Saturday, 19 June 2010

Christian compassion?

I confess: the football has been distracting me, although you might be forgiven for wondering how that can be. It seems that the majority of the teams have been frozen with fear of failure, to such an extent that I chose to watch the Vienna Midsummer Concert last night rather than the much-decried England/Algeria match. My feeling was that I was undoubtedly watching a higher level of skill than was on display in Cape Town. (I did flick over occasionally, and watched the end of the match.)

Life has been busy recently. We are seasonal creatures. We had a clerical week last week. Off to the globe-trotting Webbs on Wednesday in Abingdon for lunch, and heard about their recent trans-world travels; and then on Friday we were graced with a visit by the bishop of Yattendon and his dog, Borage. He is a particularly well behaved, if a little indulged - the dog that is. Tony is a very diligent and, I'm sure, well-loved vicar.

Talking of dogs, I was struck by what Dr Howard Martin is quoted as saying in today's Telegraph on line. He's the doctor who has been struck off the medical register for hastening the death of 18 of his patients. "A vet would put a dog down, but under the current system a doctor is not allowed to take positive action to help a patient in a humane way." It is noticeable how he chose his words. Why didn't he talk about doctors putting patients down? Even 'put down' is a euphemism for 'kill'. So let's rerun that sentence, Doctor: "A vet would kill a dog, but under the current system a doctor is not allowed to kill a patient." Thank goodness!

Doctor Martin, I suspect influenced by Dignity in Dying (the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society), does more than excuse himself on those grounds. He claims to be trying to contribute to a national debate  on end-of-life care, but that's little comfort for the family of at least one of the patients whose life he ended prematurely, Harry Gittins. His son spoke movingly of the day which began with his father getting the car out to go for a hospital appointment and ended with his death at home. The phrase that the media has seized on is 'Christian compassion' - which Doc Martin claims as his motive. I hope that in due course he reads I Choose Everything which devotes a chapter to the subject. Henri Nouwen said, "Let's not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But that is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or by finding a quick cure for it." Compassion is not pity. It's not saying, "I can't bear the pain of watching this anymore." It's simply suffering with others, standing alongside them in their pain and walking the road with them. It's not 'putting someone down', like a pet. The whole case vividly illustrated the danger of the whole euthanasia campaign, which sees killing or assisting suicide as a 'quick cure' for terminal illness. It becomes just another acceptable treatment available to the medical profession.

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