Thursday, 12 April 2012

Euthanasia? Choose hope instead

Thanks to a post on John Smeaton's blog I've just taken time out to listen to an amazing BBC World Service interview with Alison Davis. Born with spina bifida, Alison had for many years a fixed desire to die but is now a passionate anti-euthanasia activist and national coordinator of No Less Human, a division of SPUC which works to raise awareness of the value of the lives of the disabled (see our sidebar).  Please do go here and listen too because it's a truly inspiring and moving interview.

Though raised a Christian in the Protestant tradition, Alison was for many years an atheist and even when she decided to explore the possibility that believers in God might be onto something, Catholicism was the last religion that she wanted to have anything to do with.  As you will guess, she is now a committed Catholic! Her conviction of the redemptive value of suffering when united to that of Christ on the Cross (she is in more or less constant and often agonising pain) is one of the factors that has made her feel life is worth living.

However, she describes other factors too which are not necessarily dependent upon a religious faith.  One initial turning point came after a visit to some disabled children in India when she turned to her carer, Colin, and said, "I think I might just want to live.  I think I could help these children."  She had, she says now, started to think about what she could do for others despite her circumstances, not what they could do for her.  She is rightly convinced that even those who are quite incapacitated can be of immeasurable value and help to others, simply by giving them opportunities for compassion and service and thus bringing out the best in them.

In a similar vein, she draws out the importance of human support and companionship in making life worth living.  She describes moments of friendship and laughter, of real joy, that have meant so much to her, particularly after the advent of her carer Colin into her life (as a student he offered to help her for a fortnight, and is still her carer 23 years later.  His testimony about how serving Alison has changed his life and formed his character is moving in its own right).  She had been lonely, she says, and it was partly for that reason that her suffering seemed unbearable, though she mentions the caring attentions of friends over the years which actually led to her life being saved after suicide attempts.

Above all, Alison says, we all need hope, and we are able to carry on living and finding a meaning in life if we have it.  Euthanasia robs people of hope by suggesting that death is the only way forward, but none of us "can second-guess what is round the corner". 

She also points out that euthanasia is never a decision that involves only one individual. Like abortion, like marriage, the debate about euthanasia is something that concerns society as a whole and once you allow it for one person, others are inevitably affected.  Therein lies a clarion call: because society as a whole is involved, then society (i.e. each and every one of us) should be looking for ways to carry other people's burdens, not dispose of those people as though they were burdens themselves.  As Christians, we follow Christ in so doing. "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows..." (Isaiah 53:4)

Like Ruth Pakaluk (see previous post), Alison is a pro-life heroine, a saint in the making for our times, and like her she is someone who it is not beyond any of us to emulate.   Thank God for her example and her courage.

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