Margaret Somerville

Amour: does old age have any honour left?

Margaret Somerville
By Margaret Somerville

Amour     
Directed by Michael Haneke      
Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert     
127 minutes, French with subtitles 
   

January 28, 2013 (Mercatornet.com) - It is a drastic understatement to observe that Austrian director Michael Haneke’s film Amour (Love) is harrowing and heartbreaking. I sat there just wanting it to be over. Yet I couldn’t leave. I felt like an animal caught in a hunter’s spotlight – unable to move, mesmerized.

Amour has been heaped with praise and is an Oscar nominee in five categories, including best film, best director and best foreign film. It is insightfully and accurately described by Francine Prose, of the New York Review of Books blog, as “a masterpiece you might not want to see”. This warning is merited: the film is intensely distressing. Paula Span, in the New York Times, under the banner of the “new old age”, calls Amour “the brutal truth”. Some people will see it as a clarion call for the legalization of euthanasia. I’d suggest, however, that it’s equally, if not more so, a clarion call for our responsibilities as families and a society to correct the circumstances in which many old and vulnerable people find themselves.

Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), the two main characters in the film, are such people and live in such circumstances. They are financially secure, upper middle-class, retired musicians, living in a classic, elegant apartment in Paris. They have one child, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who is around 50 years old and visits them occasionally. She has two young-adult children who have left home, is in a troubled marriage, and preoccupied with her own problems. The acting is superb: it is difficult to believe these are not real life events, which adds to the serious emotional distress the film elicits.  

It opens with firemen and a plain clothes detective breaking into an apartment and finding the decomposing body of a clothed, dead woman, with a crucifix on her chest. She is laid out on a bed, surrounded by wilted flowers which have been cut from their stems.

The story then shifts to a concert hall, where Anne and Georges are attending a performance of a Schubert piano concerto by Alexandre (the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, who plays himself), who, as a 12-year-old, was Anne’s pupil. They are delighted by the performance, but come home to find an attempted break-in to their apartment. Anne suggests calling the police, but Georges refuses. This is the beginning of Haneke’s brilliant portrayal of what proves to be their increasingly vulnerable state and the unavailability of help, and of their, especially Georges’, refusal to accept it or lack of capacity to seek it.

Next morning, Anne and George are eating breakfast and Anne temporarily loses consciousness and is unresponsive to Georges’ questions about what is wrong. She regains consciousness but has no memory of losing it. She pours some tea, which spills because she cannot control her movements. The rest of the film documents in graphic detail both Anne’s physical and mental decline as a result of failed carotid artery surgery, strokes and dementia and Georges’ efforts to care for her, almost entirely without assistance.

We learn that Dr Bertier, Anne’s physician, and a hairdresser come once every two weeks. A nurse whom Georges hires comes three times a week. A second nurse is incompetent and abusive and is fired by Georges. The janitor helps Georges to carry in groceries and the janitor’s wife vacuums the rugs. Both offer whatever other help they can give, but Georges does not take up their offer. They are obviously curious about Anne’s condition and try to linger and talk, but Georges always promptly ushers them out.

Neuroscientist Dr Tiffany Chow, who has just written a book, The Memory Clinic: Stories of Hope and Healing for Alzheimer’s Patients and Their Familiestold the Globe and Mail: “The number one mistake that caregivers make is thinking ‘I can do all this myself’. That’s a guaranteed recipe for burnout. Caregiving has to be done with some allies, whether it’s your personal friends, neighbours, other family members or professional care providers.”

Eva pays the occasional visit to her parents, once accompanied by her husband Howard, who suggests Anne be placed in a nursing home, a proposition Georges adamantly refuses. He has promised Anne, who is frightened of doctors and hates hospitals, to keep her at home.  The only other visitors are Alexandre and a stray pigeon which flies in through an open window.

Meanwhile, we see in great detail Georges helping Anne in and out of her bed and her wheelchair, off the toilet, and, eventually, checking her diapers when she is bedridden; trying to get her to take water from a sipping cup and food from a spoon, both of which she refuses; reading to her; and trying to sooth her when she screams “mal” (hurt) over and over.

