My brother has drawn my attention to two news stories in the last couple of days.
The first was this report of the bodies of around 800 children found in a mass grave in Galway, Ireland. The children had been residents of a home for unwed mothers and their babies between 1925 and 1961, and had died of “TB, malnourishment, pneumonia, and good old-fashioned neglect.” While some people interviewed in the report were upset y the treatment these children (and their mothers) had received while they were alive, the thrust of the story was the horror that they had been buried in a mass grave, instead of being given a ‘decent Catholic burial’.
My brother was intrigued – why should what happened to their bodies after death be so significant? Surely what matters is how they were treated in life? What could it possibly matter what happens to your body after death?
Hold that thought.
The second story was this one: on Thursday, Quebec became the first Canadian province to legalise euthanasia.
Despite strong opposition from Canadian doctors (only 16% of physicians surveyed by the Canadian Medical Association said they would euthanize patients if it was legal), the politicians have decided that the best way of caring for patients with “a serious and incurable illness… [who are] in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capacity and experience constant and unbearable physical or psychological suffering which cannot be relieved in a manner the patient deems tolerable”, is to kill them.
Yet presumably if these patients’ bodies were then ‘dumped’ in unmarked mass graves, there would be a public outcry (just as there was when the Gosnell abortion clinic story finally broke).
How can it be that we care more about the method of disposal of corpses than we do about protecting and preserving the lives that gave those corpses meaning in the first place? Why does a person’s empty shell, matter more than the person him- or herself? Why is it disrespectful to a person to drop his or her body in a hole instead of dressing it up in its best clothes, combing its hair, doing its makeup, and laying it solemnly in a beautifully crafted box before lowering it gently into a hole? Why is it a more serious snub to the person’s identity, personhood and value to bury them without a name marker than it is to kill them?
In the past few days we have been commemorating D-Day – the day, 70 years ago, that marked the turning point for the Allies in World War II. How painfully ironic that at the same time as mourning our friends, our family members and thousands of strangers killed by their enemies, a law was being passed that would allow our friends, our family members and thousands of strangers to be killed by those who are supposed to be their greatest friends.
Taking a person’s life is wrong. It has always been wrong and it will always be wrong. My heart breaks for those who find themselves in terrifying, painful, terminal illness, and I’m grateful for the amazing palliative care facilities that now exist to help them. I fully support the development of better and better methods of pain control, and of spiritual and psychological care to help people cope with their fear, despair and sense of helplessness. But I will never support the willful killing of another human being.
Just as our bodies ought to be treated with care, respect and honour after death, so must they be before death. And you neither honour, respect nor care for someone by sending them to the executioner.
 See http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1183429/bill-52-an-act-respecting-end-of-life-care.pdf
Picture Credit: Reading A Newspaper By A Wall by Garry Knight