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.”

A Resolution for the New Year: In the Face of Suffering, Unleash Love, by Stephanie Gray

     I was speaking with a woman recently who asked me, “Do humans always have value? When do they lose their dignity?”  I told her I believed our human value is inherent to our being, so that our value cannot be lost or lessened“But,” she interjected, “What about the dementia patient who sits by herself all day?”

     I acknowledged that that is a problem; however, I pointed out that the solution is not to say she has lost her value or dignity, but rather for people like you and me to affirm her value and dignity: to slow down our busy lives and, to borrow a phrase from the Canadian Down Syndrome Society, to “Celebrate Being” with such an individual.  We could visit that lonely person, I said.  We could hold her hand.  Humans are made for relationship—for connection.  We could foster that.  We could listen to music with her.  We could sing to, and even with, her.  I talked about the proven effectiveness of music therapy.

     The woman, ever the “Negative Nelly,” asked me to think about all the dementia patients in a hospital ward and how it would be impossible to have individualized music styles for each person.

     I find it fascinating how, when some people see the largeness of a problem they so easily reject any solution.  Maybe we can’t help everyone, but how is that an excuse not to help someone?  We would do well to remember a paraphrase of the words of Edward Everett Hale: “I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

     With that in mind, on the last day of 2016, I spoke about euthanasia to over 100 university students in a workshop at the CCO Rise Up Conference.  After equipping the students about what to say regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide, I ended with what they could do about it.  I told them that if the law is followed then no one should be euthanized who does not ask for it.  So our job is to make sure no one asks for it.  And we do that by intentionally spending time with the sick and lonely.  I left the students with a 2017 New Year’s Resolution that I’d like to challenge all readers to do:

     Make a commitment to visit a sick, disabled, elderly, and/or lonely person one day/week in one of these ways:

      1)      In your own family, or neighborhood, regularly visit a lonely person.

     2)      Contact your church and ask if there is a member of the church who is a shut-in and who would benefit from a visitor.

     3)      Sign up at a local hospital or elderly care home to volunteer by visiting patients.

     Are there more people than you alone can help?  Yes.  Does each individual person ideally need more time than you can give?  Yes.  But remember this: doing something is better than doing nothing.  Starting is better than staying still.  As Anne Frank once said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

     Will this work?  Consider these stories:

     My friend Kathleen LeBlanc shared this experience she had a few months ago: “Every Friday morning, I've been spending an hour playing Scrabble with a lovely 93 year old lady at a local care home. It's my simple way of helping the elderly find joy in their daily life. I'm always praying for opportunities to talk to her about God, or to simply show her that she is loved. Today, that opportunity came in full force.

     “After our game, she outright asked me, ‘What do you think of doctor-assisted suicide?’ and pointed to an article from the paper on the topic. I told her that I felt it was very sad that anyone should feel the need to take their life, and it's our failure as a society when anyone is left feeling this way. After some time discussing this, she expressed to me that she can sympathize with people who don't feel they have a reason to live in their suffering, as she too, often wonders why God still has her ‘stuck in this wheelchair.’

     “With tears in my eyes, I was able to tell her what a joy she is to me, and that I look forward to visiting her every week. She teared up as well, shock in her eyes, and said, ‘Really? Is that true?’ I nodded, unable to get more words out. ‘Well then, perhaps there is reason enough for me to be here.’

     Or take another friend of mine, a nursing student.  She saw on a patient’s chart that the patient had made an inquiry about euthanasia.  My friend intentionally visited that patient more than others.  She never discussed euthanasia, but she did spend time getting to know the woman.  She became interested in her life; she connected over common interests and common backgrounds; she smiled and was joyful; she engaged the patient in conversation.  In short, she poured love out on her.  A few weeks later when my friend checked the patient’s record, there was a note indicating the patient was no longer interested in euthanasia.

     So please, make 2017 different.  Make it better.  To borrow a concept from St. John Paul II, resolve to respond to someone’s suffering by unleashing your love.

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Bringing Beauty to Berkeley, by Stephanie Gray

The Heldt Family, minus their latest bundle of joy.

The Heldt Family, minus their latest bundle of joy.

     On November 21 of this year, I returned to the University of California, Berkeley, to explain the pro-life view to one hundred students who signed up for the course, “Public Health 198.”  I would be presenting after their course’s sponsor teacher, Dr. Malcolm Potts (abortionist and first medical director of International Planned Parenthood Federation) gave his talk on why he believes abortion is right.

     Having spoken to hundreds of his students the year prior, I listened to last year’s recording.  And when I heard myself, I felt I had relied too much on the intellectual case and not enough on stories that reach the heart.  So I began to pray about how I could better package the message this year.  Kneeling in one of my favorite chapels in Vancouver, I prayed for inspiration, and sensed that my message should focus primarily on beauty.

