Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s narrow pro-life way

Today, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa posted a heartbreaking message on the Facebook page of her pro-life organization, New Wave Feminists.

I’m watching the last 14 years of my life’s work crumble while someone with an anonymous email account tells me they wish my nazi bitch ass would die. Because now it’s their turn.

The alt-right is done decimating me, so the pro-choice left is coming to pick through the scraps.

If you haven’t been following this miserable saga, here’s a recap:

Several years ago, Herndon-De La Rosa founded the secular pro-life, pro-woman group New Wave Feminists, and Kristen Hatten joined her as VP four or five years later. Hatten was initially anti-Trump; but in 2016, she started showing signs of becoming a white nationalist. It was baffling, but undeniable; and so, a few years ago, Herndon-De La Rosa cut ties with her and scrubbed evidence of her from the organization, because, duh, they’re pro-life. You can’t be a white nationalist pro-lifer.

Hatten had been mostly inactive as a pro-lifer after being ousted from NWF, but her alt right views started to surface on the internet; and so on April 5, Herndon-De La Rosa made this statement denouncing her ideas and reiterating that they do not represent the ideals of NWF. She included five of the openly racist images Hatten had recently shared on her page.

Herndon-De La Rosa said:

***Please do not use this post as a reason to attack Kristen and spam her page. I simply needed to state this publicly so that it was on the record that she is not a part of NWF any longer (and hasn’t been since Nov. 2016), since unfortunately there still seems to be some confusion.***

I hate to have to do this publicly, but because many of you started following Kristen Hatten and her page “Chronicles of Radness” through NWF, I feel it’s necessary.

This is not the Kristen I knew. I don’t know what’s happened but she’s changed. As soon as we saw the very beginning of this transformation she was immediately removed from New Wave Feminists.

I’m posting this because many of you still follow her on social media, perhaps without even realizing the vile things she’s sharing, so take a look for yourself and decide if it’s something you support.

That should have been the end of it. Hatten is not especially prominent and didn’t have a large following; but genuine pro-lifers have no tolerance for hatred, racism, violence, antisemitism, etc., so it’s a good idea to make things nice and clear.

Astonishingly, Abby Johnson, one of the most well-known faces of the American pro-life movement, publicly defended Hatten. As is her habit, she deleted her comments after they were challenged, but she said repeatedly that Hatten is not racist. Hatten herself has said repeatedly that she does not mind being called “racist.” She calls herself an “ethno nationalist.”   Johnson repeatedly chided scandalized pro-lifers for talking about Hatten instead of to her; but when several people explained that they had talked to her in private, and that Hatten affirmed her alt right views, Johnson had no response.

All the pro-lifers I knew were almost as horrified by Johnson’s defense of Hatten as they were by Hatten’s views themselves. What a dreadful disservice to the pro-life cause. Johnson tried to make the case that her behavior was charitable — that she operates by refusing to cut ties with people she disagrees with, and this is why she has refused to publicly challenge Hatten’s alt right statements, even though she was warned that refusing to distance herself from Hatten was damaging the pro-life movement which Johnson represents.

Johnson does communicate with people in the pro-choice movement; this is her work. But she very readily cuts ties with those in the pro-life movement who challenge her, and then erases evidence of her own troubling words. She routinely deletes comments that challenge her even in the mildest terms. So she is selective in which opponents she decides to maintain ties with.

Johnson has done good work. This is undeniable. Whether her recent behavior shows sympathy for Hatten or merely an astonishing thinness of skin, I truly do not know.

For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter. The damage was done. The Huffington Post and NARAL spotted the debacle for the PR disaster it is, and are now touting Hatten’s views and Johnson’s defense of her as evidence that the pro-life movement is riddled with alt-right rot:

Hatten’s views present a problem for the anti-abortion movement as it continues to jockey for mainstream acceptance and tries to distance itself from right-wing extremists. Throughout the history of the abortion wars, a great deal of violent energy has been generated at the confluence of anti-abortion activism and white supremacy. The first known murder of an abortion provider was committed by a former Klansman. The kinship isn’t hard to understand: Both are movements of the status quo, dedicated to preserving a white patriarchal order.

