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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Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
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Vatican pressing forward with reform of US feminist nuns: Cardinal Müller

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says the Vatican is pressing forward with plans to reform the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In an interview published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that the reform of the LCWR, which was undertaken after an assessment of the group found serious doctrinal problems, will be carried out with the goal of helping them "rediscover their identity.”

“Congregations have no more vocations and risk dying out," Müller said. "We have first of all tried to reduce hostility and tensions, partly thanks to Bishop Sartain whom we sent to negotiate with them; he is a very gentle man. We wish to stress that we are not misogynists, we are not women gobblers! Of course we have a different concept of religious life but we hope to help them rediscover their identity.”

Moreover, the cardinal said that problems specific to the LCWR are not a reflection of all the women religious in the US.

"We need to bear in mind that they do not represent all US nuns, but just a group of nuns who form part of an association,” Müller said.

“We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.”

Cardinal Müller's remarks confirmed the assertion he and the Holy See’s delegate to the LCWR, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, made in an address to LCWR officials in Rome on April 30, that the theological drift the feminist nuns are taking constitutes a radical departure from the foundational theological concepts of Catholicism.

The Holy See “believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church,” Müller said in the address.

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“The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration,” he stated.

The LCWR has openly defied the mandate of reform intended to bring their organization into line with basic Catholic doctrine on the nature of God, the Church, and sexual morality.

Among the CDF’s directives, to which LCWR has strenuously objected, is the requirement that “speakers and presenters at major programs” be approved by Archbishop Sartain. This, Müller has explained, was decided in order to “avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church.”

The LCWR has invited speakers to their Annual Assembly such as New Age guru Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Sr. Laurie Brink, who is particularly noted for flagrantly denying the Divinity of Christ and telling the sisters that to maintain their “prophetic” place in society they need to “go beyond” the Church and even “go beyond Jesus.”

In one of the first public statements of his pontificate, Pope Francis affirmed that the investigation and reform of the LCWR must continue.

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Brian Fisher

Birth mothers: real heroes of the pro-life movement

Brian Fisher
By Brian Fisher
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What does it mean to be brave? Is it the doctor who dedicates himself to improving the health of a third-world nation? Is it the woman who faces her third round of chemotherapy to fight the progression of cancer? Is it the teacher who forgoes the comforts of a suburban school to reach minorities in the inner city? All of these are examples of bravery demonstrated in exceedingly challenging circumstances. And our society longs for stories of bravery to inspire us and fill us with hope.

As someone who works day in and day out with those on the front lines of helping rescue babies from abortion, I’m no stranger to stories of bravery. I see courage every day in the eyes of the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. I see it every time a young mom — despite being pressured by her parents or significant other to get an abortion — chooses LIFE. And perhaps more profoundly than in any other situation, I see it when an expectant mom with no relational support, job, or income chooses to place her baby for adoption rather than abort her son or daughter.

This was Nicky’s situation.

When Nicky found herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, her life was already in shambles. During her 26 years, Nicky had already given birth to and surrendered sole custody of a little girl, committed several felonies, lived in her car, lost several jobs, and barely subsisted on minimum wage. So when she met up with an old boyfriend, Brandon, Nicky believed she was being given a second chance at happiness. “Our first year together was beautiful. We were getting to know each other and deciding if we would stay together forever.” Unfortunately, a positive pregnancy test result changed everything.

“When I told him I was pregnant, Brandon sat down on the bed, looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘get an abortion’.” Nicky says those three little words changed everything for her. “I became depressed living with someone who wanted his child ‘dealt with.’”  Like thousands of women every day, Nicky began searching online for information on abortion, hoping her boyfriend would eventually change his mind. Through our strategic marketing methods, Online for Life was able to guide Nicky to a life-affirming pregnancy center where she received grace-filled counsel. “The woman I sat with was beyond wonderful. She helped me to just breathe and ask God what to do….And so I did.”

Nicky left the pregnancy center that day with a new resolve to choose life for her child, even though she still wasn’t sure how she’d financially support a child. “I was alone with just $10 in my pocket…and without any type of plan for what I was going to do.” So Nicky relied on the support of the staff she met at the life-affirming pregnancy center. With their help and through a chain of fortunate events, Nicky was put in contact with the couple who would eventually become her daughter’s adoptive parents.

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After meeting this couple face to face and coming to terms with her own desperate situation, Nicky conceded that the best thing for her unborn child would be to place her in someone else’s loving home. She told Brandon about her plans and he agreed that adoption would give their child the best chance at a happy and secure future. He even returned home to help Nicky prepare for the birth of their child. “The weeks leading up to my delivery were filled with a mixture of laughter, tears, protectiveness and sadness,” Nicky recalls. But one sentiment continued to be shared with her. “Brave…so brave.” That’s what everyone from the life-affirming pregnancy center to the adoption agency to the birthing center kept calling Nicky. “The nurses kept coming up to me and telling me they were honored to care for and treat someone like me.” After several weeks of preparation, Nicky finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and she made the dreams of a couple from the other side of the country come true.

Nicky’s adoption story continues to be riddled with a strange combination of pain and joy. “I cry every day, but I know my baby, who came out of a very bad time, ended up being loved by people from across the country.” When asked what message she’d like to share with the world about her decision to give up her child for adoption, Nicky responds, The voice of the mother who gives up a baby for adoption isn’t heard. We need to change that.”

To learn more about Online for Life and how we’re helping to make stories like Nicky and her daughter’s story a possibility, please visit OnlineforLife.org.

Author, speaker, and business leader Brian Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Online for Life, a transparent, metric-oriented, compassion-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to helping rescue babies and their families from abortion through technology and grace.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, the lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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