     Without my notebook, I grabbed the next best thing—notepad on my phone, and began to type ideas.  I saw that on that same notepad entry, a couple weeks before while speaking in Guatemala, I had typed a note when I heard another speaker, Clay Olsen; he said, “Make it cool first and inform them second.”  That’s what I would do—share stories of beauty, of those who authentically live the pro-life message to show it is possible to do so, and only then segue into pro-life apologetics.

     A beautiful family I met several years ago while in Denver came to mind—Brianna Heldt and her husband Kevin (whose story I share below).  I jotted that idea down.  I wrote, “They need Jesus”—which was a deep conviction I had while speaking to the students a year ago as I sensed a very broken and hostile crowd.  I further typed, “Give them Jesus in the faces of the Heldts, Ryan, Lianna.” 

     In my 14-plus years of travelling the world, I have met the most incredible pro-life people whose inspiring life choices would move you to tears.  Having interacted with many hostile abortion supporters I have come to see that my experiences and theirs are very different.  They have not met the people I’ve met, not seen the things I’ve seen, not experienced the love I’ve experienced.  It is love and beauty that is at the heart of the pro-life message and this time at Berkeley I would introduce them to this other world.

     After my opening, I addressed the “tough cases” people often raise to justify abortion.  I began with poor prenatal diagnosis and poured out the beauty: I told my story of meeting limbless inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic back in 2010, and spending time with him along with a then-2-year-old girl, Brooke, who was born without arms.  I talked about how Nick had contemplated suicide when he was younger, but he eventually realized that instead of focusing on what his disability prevented him from doing, he could focus on what it enabled him to do.  As this documentary shows, Nick lives a full and satisfying life, inspiring and motivating people all around the world.  I then told them about Brooke: her parents were offered an abortion when a routine ultrasound showed she had no arms.  But they rejected that, got connected to Nick, and now Brooke has also learned how to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.  Abortion doesn’t have to be the answer; we can choose a better way.

     Nick and Brooke’s lived experiences are really about perspective—that we can choose our response to situations we haven’t chosen. So I then shared the story of photographer Rick Guidotti who devotes his time and talent to use “photography, film and narrative to transform public perceptions of people living with genetic, physical, intellectual and behavioral differences.”   I played a clip from this documentary featuring him, to illustrate a better response than abortion to poor prenatal diagnosis.

     Then I addressed the hard case of rape.  Besides playing the trailer of the powerful documentary “Conceived in Rape,” I told the story of my new friend Lianna, a fellow speaker I met in Guatemala.  I told the students that Lianna was raped at the age of 12 and became pregnant.  I read this portion of an interview with her:

    “Lianna asked the doctor if abortion would help her forget the rape and ease her pain and suffering. When he replied ‘No,’ she realized that ending the baby’s life would not really benefit anybody.

     “‘If abortion wasn’t going to heal anything, I didn’t see the point,’ she said.

     “‘I just knew that I had somebody inside my body. I never thought about who her biological father was. She was my kid. She was inside of me. Just knowing that she needed me, and I needed her…it made me want to work, to get a job [to support her],’ she said.

     “Rape caused Lianna’s life to become a living hell. No matter how many times she showered, she could not rid herself of feeling dirty. The idea of suicide seemed to offer the young girl instant release from so much misery, but she began to realize that she had to think not only about herself, but about the future of this little life that was blossoming within her body.”

     I further told the students that Lianna says, “I saved my daughter’s life and she saved mine.”

     But what if someone feels they can’t parent their child like Lianna did?  That brings me back to Brianna and Kevin, the couple I met in Denver a few years ago.  I infrequently speak about adoption, and decided to emphasize it in my talk at Berkeley.  When the Heldt’s first child was only one year old, they adopted two children.  They have since adopted two more children, both of whom have down syndrome and serious heart conditions, along with having 7 more biological kids (but tragically losing 3 of them to miscarriage).  Brianna wrote, which I quoted for the students,

     “When we adopted my sons, we went from being a family of three to a family of five.  As one would expect, we got lot of ‘Why are you doing that?’ and, when I became pregnant four months after my sons joined our family (taking us to a family of six), a lot of ‘Was this an accident?’  And when I answered no, a lot of dumbfounded looks.  What struck me most back then (and still does today) is that people were incredulous not so much because of the number of children we had, but simply because we were saying yes.  Being open.  Allowing love to grow and exponentially multiply, which it always does when a family is graced with new life. 

