What Question Have You Asked Lately? by Stephanie Gray

     Recently a friend gifted me a new book, and as I’ve poured over its pages I’ve found myself experiencing the fruits of a book well-written:

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  • I feel inspired and energized.
  • I share details of what I’ve read with others.
  • I act on what I read by contemplating its content, applying it to my life, and looking further into details it references.

     The book?  It’s written by Warren Berger and is called, “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.”

     One of its questions, which struck me as I read more yesterday, is particularly helpful when a person is at a crossroads, deciding one thing over another: “When I look back in five years, which of these options will make the better story?”

     How great is that?

     As I sat contemplating the various ideas swirling in my mind, one thought led to another, which led to another, and prompted me to text this to my sister: 

     “Reading a great book on the power of questions.  My wandering mind led me to the revelation that Monica [my sister’s eldest] will be going to university in 8 years.  Francis [my sister’s second oldest] is 8 years old and look how quickly that has passed.  Only 8 more years with Monica under your care.  What do you want those 8 years to look like?  No need to answer me.  I’m just sharing the concept of the book.”

     Or consider this question documentary filmmaker Roko Belic once asked,

     “Why is it that people who have so little and have suffered so much seem to be happier than other people who are more fortunate?”

     He sought the answer to that question and shared it with others in his inspiring documentary, “Happy.”  I never heard of the film until it was mentioned on page 191 of Berger’s book.  But I was so intrigued by the reference that I went home and asked my roommate a question: “Want to watch the documentary ‘Happy’ tonight?”  She said yes and we both were hugely inspired. 

     “Happy” was the second movie we watched as a result of this book.  The first film we watched a couple weeks prior.  It was a small reference on page 35.  The question this time was, “What if a car windshield could blink?”  Berger answered that question by telling about Bob Kearns, the inventor of intermittent windshield wipers.  His story was featured in a 2008 film called “Flash of Genius,” about how the Big Three car companies infringed on Kearns’ patent.  Watching that film caused my roommate and me to ask, “Did the real story really happen that way?  What happened to his family?  Does there come a point where prudence should compel us to stop fighting injustice?”  These questions, provoked as a result of the film (and the subsequent Google search we did at the end to learn more), led to a very thoughtful conversation about life.

     Berger’s book is great because not only does it ask the reader questions, it inspires the reader to ask their own questions.  These questions will lead us on a journey to answers that will enrich our life—if we are willing to step into the adventure of the unknown.  So what question will you ask yourself today?

Book Recommendations, by Stephanie Gray

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I love books.  And I have my Dad in particular to thank for instilling in me an appreciation for literature (and for helping grow my library of hundreds of books).  Since I’m sometimes asked for book recommendations, I decided to share a list of 10 in particular that stand out to me (although many, many more do):

     Created for Greatness: The Power of Magnanimity, by Alexandre Havard.  I heard about this book from a speaker, Mike Phelan, who presented before me at an event in Phoenix.  His endorsement of it was glowing, so I ordered it upon returning home.  Once I started it, I could hardly put it down.  It so energized and inspired me that I organized a book study of it which I held at my home one month later for several friends who became similarly inspired.

     Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown.  I am forever indebted to my friend Mark Harrington who sent me this book.  While it sat on my bookshelf for a year before I read it, it became the reason for me implementing multiple changes to my life.  I have since gifted it at least 8 times and have recommended it to many others.  I am on my third re-read of it.

     Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25 Year Journey from Prison to Peace, by Michael Morton.  This book left me speechless.  It’s the true story of a man unjustly imprisoned for murdering his wife—a crime he did not commit.  After more than two decades behind bars, his faith and forgiveness blew me away.

      The Holy Bible.  It’s our Creator’s word, so we should read it.  The Psalms in particular have put words to the prayers of my heart on many occasions.  And if you’re ever in a hotel room and wanting a Bible to read, just open the drawers as the Gideons have kindly provided copies in hotels around North America (and possibly the world?).

     Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza.  This woman’s account of the trauma of the Rwandan genocide, how she was hunted down, and how she survived is nothing short of incredible.

     Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl.  I read this book in 2006 in preparation for my trip to Poland where I visited Auschwitz.  For the past 11 years I have continually referenced the profound insights in this book for audiences around the world. 

     The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose, by Matthew Kelly.  This book was the impetus for me going to Romania to care for children, as well as the inspiration for me to create my famous “quote basket” that guests to my home are very familiar with (when you leave you place your hand in a basket of inspirational quotes I've collected and randomly pull one out to take with you).

     Searching for and Maintaining Peace, by Jacques Philippe.  Short and succinct, yet profoundly deep and powerful.  It’s the type of book you can read as a meditation.

     The Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Gowda.  This novel was a vacation read several years ago.  It’s about a girl adopted from India and raised in America, and it interweaves the story of her, her biological family, and her adopted family.  It moved me to tears.

    Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom.  This book came to me in a surprising way.  I had had an extensive debate with a hostile pro-abortion student on a university campus.  He eventually calmed down and became more pensive.  This encounter ultimately led to meeting him for coffee later that week to further discuss the subject, and we pledged to recommend a book to each other.  His recommendation to me was this book, and upon devouring it I was surprised—because if you ask me, it’s profoundly pro-life in how the main character, Morrie, lives with ALS.

Pregnancy and Slavery, by Stephanie Gray

After my presentation on abortion for the series "Talks at Google," I received an e-mail from someone who identified as pro-choice.  He wanted to outline his position on abortion and hear my thoughts.  What follows is my reply to him, as it provides a teaching tool for how to explain the pro-life position to someone who argues that when a woman does not wish to be pregnant, to force her to continue is like slavery.