This is exactly what I said would happen when I wrote that if I were pro-choice, I’d vote for Trump. When pro-lifers don’t make it crystal clear that some ideas are unacceptable, the world leaps on the chance to make the case that those ideas are central to our cause.

So how, as pro-lifers, should we respond when someone who calls himself a pro-lifer behaves in abhorrent ways?

We have four choices:

1.We can ignore it, for any number of reasons, and hope no one notices.
2. We can be horrified at the damage this person is doing, and openly, strongly denounce the person and heap damnation on her head.
3. We can defend the person because we don’t think it’s right to attack people.
4. Or we can be horrified at the damage this person is doing, and openly, strongly denounce her ideas, and heap damnation on her ideas, and refrain from denouncing the actual person.

Because we are pro-life. Even pro the life of someone on the alt right.

That fourth option is the one Herndon-De La Rosa chose. Did it work?
No, of course not. Because the world is a disgusting place, and hungry for blood. Facts don’t matter; all that matters is that we can tear some flesh. And that’s why she’s currently suffering horrendous abuse from both sides, not only from the alt right but from the far left: Because she chose that narrow path that hates the sin but not the sinner.

I saw some pro-lifers savage Herndon-De La Rosa for not savaging Hatten; for not denouncing her thoroughly enough; for not repeatedly shouting from the rooftops that her former friend is now garbage.

But she chose the narrow road. It didn’t work, but it was the right thing to do. And when the righteous do the right thing, they are made to bleed. Cf Golgatha.

Please pray for everyone involved. If you are pro-life and so reject racism, please denounce racism and other alt right poison everywhere you see it, on the right and on the left. It’s our duty to make things crystal clear. But our goal isto save lives, and that includes the lives of the unborn, the lives of vulnerable minorities, and the lives of people who’ve allowed themselves to be swept into the ugly sewer of the alt right. The most vulnerable come first; but pro life means all lives. It is possible to take that narrow road. It’s not safe, but it is possible.

Hatten and others on the alt right are not past salvation. Their ideas must be publicly savaged. They themselves should be given a chance to repent. They will not repent if their ideas are tolerated; but they will also not repent if they are called human garbage.

Here is the key to knowing if the group you’re spending time with is powered by ideals, or by ideology:  When you stand by your ideals, you will suffer. When you are fighting for an ideology, you will insist that others must suffer. Pro-lifers, which one sounds more pro-life to you? And are you willing to suffer for your ideals, or will you just find a new mob when your old one disappoints you?

***
Image by John Loo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Did you know today’s a day of prayer and penance?

I didn’t, until Jen Fitz spread the word! The March for Life was on Friday, presumably because more people are free to march when it’s almost the weekend. Today, though, is the actual anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which called abortion a constitutional right.

Because of that anniversary, the USCCB says:

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), no. 373, designates January 22 as a particular day of prayer and penance, called the “Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children”: “In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion.”

As individuals, we are called to observe this day through the penitential practices of prayer, fasting and/or giving alms. Another way to take part is through participating in special events to observe the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Call your local diocese or parish to find out what events might be taking place in your area.

I haven’t heard a peep about this, but I’m peeping at you here and now.  So, what shall we do? You can do what you like, as long as you do something.

“Prayer” can be a decade of the rosary or a Divine Mercy chaplet (which can be prayed on a rosary), or spiritually adopting a baby, or of course any prayer that’s less formal but just as heartfelt. There are more resources on the USCCB page.

“Fasting” can mean eating one normal meal and two small snacks, as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, or you could just skip dessert or alcohol or some other food; or you could fast from something else, like TV or social media for the evening.

For a penance, I’m having a hard time coming up with something that seems especially appropriate for a pro-life intention. Maybe change the baby’s low-tide-smelling diaper without making a face. Maybe skip some cozy comfort at the end of the day, thinking instead of how cozy and comfortable every mother and child ought to be, rather than facing the cold cruelty of abortion.