     “Those early years of our marriage with four itty-bitty children were outright hilarious, but they were beautiful too.  If I could go back for a time, I would.  A three-year-old sister sneaking cookies from the pantry to distribute to two-year-old brothers.  Sloppy kisses and chubby hands welcoming a new baby sister.  Exhausted parents collapsing onto the couch at the day’s end, laughing at how ridiculously amusing our life was. 

     “But there was love.  Always.”

     I told the students that “suffering unleashes love” (one of my favourite quotes from St. John Paul II), and that while Dr. Potts is saying that the suffering in the world should unleash violence (i.e., abortion), I would like to propose—not impose, but propose (to borrow the phrase of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus who I discovered was simply borrowing more great words from St. John Paul II)—that suffering unleash love.  I would like to propose that we follow in the footsteps of people who prove this is possible, people like the Heldt’s, Lianna, Nick, Brooke and her family, and Rick Guidotti.

     There is much more that 50 minutes plus Q & A allowed me to share (that a brief blog post does not), but suffice it to say I sought to heed the words of Dostoevsky: “beauty will save the world.”

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P.S., The good news?  One of the course organizers e-mailed me, “Based on our evals (we run a short iClicker evaluation) students overwhelmingly enjoyed your presentation. Since we didn’t have discussion sections due to the holiday, we weren’t able to get a full idea of their feedback, but students were happy to talk to us after and were very receptive to your message.”

Finding Meaning in Suffering, by Stephanie Gray

Image Source: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely, Viktor-Frankl-Archiv, Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Prof. Dr. Franz Vesely, Viktor-Frankl-Archiv, Wikimedia Commons

     When acceptance of assisted suicide was written into Canadian law earlier this year, one of the criteria for it became this: that the person “have a grievous and irremediable medical condition” which is defined, in part, as an “illness, disease or disability or …state of decline [that] causes them enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to them and that cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.

     Everyone suffers at some point or another, but most do not select suicide.   So to suffer so much that one chooses death over life is to suffer to the point of despair.  Rather than assisting with a despairing person’s suicide, we ought to instead consider the insight of psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl.  In this interview he talks about the following mathematical equation his observations and lived experiences caused him to create:

     D = S – M  

     He explains it as follows: Despair equals Suffering without Meaning.  Some people get cancer.  Others get hurt in car accidents.  These are very real cases of suffering—not to be minimized.  But whether someone despairs in light of these experiences is in direct proportion to whether they find meaning in the situation or not.

     Dr. Frankl cites a teenager in Texas who became a quadriplegic—undoubtedly, an experience of suffering.  And yet she did not despair as others in her situation have.  What set this young woman apart was not her experience of suffering but her response to it: She spent her days reading newspapers and watching the news for an important purpose—whenever there was a story about someone experiencing difficult and challenging times, she would ask that a stick be placed in her mouth so she could use it to press keys to type out letters of encouragement, consolation, and hope to the people she read about.  Dr. Frankl said, “She’s full of confidence.  She has a strong sense of abundant meaning in her life.”  She turned her experience of suffering into a springboard to reach out to others; it enabled her to have empathy and share hope.  In short, she found meaning.

     Or take another person with quadriplegia, a young man who became paralyzed at 17 years old.  Dr. Frankl received a letter from him: “I broke my neck but it did not break me.  I am at present helpless and this handicap will remain with myself apparently forever.”  Why, like the aforementioned young woman, did this man not despair?  Because he found meaning in his situation: “I want to become a psychologist to help others,” he said in explaining his decision to pursue post-secondary education. “And I’m sure that my suffering will add an essential contribution to my ability to understand others and to help other people.” 

     When speaking of individuals like the two mentioned, Dr. Frankl noted, “They can mold their predicament into an accomplishment on the human level; they can turn their tragedies into a personal triumph.  But they must know for what—what should I do with it?”

     The brilliance of this philosophy is that it empowers everyone.  While we cannot necessarily escape suffering, we can escape despair, and we can escape it in direct proportion to the meaning we allow ourselves to find in a situation.  In other words, when circumstances prevent us from eliminating suffering, perspective allows us to add meaning, and that, in turn, helps alleviate the suffering itself.

     This can happen in profound ways.  Dr. Frankl told a story about a man who was electrocuted and all four of his limbs had to be amputated.  That patient wrote, “Before this terrible accident I was bored, always bored, and always drunk.  And since my accident I know what it means to be happy.”

     This is proof that happiness is not determined by physical wellbeing but by an attitude of the mind.  So if someone is struggling in this area and requests assisted suicide, it’s our job—not to facilitate their despair—but to facilitate their search for meaning.

     If a Holocaust survivor, amputee, and quadriplegics can do this, why can’t we all?

