As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, we think about forgiveness and reconciliation, but we should always remember that Divine Mercy is about much more than just that; Jesus told St. Faustina that he demands three ways of exercising mercy: the first by deed, the second by word, and the third by prayer. The Divine Mercy movement does pay attention to all three aspects; as well as publishing, extensive material about Divine Mercy and actively encouraging widespread prayer, they undertake charitable work around the world under the theme of “Saving Lives and Souls”. This encompasses a wide range of activity including things from building a hospice in Vilnius to working with distressed children in Romania to feeding the poor in Ecuador.
At the same time, it is too easy to become so caught up with an act of apparent kindness, that it is considered as “mercy” without taking the wider context into consideration. It seems to me that the ‘Dying with Dignity’ Bill, currently being considered by the Irish Government, is one such example. Undoubtedly, the promoters of this Bill are inspired by genuine concern for people who may be struggling with pain or other discomfort at the end of their life, and they regard it as merciful kindness to offer such people the opportunity to end their suffering. We must remember, however, that not just as Christians but part of human society, we must care about people’s lives on a much wider basis than trying to deal with one aspect at the very end of a person’s life. That is not to minimise the suffering that some people go through at the end of their life, but we should not just focus on what looks like a simple solution without considering the wider picture.
The Irish Catholic Bishops’ submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice about the Dying with Dignity Bill makes that point. The bishops point out that the legal framework for making such submissions restricts them to only addressing specific issues with the way the bill is drafted, rather than engaging in a much wider discussion about the whole question of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. That is my own fear in regard to this bill, that by addressing just those technical issues, politicians may allow the bill to slip through without a wider debate and discussion. What particularly concerns me is that most of the momentum on this issue has been created by minority political parties from the comfort of their political offices. There is very little support from people actually working on the frontline – the wonderful nurses and doctors and others who provide so much understanding, comfort and help in very practical ways in palliative care for those coming to the end of their lives. They are the people who most understand what is involved here yet they seem to be the people who are least listened to.