     I am encouraged that you acknowledge that "a fetus is a human being with equal right to any other, and that killing it is immoral."  Given that, if you consider maintaining pregnancy/giving birth to be a type of slavery (if the pregnancy/birth are against the woman's will), then couldn't the same could be said about caring for a born child if doing so is against a woman's will?  In other words, if no one was able to care for a woman's infant for 6 weeks, would that give her grounds to refuse to feed the infant, to directly kill the infant, on the basis that she does not give permission to be "enslaved" to the infant?  Bear in mind that a born child is 100% dependent on another human to use their body (mind, arms, chest) to feed, burp, change, and shelter him or her.  Without total care from another human's body, the infant will die.

     Remember, I'm working with your admission that a fetus is just as human as an infant, and your admission that killing is immoral.  If dependency of one human on another is considered slavery, and it justifies deadly force to cease said relationship, then logically you would need to carry that over to born children.  Is that a position you're willing to take?

     Assuming you aren't willing to take that position, then I think what is reasonable to deduce is this:

     Whereas slavery involves one person treating another person as property, pre-born (and born) children are not doing this. In fact, the opposite of your position could be said: That embracing abortion is analogous to embracing slavery.  Whereas the latter (slavery) says of another human, "That's my property" (which isn't true), the former (abortion) says of another human, "That's my body" (which isn't true).

     Furthermore, slave owners are the strong party who dominate vulnerable people.  How can pre-born children be analogous to that when it's their parents who are the strong party and the pre-born who are the vulnerable one?

     You claim that "women...can consent to having sex without consenting to pregnancy."  Really?  Consider this:

     Is it reasonable to say a person can consent to playing baseball without consenting to the ball going through, and breaking, a neighbor's window?  Would it be reasonable to say to the neighbor, "I consented to playing the game but not to it causing property damage so I won't fix your window"?  Or, is it reasonable for a man to say he consented to having sex without consenting to paying child support?  Would it be reasonable to say to a judge, "I consented to having sex but not to creating the child my partner birthed so I won't provide ongoing financial support to the child"?

     In either example, the consequence of a window being broken or of a child needing support are just that--consequences, results, which flow from an action.  A person cannot "consent" to such consequences; they must merely accept them.  By engaging in actions (playing baseball, having sex) that have consequences tied to them, a person must accept what comes.  If that's true for the broken window or child support scenarios, it's also true for a pregnancy scenario.

      Moreover, with pregnancy and parenthood we are not speaking of a stranger-to-stranger relationship, but rather of a parent-to-child relationship.  Consider, for example, if someone is starving in your city: Will you be charged with neglect for not feeding them?  No.  While it would be nice of you to feed the poor, you do not have a legal duty to do so.  What if your child is starving in your home: Will you be charged with neglect for not feeding her?  Yes.  Why?  Parents have a responsibility to meet the basic needs of their children.  Requiring parents of born children to meet their childrens' basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, is the same as requiring a mother to meet her pre-born child's basic needs of food and shelter.

     You said, "I see pregnancy as an immoral imposition on the woman against her will imposed by biology/nature/god, like slavery."  Even if that's how you see it, the child is not the one responsible for this imposition.  Moreover, as pointed out previously, the "imposition" doesn't end at birth.  So if the imposition of "nature" is grounds to kill the innocent pre-born child, it's also grounds to kill the innocent born child, and that's a position civil societies just don't take. 

     Consider this statement from the UN's Declaration on the Rights of the Child: "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth."

      You said, "A common criticism of [the claim about a woman's right to choose is] if people have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies they have the right to wave a sword around wherever they want, so why is it immoral to cut people who happen to get in the way? You can’t do whatever you want in public space which is owned by everyone, however inside of your body isn’t public space. If someone invaded your home/body (knowingly or not) against your will, then you are fully in your rights to swing your sword even if it hits them, or at the very least evict them out post haste so you can go back to swinging your sword in peace."

      Actually, if you found a baby in your home you wouldn't be able to justify swinging your sword or leaving the child in the cold.  Yet here's how pregnancy is different even from that: The pre-born child has not invaded the mom's body. She is there by "invitation" of her parents.  Moreover, she is in the only place she should be in.  That point cannot be minimized: Where else should the pre-born be except for the mom's body?  The child in the womb is a sign something has gone right, rather than wrong.

      Moreover, who does the uterus primarily exist for?  A woman can live without her uterus; her offspring cannot.  In fact, every single month the uterus is getting ready for someone else's body.  While it exists in the mom's body it is a unique organ in that it exists more for one's offspring than for oneself; hence, the argument can be made that the pre-born child has a right to be there.

      You said, "If you were a slave and your owner tasked you with taking care of a child for nine months after which you would be free. Also considering the fact that if you refused the child would die, are you obligated to being a slave and taking care of the child or are you justified in escaping slavery even at the cost of the child’s life?"

     I would point out that because the baby is not an independent adult who can try to fend for herself, that I think the woman should care for the slave baby too.  Having said that, the scenario you've described is not like pregnancy.  Pregnancy is a parent-child relationship.  So let me make the right course of action clearer with a thought experiment that is more parallel to pregnancy [working with a concept from my friends over at Justice for All]:

     Imagine a woman gives birth but doesn't want to use her body to breastfeed her baby.  She has formula and bottles all ready to provide nourishment for the child that way.  But suddenly, she and her newborn are kidnapped and locked in a cabin in the woods. There is solid food for her to eat but no bottles or formula for the baby.  Would she be obligated to breastfeed her child or could she justify letting the baby starve because she didn't want to use her body to help her child?