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The Circle of Life, by Stephanie Gray

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     As my family gathered to celebrate my mom’s 75th birthday, I sat at the table cuddling the latest addition to our family: my 3-month old nephew.  As I cradled Carl, my mind wandered, prompted by the increasing temperature of the blanket on my lap that swaddled his body: “Did he pee through his diaper?” I wondered, “Or is that just warmth from body heat?”  Thankfully it was the latter, but it caused my mind to reflect on the total dependency of Carl on other people.  And then my mind wandered to the elderly, some of whom are just as dependent on others as babies are.  And with society’s increasing acceptance of euthanasia, a topic of late that I have been giving presentations about, a thought came to mind:

     “What if the world treated Carl like it sometimes treats the elderly?”

     Would we leave him in his crib alone all day, turn the TV on for distraction but otherwise have minimal interaction with him?  Would we scurry about to do lots of things but never take time to simply be with him? Would we possibly consider ending his life because, “What’s the point anyways?  He can’t do much.”

     Now some might say that Carl, as opposed to an individual at the end of her life, will one day be a “contributing” member to society, and his is a life we shouldn’t end.  In other words, we would preserve Carl’s life for what might be, but we would end a dying person’s life for what is no more.  But what if Carl never matured enough to do what most adults do?  What if he only lived for the next 6 months—knowing that, would we kill him now or would we savor and celebrate the little time we have left?

     And so, as I thought further, it occurred to me that our world would be a better place if we asked a different question: “What if we treated the elderly the way we treat Carl?”

     If that were the case, we would sing and play music.  We would smile, laugh, and engage.  We would soothe during seasons of sadness.  We would hug.  We would look at the other and simply delight in them.

     As I have watched my four other nieces and nephews interact with their littlest brother, I’ve noticed something: When vulnerable, needy people are in our midst, it can bring out the softer, gentler, more caring sides of us.

     I think about my 7-year-old strong-willed nephew who demonstrates such reverence for his little brother, delighting in holding him and sweetly kissing his cheeks.  I think about my 5-year-old nephew, a very sensitive child, who held his crying baby brother and repeatedly said “shh-shh-shh” until he had shh-ed him to sleep just like he observed his mom has done.

     I think of my 3-year-old niece who loves to sing, dance, and be loud but who, when I arrived one day, crawled out from under the kitchen table and said “Boo” in the quietest of whispers because Carl was nearby sleeping.  I think of my 9-year-old niece who’s like a second mother, carrying her baby brother around like a doll and who is so good at comforting him.

     Far from being a burden, the presence of Carl draws virtue out of us.  His need becomes an opportunity for our kindness.  The same is true of the elderly—if we let that be the case.

     A couple years ago my sister texted me a story from her evening: She was trying to put her then-youngest baby, my niece Cecilia, to sleep and promised her oldest daughter, Monica, that she would come to her room later and read to her.  But it took so long to put Cecilia down that by the time she got to Monica’s room my eldest niece had fallen asleep—with the unread book in hand.  My sister texted me a photo explaining what happened with the caption, “MOM GUILT!”  So I texted back, “You’ve given Monica something better than a bedtime story—you’ve given her a sister.”   She excitedly responded, “RIGHT! Perspective! Perspective! It’s all about perspective!”

     I realize not everyone can give their child a sibling, but everyone can give their child, and themselves, encounters with those who are needy and vulnerable, be it the elderly or someone else.  Perspective teaches that far from such encounters being burdensome, they can become moments to make life richer by being opportunities to enter into the human experience of love.

Live Every Stage Fully, by Dr. Julia Bright

As I wrote about here, in the Spring I had the great joy of giving a talk alongside my best friend from childhood, Dr. Julia Bright. We re-joined forces to share a stage again this Fall, this time speaking on euthanasia to an assembly of hundreds of high school students.  Once again, I was impressed with Julia's message and decided to share it here in its entirety, below.  As for what I shared, it was a shortened version of the presentation in the Youtube video above.  May these help you help others.

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Julia's Speech:

     Thank you for the opportunity to speak today about physician assisted suicide, or “medical aid in dying”. Since this is now legal in Canada, it is a reality that we need to know about.  As was mentioned in the introduction, I am a family doctor.  I’ve been working for 9 years in my office, the hospital, the hospice, and nursing homes.  So I’m speaking to you today from the perspective of someone who works everyday with the sick and dying.  But I also speak from the perspective of a person who faces her own mortality when thinking about these issues.  And as a person of faith, who believes that our ultimate home is in heaven.

     I find I am drawn to sick people.  I feel comfortable in hospitals.  That may seem strange, but it is because I see opportunities there to show my concern in practical ways.  I spend much of my time trying to prevent disease and cure disease, but I recognize that eventually, our health always fails.