Finally, Georges tells Anne a story from his childhood – about being sent away to a summer holiday camp and letting his mother know through a prearranged signal of drawing stars on the weekly postcard he sent home, that he was desperately unhappy there, in part because, like Anne, he refused to eat, in his case, rice pudding. He completes the story, grabs the pillow from his side of their bed and suffocates Anne, whose struggles to escape slowly subside.

Georges goes out to buy flowers from which he cuts the stems and then chooses a dress from Anne’s closet. Our thoughts flash back to the opening scene of what we now realize was Anne’s body on the bed. We then see George using wide adhesive tape to seal the doorway into the bedroom.

In a following scene, the pigeon returns and one can’t be sure, at the time, whether Georges smothers it, as he did Anne, in the blanket in which he caught it, or cuddles and strokes and then releases it. In a letter which we subsequently see him writing, presumably a suicide note, we learn that it was released. This comes as a tiny affirmation of hope and respect for life. But in this unrelentingly depressing and joyless film, which resonates with a “culture of death" and makes death seem vastly preferable to life, it is a hugely welcome one.

So what can we learn from this film?

First, Amour shows us the impact, not only of the presence of love, but also of its absence.

It captures Georges’ and Anne’s love for each other, and Georges’ love as portrayed in his care for Anne. Flowers and music are often associated with love and appear frequently in the film, which is rich with symbolism, allusion and innuendo – for instance, in looking at the family photo album, Anne seems to look only at photos in which she is present.

It also merits noting that Haneke makes powerful use of silence, sometimes to express positive emotions and closeness; sometimes negative ones and alienation. And when Anne and Georges are listening to the CD Alexandre had given them of the concert they had attended, Anne abruptly says, “Stop the CD”, which Georges does. Music seems to represent the thread of life for this couple.

In contrast, the stark absence of love is seen in the almost total lack of any loving support from family, friends or community. Eva sums up her feelings in this regard, “I can’t believe that these days there's no way of handling this [Anne’s illness and Georges’ situation] efficiently.” Efficiency is a bureaucratic, emotionally detached value. From this perspective, the film can be viewed as a tragic commentary on the dissolution of families and the values of mutual support and responsibility for family members, especially when they are vulnerable, because they are old, sick and dying.

Likewise, it can be seen as an indictment of the community’s and society’s failure to provide palliative and hospice care and other support, including respite care, for those who try to look after their loved ones at home. Like Anne, most people want to die at home but can’t because of lack of support for their carers.

When Anne is bedridden and her dementia has become very advanced, she constantly cries out, repeating one word, “Mal” (hurt).  It seems reasonable to interpret this as an indication of pain. Yet, we do not see her being given any pain relief treatment and, as noted already, the doctor visits only once every two weeks. Inadequate pain relief, or fear of being left in pain, is a reason people ask or advocate for euthanasia.

Another reason, and one of the main ones, is that they see themselves as a burden on others, especially their families. Other reasons are loss of control and the feeling that they are losing their dignity. They confuse being independent with having dignity and, therefore, perceive dependence as the loss of dignity. All of these are piercingly and powerfully communicated in Amour. But what can be done to address and eliminate those reasons is nowhere to be found.

In this latter respect, Intimate Death, a book by French psychologist Marie de Hennezel, who specializes in the care of dying people, could not be in starker contrast. In moving and poetic vignettes about dying people, and without denying suffering or romanticizing or glamourizing it, she tells us stories that allow us to see that dying can be the last great act of living.

Essential ingredients for that to be the case are the presence of hope; the sense that our life had meaning and can still have meaning, even when we are dying; the realization that we can still learn and even teach; that we have something to give others; and that we can leave a legacy. None of these features of a “good” death is present in Anne’s and Georges’ situation.

Early in the film, when Anne is wheelchair-bound, but not demented, Pierre, one of her and Georges’ friends, dies and Georges attends the funeral without her. When he returns she asks him about the service. Here’s what he says:

“It was rather bizarre. The priest was an idiot. Then one of Pierre’s co-workers made a speech that was embarrassingly emotional. His old secretary came with a radio cassette player and after the speech she put on “Yesterday” by the Beatles. You can’t imagine. Everybody turned round to look at her. Apparently, it wasn’t planned. His grandchildren were there. Of course they giggled as soon as the music began. Then the urn was put on a huge stretcher that was obviously designed for a coffin, and out we went into the rain. They placed the urn on a small electric cart that crawled along for what seemed like an eternity to the tiny hole they had dug. A lot of people had to stifle their laughter. It must have been terrible for Jeanne [Pierre’s widow].”