You can think of something. Don’t worry if it’s little. Better small and sincere, than grandiose and undone. Unborn baby Jesus was small once, too, and look how that turned out.

Now you know!

***
Image: unborn Jesus, from a Swiss altarpiece of 1505 – photo by Anonymous – http://webcollection.landesmuseen.ch, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10981129

 

How dare Roy Moore call himself “pro-life?”

Remember when Al Gore, environmentalist extraordinaire, lived in a ridiculous mansion that gobbled up twenty times the national average of electricity?

Turns out that number is a bit off. There are some mitigating factors. BUT STILL. Make all the subtle excuses you want, BUT STILL. How can such a man call himself an environmentalist, and then act that way? It’s bad optics, at the very least, to shine giant spotlights on your evergreens all night, and then hop on a jet plane to lecture people about Africans messing up the ozone with their cooking fires. At worst, it’s sheer, arrogant hypocrisy. He is the problem, but there he goes, telling us he’s going to save us from the problem. How dare he tell us he’s here to fix the very thing he’s bringing about?

But his liberal groupies just ate it up! They listened to him, and treated him like some kind of prophet or savior, even though he was doing the opposite of what he preached. They totally ignored his flagrant hypocrisy, because he said what they wanted to hear.

I know you remember this, conservatives. I remember being outraged myself, and for good cause.

So now hold onto that sense of righteous outrage, and say to yourself, “Roy Moore is a pro-life champion.”

Roy Moore, who, as of this morning, is credibly accused by eight women of unwanted sexual aggression when they were teenagers and he was a powerful man twice their age. Tell yourself this is the man you must make your senator, because he is so pro-life.

How dare he tell us he’s here to fix the very thing he’s bringing about?

Maybe you are asking yourself, “Okay, maybe he’s a little sleazy, but what does that have to do with being pro-life? Even a horn dog can care about babies. We’re not looking for a saint, here; we’re just looking for someone who isn’t actively in favor of infanticide.”

Well, if you’re familiar at all with the birds and the bees, you’ll recall that women cannot conceive babies all by themselves. They do need a male participant.  Babies don’t come out of nowhere.

And neither does abortion.

Women seek out abortions for many reasons, and looming large among those reasons are: No one would help me take care of this baby. No one would believe me when I told them I was raped. No one would help me pay for the hospital bills. No one treated me like a person. He wouldn’t even admit he knew me. He saw me as an object for his pleasure. He told me no one would believe me. I was alone. I had no other choice. I was young and felt completely powerless. I didn’t even tell anyone. I knew they’d never believe me. I knew they would say it was my fault, so what other choice do I have? 

How dare Roy Moore tell us he’s here to fix the very thing he’s bringing about?

No one, as far as I know, is accusing Moore of raping and impregnating them. But neither are any of his supporters acknowledging the basic fact that women seek abortion because they have been let down by men who act exactly as Moore is accused of acting.

Instead, pundits and politicians who call themselves “pro-life” are saying, “Well, it was a long time ago . . . well, even Mary was only fourteen . . . well, it was just a misdemeanor . . . .well, at least he’s not as bad as that other guy.” That other guy, who isn’t pro-life, like Roy Moore.

Listen. I believe it’s important to work for pro-life laws. I believe the phenomenon of abortion is a hydra with countless heads, and it’s perfectly legitimate to pursue legal avenues against it. But that cannot be our only strategy. Abortion will never decrease until we understand why it exists in the first place.

Or at very least, stop calling ourselves pro-life while ardently tending the gardens where abortion takes root. At very least, stop making excuses for predators. At very least, stop reminding women and girls in crisis that no one cares about the trivial little misdemeanors they were born to endure at the hands of men.

How dare he tell us he’s here to fix the very thing he’s bringing about? How dare we let him?

