll be no shades of gray, it’ll be black and white, it’ll be clear to the world.”

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'Now is the time'

There are still people who are not fully aware of the extent of the societal damage inflicted by Planned Parenthood, said Sedlak, including members of the Church hierarchy. He said it’s important to emphasize the truth of what the abortion giant does.

“That’s why we’re focusing on the enemy,” said Sedlak. “When people really stop and focus on Planned Parenthood, they realize it’s the enemy.”

ALL cites Planned Parenthood’s targeting of children to sexualize them as a major cause of the destruction of the family and a fundamental reason for the Defend the Family campaign.

“They really push for getting young people into lives of sexual sin,” Sedlak said. “Young people who aren’t pulled into sexual activity do not provide a cent of income to Planned Parenthood, but young people who are pulled in provide millions of dollars to the Planned Parenthood empire.”

ALL compiled a comprehensive report on Planned Parenthood titled, “The Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood,” as part of the Defend the Family campaign.

“The document builds the case,” said Sedlak. “Why Planned Parenthood, why now is the time.”

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that for its part Planned Parenthood has always recognized that its greatest enemy is the Catholic Church, even working to have the Church lose its status at the UN.

“They fight anybody who wants to take sex away from the kids in any way possible,” Sedlak said. “That’s one reason why Planned Parenthood is the sex mafia.”

And when Sedlak uses the term “mafia,” he means it literally, pointing out that the Holy Father condemned the mafia in his June 21, 2014, homily in Calabria, Italy, denouncing its, “Adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”

“Planned Parenthood kills far more people than the mafia,” Sedlak said.

Also underscoring the need for the Vatican to act on declaring Planned Parenthood an enemy of the Church, is the convening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family this October in Rome, which will lead into the general synod in 2015.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that these, along with the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, are events that ALL will rally around to raise awareness of the Defend the Family campaign.

Preliminary response to the campaign has been very positive, he said.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that the “Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood” report was so well received upon initial presentation to Vatican officials, that ALL was asked to translate it into three more languages.

“The support we’ve gotten from talking to bishops has been overwhelming,” Sedlak said.

Prayer is priority #1

The Defend the Family campaign consists first and foremost of prayer, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews.

“Our approach is that we need prayer support,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to succeed is through prayer to the Blessed Mother; the only way it will succeed is if God wants it to succeed.”

Participants are asked to say regular prayers after Mass, to offer prayers for the pope and to initiate communication with local bishops about the dangers that Planned Parenthood poses to the faithful.

Sedlak also added that The Defend the Family campaign is for everyone, not just Catholics.

He said pro-life supporters of all faith traditions are invited to contact ALL for assistance in encouraging their religious denomination or church leader to declare Planned Parenthood an enemy.

In addition to prayers for the campaign, ALL is asking people to sign and submit ALL’s Declaration of Encouragement to the Holy Father, enroll in the Spiritual Bouquet for the Holy Father and to share ALL resources on Planned Parenthood.

Information, links and resources are available on the campaign website, defendthefamily.org.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that ALL is giving the success of the Defend the Family campaign up to God.

“This is all happening in God’s time, and so far he’s been blessing us mightily,” Sedlak said. “And we’re going to go wherever God takes us.”

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