There’s a loss of solemnity and respect, a trivialization of the momentousness of death and the losses it involves, a failure to express grief and to mourn and, a lack of opportunity for healing. The secular music, the Beatles’ song “Yesterday”, represents the antithesis of hope. Hope requires a sense of connection to the future; this song implies that only a sad connection to the past is possible.

Having a sense of connection to the future when one is dying does not have to involve religion, although of course it can. One other way is to be aware of leaving a legacy. Canadian psychiatrist Dr Harvey Max Chochinov and his colleagues have been researching how to help dying people. They have developed what they call “dignity therapy”. Part of this is helping dying people to see what they can leave as a legacy to those they love and to other people.

Anne’s legacy was in her students, represented by Alexandre. But she refused to listen to the CD he gave her of his critically acclaimed concert. She refused to allow hope to creep in, to have a moment of joy. In fact, a dominant feature of Amour is that there are no moments of joy.

I began this review saying I sat through Amour just wanting it to be over. Both dying people and those who love them can also feel that way about death. But wanting it to be over is very different from wanting to be killed and the impact of each – that is, allowing to die, as compared with killing – is very different at institutional, societal and even global levels.

Some people will see Amour as an argument for legalizing euthanasia. The strongest case for this is the situation in Amour - an individual who is suffering and dying and wants to die.

But we must also consider the effect of legalizing euthanasia on other people, especially the possibility of elder abuse; on the medical profession and medicine’s millennia-old guiding principle, “curing where possible, caring always, never killing”; on the law as a primary institution upholding the societal value of respect for life; on other healthcare professionals and healthcare institutions; and on society’s most important values, especially that of respect for life.

Amour brings to mind lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses:

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices.

It leaves us, however, with no sense that

Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;  
Death closes all: but something ere the end,  
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,  
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

Margaret Somerville is director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law in Montreal. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License from Mercatornet.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, speaks to Thomas McKenna of Catholic Action Insight. Catholic Action Insight
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Catholics shouldn’t sue one another: Cardinal Burke comments on Fr. Rosica’s lawsuit against blogger

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Citing Scripture, Cardinal Raymond Burke told an interviewer this week that Catholics should not sue each other: “Our Lord in the Gospel and St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians instruct us not to take our disputes to the civil forum, that we should be able, as Catholics, to resolve these matters among ourselves.”

The cardinal’s comments to the Traditionalist Catholic website Rorate Caeli follow an uproar in the Catholic media world last week when it was revealed that Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica has threatened to sue a Canadian blogger for defamation in the civil courts.

Cardinal Burke, who served under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis as the head of the Vatican’s highest court, is a noted expert on canon law. He told Rorate Caeli, “Unless the blogger has committed a calumny on someone's good name unjustly, I certainly don't think that that's the way we as Catholics should deal with these matters.”

“I think contact should be made. I presume that the Catholic blogger is in good faith, and if there’s someone in the hierarchy who is upset with him, the way to deal with it would be first to approach the person directly and try to resolve the matter in that way,” Burke added.

Fr. Rosica, a Canadian Basilian, is the English language press officer for the Vatican and founder of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television network.

He sent the legal letter to David Domet, a Toronto music composer and part-time Catholic blogger who has long criticized what he says are Fr. Rosica’s departures from Catholic orthodoxy. The priest’s lawyer told Domet to remove nine separate items from his blog and apologize, but added that this would not necessarily remove the threat of the civil action.

The conflict was covered in a feature by Michael Voris’ Church Militant TV, and the internet’s Catholic blogger world exploded with indignation. So furious was the backlash that it got coverage by the US conservative news site, Breitbart. This followed dozens of blog posts, nearly unanimously calling the threatened legal action of a well-placed priest against a lay pensioner a “PR disaster” for Rosica. 