     When I hear people speaking in support of physician assisted suicide, I sense an underlying lie being spread-that the time just before we die when we are suffering physically and emotionally is not important.  That we’d be better off avoiding it.  Or that we should be able to control how much of that time we have.  But I have seen that this is untrue.  Sick people can be happy.  Dying people can acknowledge their death and still feel peaceful.  My job is to try and help people with medicine and support so they are free to find that place of peace.  As a Catholic, I know that the times when we suffer are sacred-because Jesus suffered.  He brings meaning to our suffering.  And He teaches us how to lessen it for others.

     Why is this lie being spread, that says we should avoid suffering and ask our doctor to end our lives?  I think it is because people have suffered without relief and their families have watched and felt helpless. But I don’t believe the solution is to kill those who suffer.  The solution is to provide palliative care.  This is a particular approach to medical care that involves focusing on comfort and relieving symptoms like pain or nausea, as well as providing emotional and spiritual support. 

     I think it is possible for people to have a “good” death.  I think of my patients who come to the hospice when it is clear that their cancer is not going to be cured.  They may choose not to have further treatment, based on the side effects.  [This is an important point.  Patients can still refuse interventions that seem too burdensome, even if they don’t believe in physician assisted suicide.]  Once at the hospice, they have their own room.  They are surrounded by their families until the end.  They can accept what is happening and face it with peace, even though it is always sad to say goodbye.  Nurses are present to try to ease their pain and take care of their needs.  I think of the time they have talking to their loved ones.  When you know that your time is limited, each conversation is more meaningful.  Each moment together matters.  Families will not forget those moments.

     Palliative care is not easy-it requires people to be creative.  Like helping people redefine their goals.  Sometimes if a parent has a terminal illness, this means helping them write letters to their children to be opened at specific times-like high school graduation.  Even though the parent longs to be there in person, they can still be present through a meaningful letter.  Palliative care takes flexibility-like nurses coming into a patient’s home to give medication.  Or setting up a mini hospital room on the main floor of a patient’s house if the bedroom is too hard to get to.  Mostly, it takes compassion-a willingness for everyone involved to “suffer with” the patient.  It isn’t easy to visit patients in the hospice-there’s a lot of emotion in the room.  But taking that on for a few minutes with them is such an important part of palliative care-at least as important as giving medication.

     I have several fears about physician assisted suicide becoming accepted into our society.  Firstly, I worry about vulnerable patients feeling pressured to hasten their death. What if your family lives far away or there is not enough money and the option of physician assisted suicide is seen as the responsible thing to do? Their request for death wouldn’t be based on a true desire for it, but rather on the guilt they feel because of their circumstances.  Or what if a patient finds out they have early dementia and makes a decision to choose death instead of finding out how they feel as time progresses?  They may assume they'll want something in the future that they can't really know until they are facing it in the present moment.

     I fear how families will cope when they find out their loved one is choosing suicide.  The choices we make when we’re dying have a significant impact on our families.

     I fear what it will do to palliative care.  What is the incentive to develop advances in care for the dying if we don’t cherish that time of people’s lives? 

     I am concerned about what it will mean for the culture of health care.  I’ll give you a common scenario in my work right now to explain this.  Let’s say I get called to a nursing home to see a patient who is 95.  She has multiple health problems and is starting to lose her memory because of dementia.  She needs a wheelchair to get around.  It’s getting harder to look after her-she gets confused, tries to get out of her chair, and then falls.  The nurses spend much of their time trying to redirect her to keep her safe.  I get called to see her because she has a bad cough.  I drive to the care home and ask the nurses what’s been happening.   We’re all thinking about how we can best care for her and what treatment for her cough will get her through it and keep her comfortable.  I sit with my patient for a few minutes and see if anything has changed from when I last saw her.  I don’t think she really remembers who I am.  I listen to her breathing.  I think she needs antibiotics again.  She keeps getting pneumonia.  Maybe because she can’t swallow very well anymore and is choking a lot.  I order the medication and call her daughter to let her know.  I ask the nurses to call me if she isn’t getting better.  Her cough improves for the time being and she wanders less now that she is feeling better.

     Compare that to what my mindset could be in 20 years if I get used to physician assisted suicide.  I’ve dulled my conscience and given in to patients who request to hasten their death.  I’ve become indifferent-what the patient wants, the patient should have access to-I merely deliver that service.  I get the same call to the nursing home.  My patient made it clear before she got dementia that she did not want physician assisted suicide.  It’s getting harder to look after her.  I’m having a busy day when they call me about her cough.  There’s lots of younger people to see at the office first.  As I drive to the nursing home, I can’t help thinking-why is she still here?  What is the point of all this?  I have to suppress the thought—wouldn’t it be easier if she were like my other patients who chose death earlier on?  How might that attitude affect the care I give her?  What if she sensed what I was thinking?  Is this why I became a doctor?