     Clearly she still has a duty to meet the needs of her born child even when circumstances beyond her control prevent her from following her original plan.  The same is true for the pre-born who you acknowledged to be human and with equal rights.

A Birthday and Suicide, by Stephanie Gray

     Facebook reminded me that today is the birthday of a friend from my UBC days.  But there will be no party because he committed suicide several years ago.

     He didn’t choose to kill himself, though.  The demons in his mind drove him to such despair.  I remember when his mental illness first came out.  We were in second year university.  We lived in the same dorm—he on the fourth floor and me on the third.  Before the sudden change, we had been “partners in crime,” working together in the lab for the one science course I was forced to take thanks to the requirement that Arts majors have a science class.  I chose biology and found myself growing mosquitoes.  There was way too much larvae for my liking and I don’t think I would have survived that course if it wasn’t for his camaraderie.

     He was part of the group of my friends who would walk to Vancouver’s best beach of Spanish Banks and watch the most stunning sunsets while singing songs in harmony.  I remember he had an amazing voice.  As the sky went from blue to purples, pinks, yellows, and oranges, we would raise our voices with “How Great Thou Art” and other such hymns.

     Then one day he wasn’t around.  One day turned into several.  And then our circle of friends got word: he was in the hospital—on a mental health ward.  I remember the day I went to visit: it was gorgeously sunny and he sat by a window with earbuds in.  He had a peaceful smile on his face but he was not the same person.  When he saw me, he pulled them out and told me to place them in my ears.  “You have to listen to this song,” he said.

     And so I was introduced to Robin Mark’s Revival in Belfast song, “Jesus, All for Jesus.”  I fell in love with that song then and have listened to it many times in the two decades since.  It has been a source of inspiration for me in prayer as well as in preparation for giving presentations.  When I hear that song, I think of him. 

     When I think of him, I think of his love for Jesus; I think of his defence of pre-born children who he was a strong voice for on our campus; I think of his joy; I think of skipping along the street, speaking in fake accents, singing, and laughing.  Yes, he got sick with an illness that tormented him and led to a tragically short life.  But he also forever touched my life, and others', in a positive way.

     On this, what should have been your 37th birthday, my dear UBC buddy, may you be resting in peace, raising your voice in song with a chorus of angels.

Assisted Suicide in Select Cases? by Stephanie Gray

 

 

 

 

 

 

If suicide is wrong, why is assisting it right?

 

     Last week I gave a presentation to teenagers on the topic of assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Afterwards, a student had a question for me: She said she was against euthanasia in the vast majority of cases, but said that, for a minority of cases, if someone is at the end of his life and his last dying wish is to have assistance with suicide rather than continue “waiting” for life to naturally end, shouldn’t we give it to him?

     That question can be answered by asking a series of questions:

     *If we refuse to assist with some deaths, but not others, we are making a value judgment about peoples’ lives—whether we realize it or not.  In other words, we are making the call that some lives are worth preserving and some aren’t.  Who are we to decide that?

     *Moreover, who’s to determine which people would be close enough to death to get assistance with suicide?  Would natural death need to be hours, days, weeks, or months away?

     *Even if we could get consensus on how close to death a patient ought to be to qualify, what if the estimated time is wrong?  My friend’s father was told he had days left to live.  Three years later, he is alive and living back at home.

     *But, for the sake of argument, if we could get accuracy on proximity to natural death, and if the only assisted suicide cases allowed had to be within weeks of natural death, then what harm, in the grand scheme of things, is a few more weeks on earth—especially when compared to the harms of introducing killing as a solution to problems?

     *If the concern is that the person, in his final weeks, would suffer, then shouldn’t we provide palliative care which alleviates suffering instead of eliminates the sufferer?

     *If we argue that we ought to act on someone’s wishes just because he wishes it, we need to be reminded that we humans can have disordered desires.  A case in point is regarding those struggling with Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID).  Consider the story of Jewel Shuping, who had her psychologist put drain cleaner in her eyes because she wanted to be blind.  Intentionally maiming a healthy part of one’s body may be the desire for someone with BIID, but isn’t this proof that not all humans’ desires should be acted upon?

     *If we say it’s okay to assist with some suicides, then what if another person, because of this, asks for assistance with suicide out of guilt, out of thinking he’s a burden and that he should do what others before him have done?  He may even claim to want assisted suicide, but deep down he is asking for it out of duty, thinking he ought to because others have done so already.  Since death is permanent, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?  In other words, if we had to choose between a society that either a) deprives someone of death when he wants it, or b) gives someone death before he actually wants it, which should we pick?  The person being “deprived” of assisted suicide will still get death—just not at his own, personally-calculated time.  But the person being deprived of life will never get that living time back.

     *If we don’t think health care professionals should be involved in terminating guilty criminals’ lives, why do we think they should be involved in terminating innocent patients’ lives?  In 2016, the New York Times reported that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer “had imposed sweeping controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections.”  More than twenty other drug companies had done the same.  And the American Medical Association has also raised concerns, stating, “The AMA's policy is clear and unambiguous — requiring physicians to participate in executions violates their oath to protect lives and erodes public confidence in the medical profession.”  Couldn’t the same be said about health care workers’ involvement in assisted suicide?

