My dear ladies and gentlemen!
The hospice, of which I am the boss, deals with the lives of the fragile, and the frail. You could say - with the fading lamp and the broken existence, because often the people staying with us have cancer in the terminal stages, and others suffer from other serious geriatric diseases.
Can this cited passage of Scripture: “he will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick” be interpreted as a prohibition of euthanasia? You may say, that I am again being provocative.
This year two charity collections coincided: the hospice of Puck and the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, headed by Mr. George Owsiak. It was not planned this way. Every year, I try not to give sermons to raise funds when he plays with his orchestra. I do this even though some clergy do not support him. I don’t think we have a monopoly on goodness. There really is no reason to sabotage an action that brings us so much good. “By their fruits ye shall know them” - says Scripture. For in any paediatric or geriatric ward I enter, including our hospice, I see equipment marked with a small heart (symbol of the Orchestra charity). The scale of this project is a staggering.
I will not argue excessively with Mr. Owsiak, because I appreciate and like him. His recent statement about euthanasia is unfortunate. I think that speaking of “assisting the elderly in their suffering,” had good intentions. He probably meant the withdrawal of futile medical intervention. It may well have been a good thing that this stirred discussion about it? It may help us to understand why the Church so decisively says ‘No!’ to euthanasia. She says “No!” to such an act, which seeks to eliminate a person only because he is sick, or just because he is unconscious. The Church believes that you cannot lose the right to life: even those who are suffering the most or – as some say - the person most dehumanized through suffering does not cease to be a person. You cannot lose the dignity of the person. The whole of anthropology would turn upside down. The conscious and effective would continue to be human, and the weak lose this possibility, they will be called . . . they already are called “vegetables.” It is said about them that they vegetate, that they are “ex-human organisms.” This is not true, you cannot be a former person, or fall down the ladder of development to the point of being an animal or plant. If you do not accept this, we finish up with something monstrous, we will want to get rid of the ballast, which burdens us mentally and – God forbid! - financially.
You still shake a leg, earn for yourself, talk, this means that you’re still human. You cannot be a former human, in exactly the same way as you cannot become sub-human. You know, after all, what this smells of. We would then be working towards a society of the pure, of earners, of the beautiful and those who fulfil certain criteria.
If we agree to euthanasia, we would agree that medicine has ceased to serve man, we have then begun to be evaluated in terms of our quality, looking at us from the point of view of our usefulness or inconvenience to society.
Here’s another thing: opposing the degradation of medicine. Medicine is to treat a person, and not to kill. If we agree to eliminate those who suffer a lot physically or mentally – even with their consent – then medicine denies itself. The same hand will heal and annihilate, using the same medical knowledge. Not in any mission, only in response to an order. Moreover, it will be self-degrading. We will stop searching for ways to deal with pain, because if we eliminate those in great pain, there is no context for new drugs, new studies, new solutions. Twenty years ago, cancer was associated with inevitable pain, and now we are able to control more than 95 percent of the unbearable symptoms.
As a counterbalance we should definitively oppose using every possible therapeutic means to extend life.
Imagine a patient who has metastatic cancer. Sure, using different apparatus can keep him alive another day, week, multiplying in this way unimaginable suffering. However, you must always ask “why?”. Does extending this life of his, or any other case, have a meaning?
The Church does not fight with death, because she does not believe that everything ends with it. Therefore, you must be able to relinquish or withdraw overzealous treatment, which is always morally prohibited. Never, however, can palliative treatment be withdrawn from the person, that is normal care. The patient cannot die in pain, hunger, thirst, we cannot allow him to deliberately suffocate.
However, there are extreme situations, for example when there is a bowel perforation and food is harmful, because it pours into the peritoneum. Then, you are not allowed to give food and it is not immoral.
If the drip does not serve the patient, whose feet are very swollen, and whose lungs are full of water, we must give up intravenous fluids. If the pain is so immense, that the only way to fight it is the administration of increasing doses, even assuming that it could lead to an earlier death, we have the right to receive it. We do this not so as to kill the patient, but so that he is relieved of pain and that it is easier to breathe. The intention with which we give drugs matters. Please observe what a fine line it is. If we give them specifically to kill a person, we would be guilty of euthanasia. But if we have the intention to help, and death occurs as a result of unwanted effects, merely tolerated, it is morally correct. Everything happens on the plane of our intentions and our conscience.
Saying the words of the Hippocratic oath, doctors declared that they will serve man, the individual. In 1948 the WMA modified one word of the oath. In place of “man” appeared “humanity.” It seemed that nothing had changed, but how many tyrants wanted to serve humanity, for example, eliminating the handicapped, Jews or other groups ... Hitler and Stalin murdered millions in the name of humanity. You also have to listen to what the law says.
If someone tells me that for the good of the nation an individual must be sacrificed, then I will go. If someone tells me that some people are less valuable, if a Catholic admits that he is anti-Semitic or racist, then in me everything explodes. A Catholic cannot be anti another person, especially when the other is weak, and sick. The more someone is different, the more someone is strange, the more they have the face of Christ. There are those whose anti-Semitism even Catholicism justified. And since Christ was a Jew, since the Blessed Mother was Jewish, the Jews are our brothers, who we should respect and love. Of course, there are among one and the other both better, as well as worse people, but rankings are not made between races and nations, but between consciences, and sometimes in the middle of conscience.