     It seems scary.  But I really believe there is hope.  Creative and dedicated people are working on improving palliative care.  And most doctors are listening to their consciences and upholding their commitment to help people live.  God is still present to the suffering who call on Him. 

     I would like to challenge each of you today to think about how you can be defenders of life.  One of the most important things that sick people need is companionship.  People fear abandonment even more than pain.  So if you know someone who is unwell or in a hospital or nursing home-visit them.  Get to know them.  If you feel awkward or don’t know what to say, just be present.  Think about when you were a kid and your mom or dad sat by when you were sick-something about them being there was comforting.  Pray for the people you visit.  Read to them or listen to music with them.  I think of the character in the book Still Alice who loves ice cream.  Even as her memory fails because of dementia, she continues to enjoy the experience of eating an ice cream cone.  Find out what people enjoy and make it possible. 

     When you’re thinking about your future career, consider how you can help improve the lives of sick, disabled, or vulnerable people.  This could mean working directly in health care, but the possibilities are broader than that-think of interior designers who make nursing homes more beautiful, or chefs who prepare meals for patients in a hospice, or engineers who design new equipment to keep people mobile, or administrators who organize volunteers to visit the elderly.

      Finally, don’t give in to the notion that our time is only worthwhile when we are young, healthy, productive, and independent.  Look for meaning in the things that last-family, faith, goodness, and the simple pleasures in life.  Don’t be afraid to discover how to live every stage of your life fully.  We are each precious to God and He will give us the inner peace that we seek along the journey.

Beauty from Ashes, by Stephanie Gray

     “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller

     Two and a half years ago, back when I lived in Brampton, Ontario, I watched my then-parish burn to the ground.  Having since moved home to Vancouver, the last time I “saw” St. Elias it was ashes scattered upon sacred ground.  But last week, 31 months later, I visited Ontario and became witness to charred remains replaced by a new—and dare I say even better—towering place of worship, with copper domes reflecting the afternoon sunlight, set amidst a soft blue sky, standing majestic and tall.  Beauty from ashes. 

     I remember the sobs and devastation produced as the fiery inferno took over the building and crushed spirits, but I also saw a community rise from this loss with a conviction that it would overcome and rebuild—and it did.  This trial, and ultimate triumph, has become a metaphor for my own times of difficulty, remembering, as blind and deaf woman Helen Keller once remarked, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  Beauty from ashes.

     Those words would be brought to life again only a few days later when, after visiting the new St. Elias, I flew to Guatemala to speak at the World Pro-Life Congress.  In the course of my 5-day visit I continually encountered beauty from ashes in the lived experiences of the people I met.

     Within an hour of my plane landing, one of my new Guatemalan friends, Gabby, took me on an unexpected and amazing adventure.  When I happened to ask her if she heard of Fr. Michael who ran Valley of the Angels Orphanage, a ministry I had only been told about days before while speaking in Ontario, she excitedly responded that she knew him and would take me there.  Thirty minutes later she was driving me up a winding mountain to meet a joyful Franciscan priest who authentically lives spiritual fatherhood by feeding, housing, and educating poor children—over 200, in fact!  Yes, there is poverty in Guatemala, but I also saw the overcoming of it.

     Then there was Gabby, the woman who picked me up at the airport.  She spends her time helping women in crisis, not only through volunteering at a counselling center, but also connecting women to a home for pregnant girls should they need material support to carry through with their pregnancies.  Suffering yes—but again, the overcoming of it.

     The next day I gave a presentation to 75 young volunteers of the Congress alongside another woman, Lianna Rebolledo.  Unlike me, Lianna can speak Spanish so her presentation to the bilingual audience was not understood by me.  But that evening we shared dinner together in our hotel’s restaurant and I was profoundly touched as I learned this inspiring and resilient woman’s journey first-hand.  Lianna and I are one year apart in age but she already has a 25-year-old daughter.  How could this be if 25 years ago we were 12 and 11 years old, respectively?  I then learned Lianna’s story—she was kidnapped at age 12, raped, and became pregnant.  As it says on her website,

     “She never thought about aborting her daughter. Lianna is survivor of 3 suicide attempts and is now a Defender of Life, with a specific mission: to inspire the world…She not only shares a testimony, but also a message of hope for many people, especially women all over the world who are in high-risk situations to love life grounded in faith.  ‘After my pregnancy due to rape, two lives were saved; I saved my daughter’s life and she saved mine.’”

     Suffering.  And the overcoming of it.