     Finally, it is worth considering this insight from palliative care physician Dr. Margaret Cottle:

     In places where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are legal, there has been a rapid expansion and total absence of enforcement of the so-called ‘safeguards.’ Patients with mental illnesses, early stage eye disease and even ringing in the ears have been euthanized. Children and patients with dementia, neither of whom can provide meaningful ‘consent,’ have also been targets. In one study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2010, the physicians who reported that they caused the death of patients admitted anonymously that one in every three of those patients never gave explicit consent.

      A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2015 reviewed the most recent data in Belgium around hastened death. It showed that 4.6 percent of all deaths in Belgium were euthanasia deaths, while 1.7 percent of all deaths were euthanasia deaths without the explicit consent of the patient.

     While these percentages seem rather small, serious concerns emerge when compared to the mortality statistics in the U.S. There were 2,596,993 deaths in the U.S. in 2013, and 4.6 percent of that is almost 120,000 deaths. This would qualify physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., almost as many as the fifth leading cause of death, strokes, with about 129,000 deaths...

      Patients do not need hastened death; they need excellent care and a deep understanding of their difficult situations. They need all of us to be present with them in profound solidarity. They need the palliative care resources that the majority of patients and families do not have. It is a major human rights violation to be suggesting death as an “answer” to our society’s lack of commitment to care for our vulnerable citizens!

     Every physician knows it is frighteningly easy for patients to die – keeping them alive is the hard work, and caring for them respectfully and compassionately in the process is even tougher. It takes courage and hope to treat patients, especially when the outcome is far from certain.

     Agreeing with patients that their lives are not worth living and helping them die destroys the trust between patients and physicians, while also revealing a distinct lack of ingenuity in our treatments.

     Real compassion is shown by finding ways to be innovative in our approach instead of just following a set of guidelines, thereby reaching people in despair, both at the end of life and in other circumstances, and making it clear they matter to us, their lives are important and we will be with them in their troubles.

 

Image Source: Public Domain 

The Porn Myth in Under 6 Hours

This past weekend I spoke at a conference in El Paso alongside my friend Matt Fradd.  I was delighted when he gave me a copy of his new book, The Porn MythThe next day, between time in the United lounge, time at an altitude of 39,000 feet in the sky, and time back home, I finished reading his book—in under 6 hours.  And I can’t say it enough: Please buy this book.  Do not delay.  You can order it here.  Then, please share it.  If there is only one book you will read that makes the secular case against pornography, make it this one.  Why?  I think the best way to answer that is to share with you my list of the “Top 12 Best Quotes from Matt’s Book”:

 

1. “This book rests on one fundamental presupposition: if you want something to flourish, you need to use it in accordance with its nature.  Don’t plant tomatoes in a dark closet and water them with soda and expect to have vibrant tomato plants.  To do so would be to act contrary to the nature of tomatoes.  Similarly, don’t rip sex out of its obvious relational context, turn it into a commodity, and then expect individuals, families, and society to flourish.”

 

2. “Which activity sounds more ‘mature’ and grown-up: making love for a lifetime to one real flesh-and-blood woman whom you are eagerly serving and cherishing, despite all her faults and blemishes (and despite your own), or sneaking away at night to troll the Internet, flipping from image to image, from one thirty-second teaser to another, for hours on end, pleasuring yourself as you bond to pixels on a screen?”

 

3. “In a letter to a friend, Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis offered some insights about masturbation.  He said that a man’s sexual appetite is meant to lead him out of himself, to lead him into being a self-gift that both completes and corrects his personality—first by sharing whole-life oneness with a lover and second by procreating children.  With masturbation, however, the appetite is turned in on itself and ‘sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides’.”

 

4. “Whatever we might say about the exact relationship of porn to sexual violence, it should be clear that in order for men to violate a woman’s body, some part of them must first believe she is an object to be used rather than a person to be respected—and porn is quite possibly the most powerful means of delivering that belief.”

 

5. “Sex and porn addictions are realities, and just as with alcoholism or drug addiction, the label ‘addict’ does not excuse a person for his actions.  Addiction is slavery, to be sure, but it is a chosen slavery.  Addicts find freedom not by denying the power that porn has over them, not by denying that their addiction is real, but by admitting it to others and asking for help.

 

6. With the increasing availability of pornography has come an increase in the number of cases of sexual performance issues, such as erectile dysfunction (ED), among young men…A 2012 Swiss study found that 30 percent of males ages eighteen to twenty-four have some form of ED, and a Canadian study published a couple of years later reported that 27 percent of sixteen- to twenty-one-year-olds have this problem.”

 

7.Married life no more cures a porn addiction than winning the lottery cures a gambling addiction.  A person so trained on the pornographic experience isn’t merely after a good orgasm.  He is hooked on the anticipation of what comes next, the rush of moving from one object of desire to the next, one body to the next, always looking to trade the one in front of his eyes for what he hopes will be the ultimate sexual experience.…In gambling, the addiction is not to the money but to the high that results from chasing the money.  Giving a gambling addict money only fuels the habit, because he is addicted to the feeling that gambling gives him…Porn addicts are hooked on the high they get from chasing after sexual fantasies.  The unrealistic expectations that are fed by porn are what carry over into and destroy relationships, because no person can live up to the on-demand, anything-goes sex depicted in movies.  When faced with the inevitable difficulties of establishing and maintaining a human relationship, it is much easier for a porn addict to opt for the instant relief of virtual sex.  Marriage will not fix a pornography habit, but a pornography habit will likely destroy a marriage.”