 

Dems Ditch Pro-choice Litmus Test; Secret Thoughts of Many Laid Bare

Well, that’s probably wishful thinking on both counts. We’ll see if it’s really true that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will now be willing to support pro-life democratic candidates. Yesterday,

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said there will be no litmus tests for candidates as Democrats seek to find a winning roster to regain the House majority in 2018.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Luján, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

I’m under no illusion that there will be a sudden, widespread softening of hearts toward the unborn in the Democratic party. This is pure strategy. They finally figured out that they’ll never get Congress back if they don’t at least crack the door for pro-lifers. (I could have told them that twelve years ago, but I’m just a voter in a swing state, so who listens to me?) They’re not even pretending there is some kind of actual ideological shift. They’re just trying to keep up with the tide.

Pro-choice dems are already furious at this softening of the DCCC stance,  predictably. For many Democrats, abortion truly is the holy grail, and if you compromise on abortion, then you’re treyf.

But guess what? Republicans are also furious, because their free meal ticket is suddenly not their exclusive property. I’ve long since shed the illusion that the Republican leadership is rife with tenderness and compassion toward the unborn. “Vote for me or the baby gets it,” as Mark Shea frequently puts it, has been a quick ticket to success for republicans for decades now. All a republican candidate has to do is say, “I’m kinda pro-life, and the other guy isn’t,” and good-hearted Catholics and evangelicals will believe (and tell others) they have a moral obligation to vote for him, and will turn a blind eye to every other hideous personal and ideological flaw that would normally be intolerable in a paperboy, never mind a governor, a congressman, or president.

If Republicans were truly pro-life, they’d all be rejoicing at the idea that Democrats are rejiggering their platform to let in even the possibility of more pro-life representatives.

But they’re all . . . not. LifeNews reprinted a column that gives a pretty balanced assessment of the dem strategy and reactions from the left so far; but the comments on social media are filled with mockery and jeers. “Yeah, right! Don’t fall for their LIES!!!” We’re too smart to vote for some lying politician just because they say they’re pro-life!

Yeah, right, indeed. We’re too smart for that.

Meanwhile, as Fr. Pavone bids us “rejoice” in our “pro-life victories” following the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood is still fully funded, and it’s only sheer incompetence that’s saved Medicaid, the go-to source of prenatal care for poor women and their unborn children, from being axed by a “pro-life” Congress. Hoo-ray, we have a conservative on the Supreme Court. So far, he’s oh-so-pro-lifely refuse to stay the execution of eight guys who had to be executed right away for the very serious reason that the lethal injection drug was about to expire, so.  Even LifeSiteNews is not terribly impressed at Gorsuch, who was not so long ago touted as the reason Catholics not only can but must vote for Trump. (I actually like Gorsuch; but I liked Merrick Garland, too. Remember, SC justices aren’t supposed to be pro-life or pro-choice; they’re supposed to be pro-Constitution.)

The part I’m interested in is twofold:

First, I want to see just how many Democrats really are pro-life, even a little bit, but they haven’t felt free to say so. I know there are some, and I know they’ve been treated like crap for far too long. I expect to see more of it among young up-and-comers, because young people in general are increasingly pro-life. Decades of 4D sonograms’ll do that to you, I guess.

Second, I want to see just how many Republican voters will suddenly recall they care deeply about other issues besides abortion. I cannot count how many times during the election I heard: “Abortion is the only issue that matters. I’m a one-issue voter. If a candidate even just says he’s pro-life, then I have to vote for him, no matter what else he says or does.  And you also have to, or I’m telling your bishop.”

This is why we got Trump: Because he was smart enough to flick the pro-life worm right into the spot where all the conservatives were biting, and then he reeled them in, easy peasy, no actual action necessary. Throw ’em in the cooler, flick again.

So what happens when Democrats are allowed to say they’re pro-life, eh? Will that be enough for Christian voters, since it was enough when Trump was the candidate? Will they say, “Well, this democratic candidate is spouting all kinds of crap that I find personally repugnant, but he says he’s pro-life, and the other guy isn’t, so I guess I have to vote for him“?