     The next day I met another presenter who is exactly my age, Patricia Sandoval.  We quickly connected and excitedly talked about our lives of travelling and speaking.  She had just heard me present to a panel so she told me why she was there to present: She had 3 abortions, used to work at Planned Parenthood, and for 3 years became a drug addict living on the streets.  Now she travels the world to tell others of God’s mercy.  Particularly poignant was when she told me this (which is also posted on her website in more detail here):

     “One day, my drug-addicted boyfriend and I got into an argument, and he kicked me out. I was left completely alone and abandoned, without food, water, friends, family, or drugs. I sat for hours on the sidewalk, curled into a fetal position, sobbing. I had nothing. I had sunk to the lowest level of my life.

      “It was then that I experienced the presence of God watching me. I lifted up my head and crying, I said to Him: ‘You are all that I have. I don't know how I got to this point. I thank you for my beautiful childhood and family, which You gave to me. I'm so sorry!’ I had barely finished speaking when a young woman my age, twenty-two, named Bonnie, knelt down, embraced me from behind, and said, ‘Jesus loves you.’ I looked up at her confused, and she smiled back and said, ‘I am the waitress at the restaurant across the street. I was working when God said to me: 'Put down your notepad, look out that window, and tell that young lady who is sitting on the curb that even if her mother or father should abandon her, I will never abandon or forsake her. I will be with her until the end of time.’ I couldn't believe that God had responded to my prayer so immediately! Bonnie took me into her restaurant and with a sweet smile, asked me what I'd like to eat. Then she drove me home.”

     Suffering. And the overcoming of it.

     Over the past 9 days, the people I met and the encounters I experienced have been nothing short of inspiring.  As I reflect on it all, I am reminded of the words of Anne Frank, a girl whose young life would be extinguished by the horror of the Holocaust but whose legacy has survived for decades since:

     “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  Indeed, Anne, we all can make beauty from ashes.

If We Place Ourselves in the Margins, We Will Be Marginalized, by Stephanie Gray

     One of my friends, a graduate of medical school now doing his residency, sent me an article about ethicists who recently suggested that “conscientious objectors” not be allowed to practice medicine.  These ethicists are bold.  They propose “removing a right to conscientious objection” and suggest “selecting candidates into relevant medical specialities or general practice who do not have objections.”  In short, in such a world it seems pro-life doctors like many of my friends would be pushed out of the practice of medicine—or would they?

     As I have written before here and here, I am not a fan of over-emphasizing “conscience” when objecting to objectionable actions.  There are solid scientific and human rights-based reasons for doctors to object to practices such as abortion, assisted suicide, and contraception.  But if the physicians who won’t participate in these behaviors give the reason of “my religion” or “my conscience,” the effect is to set themselves apart.  It sounds like they don’t have good medical reasons for their claims, and as a result, it sounds like the physician is doing something inconsistent with the nature of medicine.  It places such medical professionals in the margins—and in doing so, results in them being marginalized.

     It ought not be that way.  Instead, I propose such physicians (and nurses, etc.) show how their pro-life views align with pre-existing standards within the medical community, scientific research, and widely accepted human rights doctrines.  It can be explained like this:

  •  Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Code of Ethics Policy 1: “Consider first the well-being of the patient.”

     When there are published studies showing how abortion harms women, it can be argued abortion does not promote the pregnant patient’s well-being.

     When there is undisputed scientific evidence that human development begins at fertilization and that abortion kills such a human, it can be argued abortion does not promote the pre-born patient’s well-being.

     When a cancer patient is in excruciating physical pain because of, as a palliative care physician discovered, a broken relationship with her daughter, euthanasia won’t solve the underlying emotional turmoil (that happened to manifest physically).  In other words, we see in this case that assisted suicide does not support the patient’s well-being.  Instead, helping heal a fractured relationship does.

     As we learned from teens in Attawapiskat and Woodstock Ontario, as well as actor Robin Williams’ suicide, to consider the well-being of a patient is to identify the underlying motivations suffering people have to end their lives, and then eliminate the problem rather than the person.  So shouldn’t we do that with any request for suicide?

  • CMA Code of Ethics Policy 3: “Provide for appropriate care for your patient, even when cure is no longer possible, including physical comfort and spiritual and psychosocial support.”

     Assisted suicide is incongruent with this policy because inflicting death takes away the very person the physician is responsible to provide comfort, spiritual, and psychosocial support for.  “Kill” has a fundamentally different meaning from “care.”  Whereas the former ends life, the latter improves and comforts life.

  • CMA Code of Ethics Policy 9: “Refuse to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.”

     As I wrote here and here, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is actually anti-abortion.  Moreover, the United Nations has adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that in countries where the death penalty is permitted, “Sentence of death …shall not be carried out on pregnant women.” 

     If giving capital punishment to a guilty pregnant woman would mean killing an innocent child, the UN says you simply must not do it.  Since the death penalty violates a pre-born child’s right to life, wouldn’t abortion as well?