 

8. “Izabella St. James, one of [Hugh Hefner’s] former girlfriends, lived with him in the [Playboy] mansion for two years and shares in explicit detail the day-in, day-out happenings of Hef’s lifestyle in her book, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors of the Playboy Mansion.  Her description of Hef’s orgies is telling.  The icon of sexual liberation needed Viagra, multiple women, and finally pornography in order to experience a sexual climax.  If a harem of real-life porn stars isn’t enough to satisfy a porn-imbued libido, what makes us think an average woman can compete?

 

9. “But what if the mechanics of arousal and pleasure are not the essence of better sex?  What if the Big O of sex is not orgasm, but oneness?  What if the best sex is about bonding and connecting to another person?”

 

10.To help our children to grow up in a pornified world, we must take the double-pronged strategy of both protecting their minds and preparing their character…A child who never suffers the consequences of his bad choices will soon learn that he can get away with anything.  A child who never learns to respect authority will soon come to believe that all rules and guidelines are nothing but arbitrary standards that can be discarded for any momentary pleasure.  Such a child is ripe for porn when he stumbles upon it.  This is why children should grow up in homes where there are clear rules and expectations.”

 

11. “One of the reasons many people find it difficult to break free from porn and remain free is that they confuse sexual desire with a craving for pornography.  Whatever protocols you put in place to distance yourself from pornography, remember: the goal is not the long-term squelching of sexual desire.  The goal is the healing of your sexual cravings so that you can pursue them in a manner that pushes you toward a healthy and satisfying marital relationship.”

 

12. “French novelist Virginie Despentes has reportedly said that consuming pornography does not lead to more sex; it leads to more porn…Porn promises freedom, but it enslaves us.  It promises excitement, but it ends up boring us.  It promises us ‘adult’ entertainment, yet it makes us increasingly juvenile.  It promises intimacy, but leads to isolation.  The good news is that freedom is possible and something so much better awaits us on the other side.”

Once again, you can order the book here.

An Encounter with Grace, by Stephanie Gray

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.” –Mother Teresa

     It was Lent three years ago when a 19-year-old old Canadian teenager set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—well, that’s how she described her plan to her friends.  But where she was going was not the traditional Holy Land of Israel where Christ once walked; instead, her Holy Land would take her to India where Christ still walked—in the suffering human souls she would serve.  “We all have the desire to help somebody, to do something good,” Grace, one of my recent audience members, said, “but for me it was more that I wanted to meet Christ and have an encounter with him and I knew that’s what Mother Teresa and her sisters found in the poor.”

The Face of Christ

     It was the most solemn day of the Christian calendar—Good Friday, the day where Christ-followers around the world remember the sacrifice of Jesus laying down His life on the cross.  For the volunteers at the Missionaries of Charity’s home for the dying, this is a day off to enter into prayer and reflection.  Grace, however, felt compelled to ask for a special exception: Since the sisters had to serve the sick that day anyway, could she help them as long as she did so slowly and in a spirit of prayer?  They said yes, providing an opportunity for Grace to enter deeply into the “Stations of the Cross” in a way more real than ever before. 

     When one reads of Christ’s torture, we see how some close to him betrayed and abandoned him.  But then there were the others—those like Simon of Cyrene and Mary His mother—who stood by His side and by their presence were a comfort.  This was the example Grace knew to follow.  At one point she found herself kneeling beside the bed of a dying man, slowly and patiently administrating hydration through a dropper; it was then where the words of Christ played over in her mind: “I thirst.”  As she was reminded of Christ dying on the cross with a crucifix on the wall, she knew she was also encountering Christ in the individual lying in the bed before her.  While incapable of eliminating suffering, she did what she could to alleviate it.

     These moments taught that loving glances, hand-holding, sitting with, and gentle patience can bring much peace to those who are suffering.  As Grace remarked, “Regardless of what life experiences a person has had before death, when they go through such great suffering it has a transformative power—when the person allows himself to be loved and cared for by others there’s such a deep and beautiful reflection of God’s love between the sufferer and the one who is suffering with.”

     Some people who arrived at Mother Teresa’s home were extremely sick and expected to die, but with good care they were restored to health.  Others, however, had their last breath—not on a dirty street ignored by passersby, but in a home surrounded by people caring for them.  Grace told me that the few deaths she saw were incredibly peaceful: “I think it’s because the patients knew they were loved.”

     She shared another story about a man who had a severe facial cancer and most of his face was distorted or missing as a result—his jaw was gone, even some of his neck, so that it was just his eyes, the bridge of his nose, and then the rest was bandaged off.  “I had the honor of being able to be with him the last half an hour before he died,” Grace shared (although she didn’t know at the time he was so close to death).  “I remember making eye contact with him across the room for the first time and then going to see him and greet him and that was the moment that bound my heart to Christ, and the dying, and the home for the dying.  She didn’t see the grotesqueness of what cancer had done to his face; instead, she told me that she peered deep into his eyes and was captivated by the beauty of his soul.

Dignity

     We prove that a sick, fragile human being has dignity by how we treat him.  Grace explained how this was upheld at the home for the dying: she and the others would help patients brush their teeth, assist men with shaving, and brush women’s hair.  The fact that the individuals were dying did not mean such basic grooming should be withheld.  Far from it, to do such simple acts was to stress the dignity of the person—to acknowledge that they were worth caring for regardless of their condition.

     I’ve therefore been mystified by the notion of euthanasia advocates that to be denied assisted suicide is to be denied a death with “dignity.” The not-so-subtle implication is that if one dies naturally, entirely dependent on others to feed him, change him, or wipe his drool, that he has somehow lost his dignity.