The uproar has launched Domet’s small blog, Vox Cantoris, into the international limelight, and has earned Fr. Rosica an avalanche of criticism. “Though Rosica publicly defends the right to freedom of speech and press, he is attempting to silence the blogger who has criticized him,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, wrote for Breitbart.

Among Domet’s criticisms of Fr. Rosica is his apparent support for the proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and others in “irregular” sexual unions, to receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Rosica has also recently come under fire for comments he made a year ago, in a lecture in Windsor, Ontario, in which he argued that Catholic doctrine could change. (See video below. Quotes can be found at 48:12.)

“Will this Pope re-write controversial Church doctrines?” Fr. Rosica said in the lecture, which was posted to Youtube. “No. But that isn't how doctrine changes. Doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particularly doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God's transforming love.”

Fr. Rosica continued: “Doctrine changes when the Church has leaders and teachers who are not afraid to take note of new contexts and emerging insights. It changes when the Church has pastors who do what Francis has been insisting: leave the securities of your chanceries, of your rectories, of your safe places, of your episcopal residences go set aside the small-minded rules that often keep you locked up and shielded from the world.”

In the Rorate Caeli interview, Cardinal Burke refuted the idea that the Church can change its “pastoral practice” without changing doctrine.

“I think it’s very important to address a false dichotomy that's been drawn by some who say, ‘Oh no, we’re just changing disciplines. We’re not touching the Church's doctrine.’ But if you change the Church’s discipline with regard to access to Holy Communion by those who are living in adultery, then surely you are changing the Church's doctrine on adultery.”

“You’re saying that, in some circumstances, adultery is permissible and even good, if people can live in adultery and still receive the sacraments. That is a very serious matter, and Catholics have to insist that the Church’s discipline not be changed in some way which would, in fact, weaken our teaching on one of the most fundamental truths, the truth about marriage and the family,” Cardinal Burke said.

Fr. Rosica recently criticized Cardinal Burke on his Twitter account by posting an article by Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on “dissent” in the hierarchy, saying, “Cardinal Wuerl’s response to Burke (and dissenters).”

The priest has also had a confrontational relationship with the pro-life movement for years.

In 1996, Fr. Rosica called the police on pro-life advocates who were leafletting in protest at a lecture by famous dissident Gregory Baum at the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre.

In 2009, Fr. Rosica wrote against objections to the lavish Catholic funeral for US Senator Ted Kennedy’s in Boston. He excoriated the pro-life movement for what he called their lack of “civility.”

“Civility, charity, mercy and politeness seem to have dropped out of the pro-life lexicon,” Fr. Rosica wrote. “To recognize and bring out the sin in others means also recognizing one’s self as a sinner and in need of God’s boundless mercy.

“Let us pray that we will become more and more a people, a church and a community overflowing with mercy.”

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Greg Rohrbough, J.D.

Duck Commander Phil Robertson’s CPAC speech was viral in so many ways

Greg Rohrbough, J.D.
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Last week, the winner of the 2015 Citizens United/CPAC Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award was “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson, paterfamilias of the Duck Dynasty Robertson family. In doing so, they were giving Phil the CPAC stage for a speech, knowing that he would speak his unvarnished thoughts. One doubts they expected his topic.

After bringing out his heavily-duct-taped Bible and telling politicians to keep theirs with them, Phil went on the offensive – against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). He quoted the federal Centers for Disease Control, which estimates that more than 100 million Americans now have a sexually transmitted infection.

“I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early,” Robertson said.

Phil’s solution? One older than Christianity, as old as common sense itself. “If you’re disease-free, if she’s disease-free, you marry. You keep your sex right there. You won’t get sick from a sexually-transmitted disease!”

Logic and mathematics would seem to agree. According to Robertson, his goal was to show love to the listeners. But several left-wing websites didn’t see it that way.

“He certainly used his speech to hate very well. I guess that's the criteria. Who can say the sickest, most vile things about center-left Americans wins!” according to John Amato of Crooks & Liars.

The Huffington Post took offense at his attributing the rise in STDs to the beatniks and hippies.

To their credit, MSNBC acknowledged Phil’s numbers, saying, “For the record, Robertson’s [sic] has his numbers correct. A CDC report from February of 2013 estimated more than 110 [million] cases of sexually transmitted infections in America with about 20 billion [sic, MSNBC’s number] new infections each year at a cost of ‘nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs.’”