We’ll see.

Maybe I’m just dreaming here, but if the Democrats will eventually maybe be allowed to admit that some of them are not crazy about infant dismemberment, will it eventually come about that our Republican overlords will feel more free to admit that some of them care just as little about unborn babies as they do about post-womb babies?

The renegade numbers are small on both sides. I get that. Most dems do harbor pro-choice ideas as a core part of their beliefs, and most republicans do feel pretty strongly that murder is wrong. But there is a hell of a lot less purity in both parties than we’ve been led to believe.

I am a conservative. I’m no longer a Republican, but by every sane and rational measurement, I am a conservative. If you think I’m crazy to say so, you need to make friends with the late William F. Buckley (if you can make him stop spinning in his grave long enough), or my pal Winston Churchill, because you MAGAs don’t even know what a conservative is.

I and most of my truly conservative friends haven’t had the luxury of voting for someone we actually believe in for years and years and years. Could it be that, maybe in the next election, or the next one after that, we’ll be allowed to assess and elect a candidate based on his individual principles and merits?

All I want is someone I can vote for without dying inside. I’ll probably never get it. But if we’re moving toward an era when “pro-life” or “pro-choice” lose their magical power to summon campaign funds and principled votes, then maybe at least we’ll see who really believes in what, and why.

 

Protected: Podcast 27: My interview with Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists

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Charlie Gard will die. But is it murder?

Here, I will not discuss the question of parental vs. state authority in life-or-death decisions. I only want to talk about the life-or-death decisions themselves, and I want to challenge the brutally simplistic narrative that there are two sides: People who want to treat Charlie further, who are good, and people who want to withdraw Charlie’s life support, who are bad.

It’s not so simple.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III

Protected: Podcast #24: A little offball

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What the Catholic Church teaches about death with dignity

“Death with dignity” laws are both sensible and compassionate; religious prohibitions of suicide are both emotional and cruel.     

Too often, that’s how the narrative goes when we discuss end-of-life issues and the laws surrounding them. Secular folks claim that, when people of faith protest against legalized suicide and euthanasia, our arguments are based in emotion, passion, or even a sadistic appetite for pain and suffering.

On the contrary, the Catholic Church’s teachings are both consistent and compassionate.

In light of recent discussions of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and his views on assisted suicide and euthanasia, and in light of the story of a Dutch doctor who directed family members to hold down a struggling old woman so he could carry out her “assisted suicide,” I’m sharing again this article from 2013. The research I did for it corrected many of my own misconceptions about what it means to be pro-life at the end of life.

***

“Technology runs amok without ethics,” says Tammy Ruiz, a Catholic nurse who provides end-of-life care for newborns. “Making sure ethics keeps up with technology is one of the major focuses of my world.”

How do Catholics like Ruiz honor the life and dignity of patients, without playing God—either by giving too much care, or not enough?

Cathy Adamkiewicz had to find that balance when she signed the papers to remove her four-month-old daughter from life support. The child’s bodily systems were failing, and she would not have survived the heart transplant she needed. She had been sedated and on a respirator for most of her life. Off the machines, Adamkiewicz says, “She died peacefully in my husband’s arms. It was a joyful day.”

“To be pro-life,” Adamkiewicz explains, “does not mean you have to extend life forever, push it, or give every type of treatment.”

Many believe that the Church teaches we must prolong human life by any means available, but this is not so. According to the Catechism of the Catholic ChurchDiscontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment” (CCC, 2278).

Does this mean that the Church accepts euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide—that we may end a life to relieve suffering or because we think someone’s “quality of life” is too poor? No. The Catechism continues: “One does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted” (CCC, 2278).

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, explains that caregivers must ask, “What good can this treatment do for this person I love? What harm can it do to him or her? This is what Catholic theology calls ‘weighing the benefits and burdens of a treatment.’ If the benefit outweighs the burden, in your judgment, you should request the treatment; otherwise, it would be seen as morally optional.”