     A simple dictionary definition of dignity is this: “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.”  A sick person cannot lose her dignity because she is—in other words, by her existence she ought to be honored, respected, and cared for. 

     Consider that when something is valuable in and of itself we act differently around it—we treat it as its nature demands.  Consider an expensive, one-of-a-kind painting: a museum curator is going to make sure the valuable artwork is “handled with care.”  Or consider a sleeping newborn baby: parents will walk quietly and gently into the bedroom to check on the child, avoiding making startling noises.  When a painting is covered with dust or a baby soils her diaper we do not say these have lost their dignity—rather, we respond in such a way (by dusting the painting and changing the child) as to acknowledge the dignity that lies within.

     So ought our response be to those who are dying—not hastening death, not eliminating the person, but instead being present and caring for the individual with the gentleness and reverence that their dignity inspires.

The Gift of Presence

     When I think of Grace’s experience caring for the dying, I am reminded of a powerful reflection by author and blogger Ann Voskamp, who wrote about her friend Kara Tippetts story of dying from cancer.  Ann wrote,

All the faces of humanity carry the image of God.

What if deciding to end a human life is somehow the desecration of God’s image?

What if a human life is not only a gift of grace right till the end – but is a reflection of God’s face right till the end?

What if we are not at liberty to end or destroy human life, no matter how noble the motive, because all of life is impressed with the noble image of God? 

***

Kara taught us that:

In our efforts to terminate suffering — too often we can be forced to terminate the sufferer — when we were meant to liberate the aloneness of the sufferer, by choosing to participate in the sufferings — choosing to stand with the suffering, stay with the suffering, let the suffering be shaped into meaning that transcends the suffering.

 ***

 The word “suffer,” it comes from the Latin that literally means to ‘bear under’ — suffering is an act of surrender, to bear under that which is not under our control — but beyond our control.

That is why suffering is an affront to an autonomous society:

Suffering asks us to ultimately bear under that which is ultimately not under our control — which proves we are ultimately not the ones in control.

***

She chose to bear under the suffering — because she humbly chose to bear depending on others…. being a community, being a body, being human beings who belong to each other and will carry each other as much as humanly possible.

If suffering is about bearing under — suffering is a call for us all to be a community to stand together and carry the weight of bearing under — only to find that we are all being carried by a Greater Love.

Suffering is a call to come, to show up, to be there. Suffering can be a gift because it’s a call for presence; it’s a call for us to be present. 

      So whether it’s a young mom like Kara dying in Colorado, an old man dying in India, or a suffering soul right in the midst of our own backyard, each of us has the capacity to respond to our neighbor’s suffering as Grace did, with the gift of our presence.

Note: A beautiful book about achieving a good death in the face of suffering is The Measure of My Days.

Comfortable in His Skin, by Stephanie Gray

     It was an encounter science predicted would never happen.   As I sat sipping coffee, my interviewee, a 30-year-old teacher, enjoyed a Root Beer, masking the reality that he normally consumed nutrition by a feeding tube.  But I guess Root Beer isn’t really nutritious.  I suppose if you’re going to ingest it, you may as well let it serve its only purpose—to treat the taste buds.

     Moe Tapp was “supposed” to be dead 28 years ago.  But sometimes people defy the odds.  I learned about his condition two years before learning about him.  Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) is something I tell my audiences about when I speak on assisted suicide and suffering.  I tell the story of Jonathan Pitre, a 16-year old who lives with this excruciatingly painful condition, and talk about how killing people ought not be the solution when we need to kill pain.

     And then, one day recently, a person with EB showed up in my audience: Moe was grateful someone was telling others about “the worst disease you’ve never heard of,” as an EB research association describes it.

     When we subsequently met at an A&W in downtown Vancouver for him to tell me his story, I reacted the way most do when they encounter someone whose skin is as fragile as a butterfly’s wings, whose painful blisters cover a majority of his bandaged body: “Is it okay to hug you?” I cautiously asked.

     “Yes,” he said.  “Don’t worry.  If it would hurt me, trust me, I wouldn’t let you.”  He does, though, have a fear of falling and typically needs assistance walking down stairs to ensure he doesn’t fall—because he has, and there aren’t words to describe the searing pain of blistered skin slamming against hard floor.

     It has been said that “Two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different,” which demonstrates that “Perspective is everything.” That is certainly true when considering Moe’s story.

     One could focus on Moe’s bedtime routine: How he connects his feeding tube so liquid nutrients can be slowly dripped into him while he sleeps. 

     But better would be to focus on what Moe wakes up for: his employment at a high school where he works with students from grades 8-12 who have learning issues of all kinds, whether ADHD, dyslexia, autism, etc.  His own experience of suffering, and rising above it, gives him profound compassion.  He is fulfilled in being needed by his students, who are fulfilled by him connecting with them, by his belief in them and their ability to achieve.

     Moe could be frustrated by the stares and questions he gets about why he looks different, and whether or not he was burned in a fire or car crash.

     But instead he seizes the inquiries as opportunities to raise awareness about EB.  As Moe said, “We won’t find a cure if people don’t care, and people won’t care if people don’t know.”  Moe confidently initiates discussion of his condition every year with a new crop of students.  He encourages their inquisitiveness.  In doing so, he not only teaches them about his condition, he teaches them how to be accepting of one’s difference.

     One could focus on the brief period of anger Moe went through in his mid-twenties.  Blisters in his throat caused such severe pain he couldn’t eat at all by mouth.  He realized then that he would never be able to be spontaneous and just go travelling without doing weeks of research to make sure all he needed could be addressed in a new environment.