  • CMA Code of Ethics Policy 14: “Take all reasonable steps to prevent harm to patients.”

     In light of the permanent, irreversible, life-ending effects of assisted suicide, abortion, and even abortifacient birth control, these undoubtedly cause harm to patients.

     Consider the case of Jeannette Hall.  Living with cancer in a state, Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, she opted to end her life.  Her physician informed her that her cancer was treatable and she had good prospects but she still wanted to kill herself, knowing that if she did not pursue treatment she was given an estimate of 6 months left to live.  Well she’s alive now, 15 years later, because her physician, wanting to take reasonable steps to prevent her harm, asked her how her son would feel about her plan.  Almost two decades later she said to her doctor, “You saved my life.”

     Had the physician acted like a robotic automaton and doled out assisted suicide instead of asking questions to help her find meaning and purpose in her life, Jeannette Hall, who is now grateful to be alive, would have experienced the irreversible harm of a life-ending act.

     Or take the case of a gynecologist who recently heard me give a presentation.  He shared that a patient of his had previously had two miscarriages and now on her third pregnancy, she came to him requesting an abortion.  Instead of simply responding to her request, he asked her a question: “How did the miscarriages impact you?” and she talked about how depressed she was and all the emotional turmoil she went through.  He asked her another question, “How do you think having an abortion will impact you?” and the woman declared as if having an epiphany, “I never thought of that!”  Having an abortion (which would be her choice) after the trauma of multiple miscarriages (which were not her choice) would have compounded her grief.  Far from helping her, an abortion would have harmed her.

  • CMA Code of Ethics Policy 23: “Recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic services that you consider to be beneficial to your patient or to others.”

     Just yesterday it was all over the news that a recent medical study shows a link between contraceptive use and higher depression risk.  The published harms of birth control are not minor. Consider this list.  When fertility is a sign of the body working properly and there is therefore no pathology present that necessitates intervention, and when there is published evidence that hormonal birth control causes harm to an otherwise healthy body, it is entirely reasonable for a physician to not prescribe birth control because to do so would not be beneficial to the patient.

     Furthermore, when alternatives to hormonal birth control exist, such as fertility awareness that involves observing changes to a woman’s cervical mucous and published research about using a fertility monitor to determine fluctuating hormone levels (here and here), a physician can provide this information to a patient who can use observable facts about her body’s natural fertility to determine her own sexual behavior. 

     Moreover, take the case of a Canadian physician whose patient wanted an abortion after discovering, via a 19-week ultrasound, that she was pregnant with a female fetus.  The physician sought to understand what could be motivating the patient, and the patient subsequently disclosed that she herself was brutally abused as a child because she was a girl; her request for a sex-selection abortion was grounded in trauma from her past, not a true desire to kill a female fetus.  It was clear to the physician that passing the woman along to an abortionist would not address what was ultimately the problem, and instead what was beneficial to the patient was helping her heal from her past.  The patient opted to carry to term and is so happy to have her baby girl.

  • The Practice Guide of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario: “Maintaining trust is an important aspect of medical professionalism. Patients must be able to trust that the physician will always uphold the values of the profession; in the absence of the trusting relationship the physician cannot help the patient and the patient cannot benefit from the relationship.”

     If physicians are involved in the business of killing, how can patients trust that their lives will be preserved?  Indeed, that’s a concern of several medical bodies in the United States when it comes to the death penalty.  In May of this year, pharmaceutical company Pfizer declared,

     “Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve. Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”

     The American Medical Association shares this concern and stated,  

     “No matter how one feels about capital punishment, it is disquieting for physicians to act as agents of the state in the assisting, supervising or contributing to a legally authorized execution.  Physicians are fundamentally healers dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so. The knowledge and skill of physicians must only be used for care, compassion and healing. To have the state mandate that physician skills be turned against a human being undermines a basic ethical foundation of medicine – first, do no harm.

     “The American Medical Association is troubled by continuous refusal of states to acknowledge the ethical obligations of physicians that strictly prohibit involvement in capital punishment. The AMA's policy is clear and unambiguous – requiring physicians to participate in executions violates their oath to protect lives and introduces deep ambiguity into the very definition of medical care.”

     If we should avoid physician involvement in the killing of guilty criminals, how much more should we avoid physician involvement in the killing of innocent sick people?

     In closing, whether or not the ethicists get their way and eliminate “conscientious” objectors from medicine, they can’t eliminate research-based, code-of-ethics following, human rights-promoting physicians, which is exactly what pro-life doctors are.  After all, as Dr. Michael Bouhadana, family practitioner and palliative and pain care consultant to the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal says,

     “A doctor’s job is to cure sometimes, relieve often, comfort always – kill never.”