The Church is absolutely not for suffering in the last stage of illness – being kept alive at all costs. The Church does not fight with death so as to prevent it, that is connecting the dying to all possible machines. Therefore, I am for the “living will.” Not everything that is technically possible is ethically just. Euthanasia – no, withdrawal of burdensome therapy – yes, a “living will” – so that everyone can express their will regarding what types of medical procedures at the end of life they agree to, and what they do not. I hope that this issue will see a serious discussion in parliament. I would like MPs, particularly those on the right, not to shout that this is the introduction of euthanasia by the back door, because it’s not true. The “living will” is fulfilling the will of the patient. A lethal injection would be euthanasia, but, for instance, withdrawal of dialysis, as John Paul II decided – is not.
So, if Mr. Owsiak had this in mind, then I agree with him. I – director of a hospice for those suffering from cancer – I have a glioma (fourth degree). A worse lot could not be drawn. Perhaps only pancreatic cancer. I was diagnosed with glioblastoma June 1, 2012, at first I was given six months to live, then fourteen. I do not want this to be like a real tearjerker ... Maybe I’ll just say that when I heard about it, I was furious. Of course, I submitted to two operations, and chemotherapy. They cut out the tumour almost in its entirety. Almost, because a glioma cannot be cut out entirely, because tracts grow into the brain.
And now the question for you, Johnny, you wimp. Theoretically, I can easily talk about being ill. But how will I now react to this? Will I panic? Will I rage? Am I going to cling on to life? Will I make a scene? Be scared? Sure, I’m scared. The Gospel puts before me a challenge, because “all men questioned in their hearts concerning John.” Well, yes how will he get through it? You have to learn to live your own death with dignity. And I am not saying this to you, but to myself. Live your own death with dignity. How to do it? I have two options - either to cling to life and really behave in an undignified way, or live an active life, even at the cost of shortening life, but as I want to and as I please. I choose the latter option.
Today I’ll give sermons all day, in a week’s time I will do the same again, and similarly in two weeks. This is my conscious choice. Even if this activity will shorten my life by a month or two, that’s how I want it, I choose this.
Then, when I’ll be leaving (it’s all the same whether at home or in my hospice, or anywhere else where this death finds me) when things are very bad with me, I wish to be given a sedative drug. I’m not afraid of the pain, because I know I can control it, but I’m afraid of ineptitude, that I will behave illogically – in the morning recognising things, speaking sense, and in the evening my brain swells and I’ll be spitting out my porridge. That’s why I wish then to be given such drug, after which I will calmed and be able to leave peacefully, maybe in my sleep, breathing on my own, without a respirator.
You can’t screw up your own death, so to speak. It doesn’t happen, that someone dies unsuccessfully. But it is, unfortunately, possible to screw up everything that surrounds death. So, through death I have to transfer it to my closest, unfortunately, onto their backs. I am already preparing them for it. I hope that I can do it. I have for you only one request: I do not want you to pity me, in the sense that I would not want you to be sorry for me. Please pray. I feel in my very backbone many prayers, a lot of people praying for me. But a comfort such as this is really hard: “a priest can manage it.” I do not know if I can. I will try my best.
I made an arrangement with my doctor that if I will survive past the fourteen months set at diagnosis, maybe a little longer, she will gain a professorship for a man who contradicted medical science.
What dreams do I still have? To finish the doctorate and complete the script for doctors communicating difficult news to patients. To go to some warm country, bask on the beach, bathe. But my biggest dream is that hospice at Puck does not fail. This is my work, for which I sacrificed ten years of my life. I have to do everything to protect it.
Ladies and gentlemen, now appears a strapline, “product placement interlude”, a break for advertising. If you want to help me - apart from prayer - you can do it by supporting the Puck Hospice of St. Padre Pio by throwing money into the box at front of the church or transferring one percent of tax.
Ten years of my work in Puck has been the hospice. I’m afraid that when I run out of strength and ability to give sermons, that it will all be threatened. If I could ask of you one more thing ... For example, if from your account at the end of the month you can make a standing order to transfer at least ten zloty (£2) to the hospice, that your wallet wouldn’t feel. If a dozen of you did this, then we will know that you are with us. I promise that I will pray for you. And if you need anything from me: whether prayer, or support, or a good word, I am available for you. I leave all my details.
Do not feel sorry for me, that I am so young and so unfortunate. I’m not so unfortunate, in a sense, I am fortunate that this disease came because it freed me from fear. I had a lot of complexes, I was afraid of silly things, irrational. It cured me of that. I was afraid that the Curia will move me from Puck somewhere else. Well, so what? There are immortal souls everywhere. And eventually the cancer will take me to the afterlife. Now I’m not afraid of anything. The bishop or my superiors, I have no need to be afraid: similarly for criticism, or attacks. I’m free. Thank you, my cancer, that you have delivered me from many fears.
You cannot be afraid. Life is so unpredictable! At this instant something can happen that immediately solves your problems.
You have to prepare for death. That it be dignified and proper. I beg you, pray for it, that nowhere will you be dishonoured and that you live decently, that is what I wish for you. Let us help one another at every step. Amen.