     But better would be to focus on the camp he went to in Minnesota where anyone in the world who has a skin disease gathered.  He first went as an attendee and then returned as a volunteer.  Knowing he was part of a broader community of people whose shared experience enabled them to readily empathize with each other gave him encouragement.  Attendees cheered each other on with this philosophy: “If you can do this, if you can overcome, so can I.” 

     One could spend time dwelling on the burden and pain of baths and dressing changes every 2-3 days that cost $1,000/month—and the infections and exhaustion that come along with living with EB.

     But better would be to reflect on how his Catholic faith has sustained him (and become more personal and real for him in adulthood), and how his family and friends have rallied around him and stood by his side.  Moe is a gamer.  He also loves watching wrestling (and dreams of being a commentator for pro-wrestling).  Old school Rock and Roll is his music genre of choice and reading is also on his list of enjoyable activities.

     Moe has never thought of suicide.  But on that topic, and its close relative euthanasia, he said he does understand why people would consider them due to pain—not that he supports them; in fact, he views both as wrong and would instead focus on pain relief and comfort.  He noted that he got swayed against euthanasia when he heard a compelling pro-life presentation; moreover, he realized that to say someone like him should be allowed assisted suicide, but others should not, is to make the judgment that his life is somehow less valuable than someone who is 100% capable.  He said if someone wanted to end their life he would ask why, then see what their life was like at home, at school, etc., and then work to make that person’s life better. 

     “There’s hope, always hope,” he declared.  “I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.  People will always be around you that care.”

     Of course, if such people are lacking, it would be better to introduce supportive people rather than eliminate a suffering person.  Moe himself has reached out to families whose babies are diagnosed with EB.  They first connect over the condition, but remain friends because of a familial bond that forms.

     At the beginning of the interview I asked Moe how he would describe himself.  “Good natured,” he said.   “[A] good dude, pretty chill.”  That definitely captures my observation of him; and when I think of that, plus the full and satisfying life he leads, even with—and perhaps because of—such a debilitating condition, I think about how, in a paradoxical way, Moe Tapp is comfortable in his skin.

Watch Moe's story here:

Watch a commercial about EB:

Why Pro-Lifers Should Publicize, Not Mourn, the Morgentaler Decision, by John Carpay

John carpay.jpg

Stephanie's Note: With tomorrow being the 29th anniversary of Canada's Morgentaler Decision on abortion, here is important insight by my friend, brilliant lawyer John Carpay: 

When the public misunderstands a court ruling, the consequences can be huge. For good or for evil.

For good

Back in 1772, the ruling in Somerset v. Stewart, to free one Black slave in England, was misinterpreted by the public as freeing all 15,000 slaves in England, even though the ruling was narrow and technical.

Somerset, a Black slave, was brought from Virginia to England in 1769, by his master, Charles Stewart. Two years later he escaped. He was then captured and put on a ship to be transported to Jamaica, there to be sold. Somerset’s Christian godparents applied to the court for Somerset’s release. The case attracted a great deal of attention in the press. Somerset’s lawyers argued that while colonial laws might permit slavery, neither the common law of England nor any law of Parliament recognized the existence of slavery, and slavery was therefore unlawful.

Stewart’s lawyers argued that property was paramount, and that it would be dangerous to free all Blacks in England. Members of the public donated monies to support the lawyers for both sides of the argument.

Guided in part by the maxim fiat justitia, ruat coelum (“Let justice be done though the heavens fall”), Lord Mansfield ruled that since England’s written laws did not clearly permit or establish slavery, Stewart had no legal right to force Somerset to go to Jamaica:

“…no master ever was allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted from his service, or for any other reason whatever.”

Lord Mansfield’s narrow and technical ruling merely stated that British slave owners in England could not force their slaves to be forcibly taken to the colonies. But this judgment was actually silent about the status of slaves in England.

However, Lord Mansfield’s judgment had a profound effect on slaves. Many of them misunderstood the ruling to mean that slaves were emancipated in Britain. Despite Lord Mansfield’s best efforts, the case was reported in the press, and internationally, as ending slavery in England.

After the ruling, numerous newspaper advertisements of the time show that Black slaves continued to be bought and sold in England. Nevertheless, this court ruling proved to be a boon for the anti-slavery movement. The perception of there being an “anti-slavery” court ruling, while inaccurate, helped turn public opinion against slavery. In 1807 Parliament abolished the slave trade, and by 1838 slavery in British colonies was also abolished.

For bad

In 21st Century Canada, there is much public confusion about the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in R. v. Morgentaler, rendered 29 years ago this January 28. In Morgentaler, five of seven Justices struck down section 251 of the Criminal Code, which allowed abortions only if approved by a Therapeutic Abortion Committee.

Abortion supporters – and many pro-life Christians too – have characterized the Morgentaler ruling as a Canadian version of Roe v. Wade, by which the U.S. Supreme Court did, in fact, create a constitutional right to abortion. For example, some student unions have claimed that pro-life speech should be banned at universities “because abortion is a constitutional right.” Leaving aside the fact that a free society allows its citizens to criticize and disagree with the constitution, this claim completely mischaracterizes the Morgentaler decision.

Justices Dickson and Lamer held that section 251 was arbitrary and unfair, and did not provide a clear exemption from the criminal law. Nowhere do they state that there is a constitutional right to abortion.

