A Time to Die

A Time to Die

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”[1], 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.


[1] 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

3 Comments On This Topic
  1. James Haslam
    on Jun 9th at 10:20 am

    Hi Jennie, I largely agree. I think one of the reasons people don’t seem to recognise the cognitive dissonance or disconnect that you describe is the huge emphasis placed on personal autonomy in our culture today. An autonomy that comes at any cost.

    BTW I would argue there are legitimate circumstances where taking a person’s life or wilful killing may be justified (albeit very hard) e.g. ectopic pregnancy (where the life of the baby threatens the life of the mother), just war, capital punishment for heinous crimes. Essentially taking life to preserve life.

    PS I think it’s great that you blog on bioethical topics.

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Jun 9th at 10:29 am

      Thanks James,
      Yes, I totally agree about the personal autonomy thing. I think that’s HUGE. I just couldn’t get my head around how that fitted with the unmarked grave thing – I suppose it’s an individualism thing, isn’t it? The post was getting too long to include it though, so I decided to save that angle for another time!

      Yes, that’s true about ectopic pregnancy and Just War, as absolute last resorts, with great pain and soul-searching, though I’m interested that you mention capital punishment, too. Do you not think it is better to have life imprisonment (genuine life), offering the chance for repentance and reform? I realise it’s more costly for the tax-payer, but I think this is one case where it is not our place to end a life.

  2. Ann
    on Jun 9th at 10:55 am

    Thanks, Jen. That was an excellent post. On one hand I agree with James on capital punishment. The Bible has no concept of imprisonment, all punishments are immediate, apart from the cities of refuge. But we are not in a situation where we look to God for the answer, and too often juries make mistakes and the wrong person is found guilty. At least with life imprisonment there is the chance of reparation in these cases. As to the babies in Ireland. I haven’t seen all the talk about it. I thought it was as much about the treatment of the girls and their babies as about those who had dies. But it could well be that because the graves have been found, the focus has come to be on that aspect. But all that aside, I totally agree with you. I just have to ask – why as Christians, do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot and making it so hard for anyone to look at us say, ‘I want to be like that?’


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