I often wonder how, as a society, we have arrived at the point of discussing whether we could assist anyone to terminate their own life
As part of my ministry at St John’s I am often asked to visit patients at the hospitals in our suburbs. I have a strong working relationship with my colleagues on ward 8 South, in the Olivia Newton-John Health and Wellness Centre; the staff in this ward look after people close to the end of their life, and I am often called to visit and support these patients and their relatives in these final moments.
I have a deep respect towards the members of staff on this ward; it is not easy to journey with people who are preparing to let go of life. It is a very emotionally painful experience for the sick person, for their relatives and for the carers. Medical staff in palliative wards spend their time helping the patients manage their pain and making it possible for them to live life as comfortably and as well as possible.
It is never easy to sit and watch as a loved one lives through their last moments. We feel the need to do something, when the best we can do is to be; to stand by and support our loved one by our silent presence. As I journey through ward 8 South I am often reminded of the time I spent with my father in the last four weeks of his life.
I believe that life is a total free gift from God, giving us an opportunity to get to know our God in whatever shape or understanding that one is comfortable with. In my ministry, I try to help the individual to live each moment of his or her life the best they can.
From within this context, I reflect upon the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide that is once again being discussed in Australia. The discussion is whether doctors should be allowed to assist people with terminal illnesses to end their life earlier, rather than have to suffer through painful moments. People who have journeyed with loved ones through palliative care know that often once pain is managed and the associated stress is removed, people tend to live longer than originally predicted.
I often wonder how, as a society, we have arrived at the point of discussing whether we could assist anyone to terminate their own life. It seems to me that at some stage we have abrogated for ourselves the right to decide what is good and what is bad. On the one hand we go to extremes to prevent suicide, and yet we have now come to recognise that there are moments where people can be assisted to take their own life! We do not seem to have space for objective truth any longer and if enough of us are ready to put our hand up in favour or a certain course of action, then that action is deemed to be good! The will of the majority rules!
In my experience, the last months and weeks of a person’s life, especially when the person and his relatives know that the end is close, are sacred moments. Rather than trying to assist the person to shorten his or her life, I experience these moments as special moments that are treasured by the dying person and by their loved ones. These may not be easy moments but they are treasured moments.
Fr Mario Zammit mssp