Justices Beetz and Estey recognized society’s interest in the protection of the unborn child, ruling that Parliament is justified in requiring a reliable, independent and medically sound opinion as to the “life or health” of the pregnant woman in order to protect the state interest in a fetus.

Justice Wilson held that protecting an unborn child is a “perfectly valid legislative objective,” especially during the latter stages of pregnancy, but not in the early stages of pregnancy.

Justices McIntyre and La Forest ruled that, “no right of abortion can be found in Canadian law, custom or tradition” or in “the language, structure or history of the constitutional text …or in the history, traditions or underlying philosophies of our society.” These two Justices also recognized the public interest in the protection of the unborn, and stated that courts must refrain from imposing or creating rights with no identifiable base in the Charter.

In short, the Supreme Court in Morgentaler recognized expressly that Parliament has the right to pass legislation to protect the unborn, with five of seven Justices striking down Section 251 as the wrong way to achieve that legitimate goal.

This muddled and incoherent decision was certainly not a victory for pro-lifers. However, with the Court inviting Parliament to draft different legislation, this ruling is certainly no victory for pro-choicers.

Conclusion

The false notion that R. v. Morgentaler established a constitutional right to abortion can have a very powerful and negative impact in shaping public policy. If the Canadian public perceives the Morgentaler ruling as a pro-choice victory, this will influence public opinion in favor of abortion being legal.

Those who want to see Parliament pass a law to protect the unborn should not mourn the Morgentaler decision as a victory for their pro-choice opponents. Doing so helps the pro-choice side.

Instead, pro-lifers should point out that in Morgentaler, the Supreme Court invited Parliament to pass legislation to protect the unborn.

Calgary lawyer John Carpay practices constitutional law.  Learn more by clicking here.

The Impact of Choices, by Stephanie Gray

Photo Credit: Nyx Sanguino, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zuly_Sanguino_is_an_environmental_lover.jpg

Photo Credit: Nyx Sanguino, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zuly_Sanguino_is_an_environmental_lover.jpg

     At a recent presentation I gave on euthanasia and assisted suicide, an audience member asked about how to respond to people who say that ultimately the debate is about “choice” and if someone wants to choose to end their own life, it’s their body and their choice; it doesn’t affect anyone else so we should allow assisted suicide.

     I’ve already written here about “our” lives and the responsibility we have toward being good stewards of these gifts.  Now I’d like to reflect on the concept of choice and whether any one person’s choice is really independent of, and without effect on, the other.

     In my first year English class at UBC we were assigned to read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.  His magnificent writing moved me deeply and so many of his statements became quotable quotes for me; in particular I was struck by these words:

     “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

     Choices we make, big or small, positive or negative—these have a permeating influence.  They don’t just affect us.  Like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water, they diffuse into the surrounding area and impact people who, upon being touched, make other choices that in turn affect others.

     Consider smoking.  Besides the obvious impact on others being second-hand smoke, if someone only ever smoked in isolation, the effects on his body because of smoking would still impact others: subsequent lung disease would create a use of the medical system, which would impact society.  If he died early as a result and never accomplished things he would have if he had remained healthy—that would impact society too.

     The interconnectedness of our choices to other peoples’ lives can be seen in a delightfully simple illustration: Several years ago in Newington, Connecticut, a customer at a coffee shop decided to pay the order of the patron behind him.  That led to a chain reaction so that the next one thousand customers paid for the order of the person behind them.

     How true it is that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

     Or consider Zuly Sanguino, a Colombian woman who has overcome profound suffering: She was born without arms and legs.  Her father committed suicide when she was two.  She was raped when she was seven.  She was bullied as a child and almost attempted suicide at 15.  Now, however, she is an artist and motivational speaker who lives an incredibly full and rewarding life. 

     She said, “It gives me so much happiness to know I'm helping people. One boy was about to take his own life with a gun when he saw a TV show I was on. He realized he had to be brave and decided not to take his life. He wrote to me and we're now really good friends. I get letters from lots of people who say I've helped them through difficult situations.”

     How many peoples’ lives are better because of Zuly’s witness?  Correspondingly, had she committed suicide (on her own or with assistance) how many peoples’ lives would be worse (and even over) because of her absence from this world? 

     How true it is: We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

     Our choices impact people for better—or for worse.  Consider the story of Will, a young man who was killed via the death penalty.  His lawyer, David Dow, recounts Will’s story in a TED Talk: Will’s dad left his mom while she was pregnant with Will.  Will’s mom, afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill Will with a butcher knife when he was 5 years old.  Will was taken into the care of his brother until that brother committed suicide.  By age 9, Will was living on his own.  He eventually joined a gang and committed murder.

     The choices of Will’s father, mother, and brother undoubtedly impacted Will.  There is simply no denying that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

     So the next time someone supports euthanasia or assisted suicide because such a choice “only affects the people who want to die” we can use the above stories as analogies to show that that simply isn’t true.  Involving medical professionals in Person A’s assisted suicide means Person B may no longer trust her health care provider to properly care for her life.  Person A’s assisted suicide will impact the disposition of the individual who supplies the life-ending drugs or injects the deadly poison because you cannot kill another human being without that leaving a mark on your mind, your emotions, and your interactions with others.  Person A’s legally endorsed assisted suicide will create a climate where Person B asks for assisted suicide too—not because she truly wants it, but because she feels guilted into it by a culture that embraces it and makes her feel like a useless burden.  Person A’s assisted suicide will influence others to respond to their own suffering and obstacles by giving up instead of turning them into opportunities (as Zuly did).  How do I know this?  Because as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has said, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”