Palliative care is also legitimate, even if it may hasten death—as long as the goal is to alleviate suffering.

But how are we to judge when the burdens outweigh the benefits?

Some decisions are black and white: We must not do anything, or fail to do anything, with the goal of bringing about or hastening death. “An act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator (CCC, 2277).

The dehydration death of Terry Schiavo in 2005 was murder, because Schiavo was not dying. Withdrawing food and water had the direct goal of killing her.

But if a man is dying of inoperable cancer and no longer wishes to eat or drink, or his body can no longer process nutrition, withdrawing food and water from him might be ethical and merciful. He is already moving toward death, and there is no reason to prolong his suffering.

Moral Obligations

Our moral obligations are not always obvious. Laura Malnight struggled with doubt and fear as she contemplated the future of her tiny newborn quadruplets. Two of them had pneumonia.

“It was horrible to watch them go through what they had to go through to live, being resuscitated over and over again,” Malnight says.

One baby was especially sick and had suffered brain damage. The doctors who had pushed her to do “selective reduction” while she was pregnant now urged her to stop trying to keep her son alive. “They said we were making a horrible mistake, and they painted a terrible picture of what his life would be like in an institution,” Malnight says.

Exhausted and overwhelmed, Malnight was not able to get a clear answer about the most ethical choice for her children.

Everyone told her, “The baby will declare himself,” signaling whether he’s meant to live or die. “But,” says Malnight, “my only experience with motherhood was with these babies, in their isolettes. The thing was, we would put our hands over our son and he would open his eyes, his breathing would calm.”

“We just kind of muddled through,” she says. Her quadruplets are now 13 years old, and her son, while blind and brain-damaged, is a delightful and irreplaceable child.

Doerflinger acknowledges Malnight’s struggle: “Often there is no one right or wrong answer, but just an answer you think is best for your loved one in this particular situation, taking into account that patient’s own perspective and his or her ability to tolerate the burdens of treatment.”

The key, says Cathy Adamkiewicz, is “not to put our human parameters on the purpose of a human life.”

When she got her infant daughter’s prognosis from the neurologist, she told him, “You look at her as a dying system. I see a human being. Her life has value, not because of how much she can offer, but there is value in her life.”

“Our value,” Cathy says, “is not in our doing, but in our being. Doerflinger agrees, and emphasizes that “every life is a gift. Particular treatments may be a burden; no one’s life should be dismissed as a burden.”

He says that human life is “a great good, worthy of respect. At the same time, it is not our ultimate good, which lies in our union with God and each other in eternity. We owe to all our loved ones the kind of care that fully respects their dignity as persons, without insisting on every possible means for prolonging life even if it may impose serious risks and burdens on a dying patient. Within these basic guidelines, there is a great deal of room for making personal decisions we think are best for those we love.”

Because of this latitude, a living will is not recommended for Catholics. Legal documents of this kind cannot take into account specific, unpredictable circumstances that may occur. Instead, Catholic ethicists recommend drawing up an advance directive with a durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy. A trusted spokesman is appointed to make medical decisions that adhere to Church teaching.

Caregivers should do their best to get as much information as possible from doctors and consult any priests, ethicists, or theologians available—and then to give over care to the doctors, praying that God will guide their hearts and hands.

Terri Duhon found relief in submitting to the guidance of the Church when a sudden stroke caused her mother to choke. Several delays left her on a ventilator, with no brain activity. My husband and I couldn’t stand the thought of taking her off those machines. We wanted there to be a chance,” she says. But as the night wore on, she says, “We reached a point where it was an affront to her dignity to keep her on the machines.”

Duhon’s words can resonate with caregivers who make the choice either to extend life or to allow it to go: “I felt thankful that even though all of my emotion was against it, I had solid footing from the Church’s moral teaching. At least I wasn’t making the decision on my own.”