The network site then blasted him for comparing ISIS to the Nazis, Communists, and Imperial Japanese.

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Robertson clearly didn’t care what MSNBC thought, though. “You want a Godly, Biblical, medically safe option? One man, one woman, married, for life,” he said.

“What do you call the 110 million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses?” he continued. “It’s the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll have come back to haunt us in a bad way!”

But the big question is – is Phil right or wrong? According to the CDC’s website, “Almost every sexually active person will acquire HPV [Human Papillomavirus] at some point in their lives.”

“Sexually active” would seem to indicate activity with new or multiple partners, rather than this Duck Doctor Phil’s Prescription.

But still – “Almost every…person.” That’s quite a few – the website also says, “about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year.” While it is the most prevalent venereal disease, HPV is only one of many.

Generally, HPV’s symptoms are more a painful nuisance than life-threatening – genital warts, often only appearing years after the initial infection. But there are also life-threatening illnesses such as cervical cancer, which HPV causes.

Much more frightening, however, is the specter of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, there are about 1.2 million people currently living with HIV, and as many as 50,000 new cases a year, with 63 to 66 percent of those being “MSM,” or “Men who have Sex with Men.” Sadly, the lion’s share of new HIV infections is found in the 13-24 age group; despite being 16 percent of the nation’s population, they account for 26 percent of all new infections, with 72 percent of those being young MSM. While HIV is treatable, there is still no cure.

Although HIV, as well as the current increase in syphilis and hepatitis, are primarily targeting homosexual males, heterosexuals with multiple partners are by no means off the hook. As well as HPV, herpes, drug-resistant gonorrhea and chlamydia are on the rise, as well. The year 2013 saw 1.4 million cases of chlamydia and 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, and the CDC estimates that one person in every six in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 49 has herpes.

Criticize Phil all you like, folks – he doesn’t mind. He’s only saying this because he cares.

Listen to him again: “I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early.”

“And if you hate me because I told you that,” he said, “I told you, my love for you is not contingent on how you feel about me. I love you anyway. I don’t want you to see you die early or get sick. I’m trying to help you, for cryin’ out loud! America, if I didn’t care about you, why would I bring this up?”

From this CPAC attendee’s perspective, Phil’s speech was not only important from a physical health perspective, it also, along with that duct-taped Bible of his, reminds us of the words of Charles Spurgeon: “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”

Greg Rohrbough, J.D., has been director of government relations for the Meredith Advocacy Group since 2006.

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Steve Weatherbe

Former abortionist who failed to kill unborn baby hit with $1 million lawsuit: baby was born with hole in heart

Steve Weatherbe
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OTTAWA, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Ontario mother of a baby born by mistake is suing the former doctor who botched her abortion for $1 million for his “gross negligence” and “medical malpractice.”

Tania Brown already had four children when she went to Dr. Michel Prevost in Almonte, Ontario in early 2011 for a medical (or pharmaceutical) abortion to prevent a fifth, which her doctor had advised might have birth defects. Several months later she suspected Prevost’s one-two punch of methotrexate (a poison to kill the baby) and misoprostol (to expel the corpse a week later) had not worked. An ultrasound confirmed a beating heart.

Too late for an abortion now, she gave birth, in May, to a baby with “a smaller brain; he had a hole in his heart; he had something wrong with his palate.” She gave him up for adoption.

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Dr. Prevost relinquished his medical licence earlier this month with the certainty that if he didn’t, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons would expel him after an investigation found him “incompetent in his practice of obstetrics and gynecology.”  They looked into 28 abortion cases, two so badly “botched” that the babies survived.

Small wonder the whole business sent Brown into a “debilitating depression,” but her lawyer Ralph Lee told the CBC the case “brings up larger issues…the issue of a woman’s access to abortion.”

Basically, Prevost couldn’t get the dosages right. Methotrexate, MedicineNet.com warns, “has infrequently caused serious (sometimes fatal) side effects.” These include severe azotemia (too much blood urea nitrogen), severe blood infection, stomach and intestinal bleeding, and perforation.

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