Adamkiewicz agrees. “It’s so terrifying and frustrating in a hospital,” she remembers. “I can’t imagine going through it without having our faith as our touchstone during those moments of fear.”

 *********

End of life resources

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services (from the USCCB)

Evangelium Vitae

Pope John Paul II, To the Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State, 20 March 2004 

NCBCenter.org provides samples of an advance directive with durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy.

This article was originally published in Catholic Digest in 2013.

What the Catholic Church teaches about care for the dying

“Death with dignity” laws are both sensible and compassionate; religious prohibitions of suicide are both emotional and cruel.

Too often, that’s how the narrative goes when we discuss end-of-life issues and the laws surrounding them. Secular folks claim that, when Catholics and others protest against legalized suicide and euthanasia, our arguments are based in emotion, passion, or even a sadistic appetite for pain and suffering.

On the contrary, the Catholic Church’s teachings are both consistent and compassionate.

In light of recent discussions of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and his views on assisted suicide and euthanasia, and in light of the story of a Dutch doctor who directed family members to hold down a struggling old woman so he could carry out her “assisted suicide,” I’m sharing again this article from 2013. The research I did for it corrected many of my own misconceptions about what it means to be pro-life at the end of life.

 

***

“Technology runs amok without ethics,” says Tammy Ruiz, a Catholic nurse who provides end-of-life care for newborns. “Making sure ethics keeps up with technology is one of the major focuses of my world.”

How do Catholics like Ruiz honor the life and dignity of patients, without playing God—either by giving too much care, or not enough?

Cathy Adamkiewicz had to find that balance when she signed the papers to remove her four-month-old daughter from life support. The child’s bodily systems were failing, and she would not have survived the heart transplant she needed. She had been sedated and on a respirator for most of her life. Off the machines, Adamkiewicz says, “She died peacefully in my husband’s arms. It was a joyful day.”

“To be pro-life,” Adamkiewicz explains, “does not mean you have to extend life forever, push it, or give every type of treatment.”

Many believe that the Church teaches we must prolong human life by any means available, but this is not so. According to the Catechism of the Catholic ChurchDiscontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment” (CCC, 2278).

Does this mean that the Church accepts euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide—that we may end a life to relieve suffering or because we think someone’s “quality of life” is too poor? No. The Catechism continues: “One does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted” (CCC, 2278).

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB, explains that caregivers must ask, “What good can this treatment do for this person I love? What harm can it do to him or her? This is what Catholic theology calls ‘weighing the benefits and burdens of a treatment.’ If the benefit outweighs the burden, in your judgment, you should request the treatment; otherwise, it would be seen as morally optional.”

Palliative care is also legitimate, even if it may hasten death—as long as the goal is to alleviate suffering.

But how are we to judge when the burdens outweigh the benefits?

Some decisions are black and white: We must not do anything, or fail to do anything, with the goal of bringing about or hastening death. “An act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator (CCC, 2277).

The dehydration death of Terry Schiavo in 2005 was murder, because Schiavo was not dying. Withdrawing food and water had the direct goal of killing her.

But if a man is dying of inoperable cancer and no longer wishes to eat or drink, or his body can no longer process nutrition, withdrawing food and water from him might be ethical and merciful. He is already moving toward death, and there is no reason to prolong his suffering.

Moral Obligations

Our moral obligations are not always obvious. Laura Malnight struggled with doubt and fear as she contemplated the future of her tiny newborn quadruplets. Two of them had pneumonia.

“It was horrible to watch them go through what they had to go through to live, being resuscitated over and over again,” Malnight says.

One baby was especially sick and had suffered brain damage. The doctors who had pushed her to do “selective reduction” while she was pregnant now urged her to stop trying to keep her son alive. “They said we were making a horrible mistake, and they painted a terrible picture of what his life would be like in an institution,” Malnight says.

Exhausted and overwhelmed, Malnight was not able to get a clear answer about the most ethical choice for her children.

Everyone told her, “The baby will declare himself,” signaling whether he’s meant to live or die. “But,” says Malnight, “my only experience with motherhood was with these babies, in their isolettes. The thing was, we would put our hands over our son and he would open his eyes, his breathing would calm.”

“We just kind of muddled through,” she says. Her quadruplets are now 13 years old, and her son, while blind and brain-damaged, is a delightful and irreplaceable child.

Doerflinger acknowledges Malnight’s struggle: “Often there is no one right or wrong answer, but just an answer you think is best for your loved one in this particular situation, taking into account that patient’s own perspective and his or her ability to tolerate the burdens of treatment.”

The key, says Cathy Adamkiewicz, is “not to put our human parameters on the purpose of a human life.”

When she got her infant daughter’s prognosis from the neurologist, she told him, “You look at her as a dying system. I see a human being. Her life has value, not because of how much she can offer, but there is value in her life.”

“Our value,” Cathy says, “is not in our doing, but in our being. Doerflinger agrees, and emphasizes that “every life is a gift. Particular treatments may be a burden; no one’s life should be dismissed as a burden.”

He says that human life is “a great good, worthy of respect. At the same time, it is not our ultimate good, which lies in our union with God and each other in eternity. We owe to all our loved ones the kind of care that fully respects their dignity as persons, without insisting on every possible means for prolonging life even if it may impose serious risks and burdens on a dying patient. Within these basic guidelines, there is a great deal of room for making personal decisions we think are best for those we love.”

Because of this latitude, a living will is not recommended for Catholics. Legal documents of this kind cannot take into account specific, unpredictable circumstances that may occur. Instead, Catholic ethicists recommend drawing up an advance directive with a durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy. A trusted spokesman is appointed to make medical decisions that adhere to Church teaching.

Caregivers should do their best to get as much information as possible from doctors and consult any priests, ethicists, or theologians available—and then to give over care to the doctors, praying that God will guide their hearts and hands.

Terri Duhon found relief in submitting to the guidance of the Church when a sudden stroke caused her mother to choke. Several delays left her on a ventilator, with no brain activity. My husband and I couldn’t stand the thought of taking her off those machines. We wanted there to be a chance,” she says. But as the night wore on, she says, “We reached a point where it was an affront to her dignity to keep her on the machines.”

Duhon’s words can resonate with caregivers who make the choice either to extend life or to allow it to go: “I felt thankful that even though all of my emotion was against it, I had solid footing from the Church’s moral teaching. At least I wasn’t making the decision on my own.”

Adamkiewicz agrees. “It’s so terrifying and frustrating in a hospital,” she remembers. “I can’t imagine going through it without having our faith as our touchstone during those moments of fear.”

 *********

End of life resources

 

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services (from the USCCB)

Evangelium Vitae

Pope John Paul II, To the Congress on Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State, 20 March 2004 

NCBCenter.org provides samples of an advance directive with durable power of attorney or healthcare proxy.

This article was originally published in Catholic Digest in 2013.

Doctor Who at the March for Life

Three of my kids are going to the March for Life! This will be the first time anyone from our family has been able to participate.

My kids are pretty great, of course, but I was bowled over when I saw the signs they made. Here is what they have so far (and they may be unfinished, I’m not sure):

mfl-900-years
SOLID POINT. This one was made by my son, Moe. On the other side, it says this:

mfl-prolife-feminist

My daughter Dora made this excellent suggestion:

mfl-eliminate-crisis

Who could argue with that?

And my daughter Clara came up with this, which is neither snappy nor concise, but it made me cry:

mfl-beautiful

*sniff*

I’m really proud of them. They’re going to spend a couple of days with a bunch of people they don’t know at all, they’re going to spend the night and part of another on a bus, and they’re going to be out in the cold all day, and probably get yelled at. Please pray for them and for everyone who participates — and for everyone who witnesses them, too, including any protestors.

Have you been to the March for Life? Are you going this year? Got any last minute suggestions for how to make the most of the day?  And tell me about your amazing signs!