Mons. Yennock's Homily -- End of Life Issues

Jan 19, 2014

End of life issues - Twenty seventh Sunday in ordinary time

There is a debate going on in our country about what is called American Exceptionalism. This is the question: is America an exceptional nation? Does America have a special mission? Is the American constitution, bill of rights and declaration of independence unique among the nations of the world? Do you believe in American Exceptionalism?

There is another debate going on in the united states. It is the national debate about Human Exceptionalism. This is life Sunday. Our theme is human life is exceptional.  

I believe that human life has more value than plant and animal life. I believe that human life has more value than the sun, the moon, the stars, the planets and all the galaxies in our universe. That is my worldview about human life and human beings. In all the earth human life is exceptional.

When Jesus said: what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process? He was talking about Human Exceptionalism. 

On this life Sunday you might want to ask yourself the question? Do I believe in Human Exceptionalism? Do I believe in the sheer moral importance and unique value of every human being? Do I believe that every human being has the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Do I believe that the state has the duty to protect those rights? 

That’s what the national debate is about: is human life exceptional? 

There are some powerful people in our society who do not believe in Human Exceptionalism. They do not believe that human life of itself has any special value. If you ask them what gives value to human life, the answers usually revolve around the quality of human life. This or that human life has value and is worth protecting when it meets certain standards of physical and mental qualities. 

When you talk about standards and qualities who decides the standards for a worthwhile human life. Who decides who lives and who dies? 

If it’s my life we’re talking about; if it’s your life we’re talking about, this is a pretty important decision. Who gets to make that decision? Do we leave it to a physician, to the hospital, to the government, to a board of experts? And by the way what do any of these agents believe about Human Exceptionalism?  On what basis will they decide about the value of my life? And why should I accept their standards?

I think you see where I am going with all these questions. We are talking about end of life issues. How you solve any life issue depends on what you believe about Human Exceptionalism.  

Jesus says: avoid greed in all its forms. Greed is the key to understanding modern movements that seek to devalue human life and scorn Human Exceptionalism. Keeping people alive costs money. The question arises: what is more important money or human life? Keeping people alive requires other people to care for them. What is more important the person who is being kept alive or the caregiver? 

These are difficult and uncomfortable questions. That’s why there is a national debate about health care and end of life issues. Human Exceptionalism is key to understanding the debate and finding solutions.

But surely there is no debate about Human Exceptionalism. Doesn’t everybody believe in Human Exceptionalism? Doesn’t everybody believe that human life has a unique value? Doesn’t everyone believe that human life is superior to animal life? 

Sadly the answer is no. Not everyone believes in the unique value of human life. One such person is a man by the name of Peter Singer. He is the head of the department of bioethics at Princeton University. He is a consultant to the president of the united states on health and human services. 

Who is Peter Singer? He is an Australian. They would call him a moral philosopher. He is known primarily for two things: he is the creator of the animal rights movement. He wrote a book called “Animal Liberation”. The premise behind that book is that humans and animals have equal inherent moral worth. Therefore, we can’t use animals in animal research and things of that sort; and animals have rights.

Peter Singer believes in the “personhood theory” which denies the objective moral value of being human and claims that what really matters, morally, is being a “person”. According to his definition, a person is an entity who is self-aware over time. 

This only gets worse. A person is someone with at least minimal cognitive capacities. So Peter Singer has created a new category called a human “non person”. The human “non- person” is defined as having lesser value and so they lose the right to life. If they lose the right to life then they can be used instrumentally such as in medical experimentation or the removal of their organs while they are still alive. 

Peter Singer has said in the past that parents should have 28 days within which to keep or kill their children. He has since expanded that to one year. It is based on his idea that a newborn infant is not a person because a person, according to Peter Singer, is an entity who is self-aware over time. 

Do you see where this is leading? Any humans that you want to use for experimentation. Any humans that you want to get rid of, any humans whose organs you want to persons? They are fetuses, embryos, newborns, and people who have lost their cognitive capacities such as Terri Schiavo and Jahi Mcmath. You may also include as non-persons people with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and people who are comatose or in a so-called vegetative state.   

There are people in the bioethics field who would like to redefine death for “non-persons” so that we might be allowed to kill them for their organs or lessen the burden of Medicaid. 

In an article in the New York Times Magazine Peter Singer openly advocated government rationing of health care. He made it clear that society should be more willing to withhold treatment from those who are old and those with disabilities. He definitely does not believe in Human Exceptionalism. Human life has value relative to its physical and mental condition. 

Here is a direct quote from Peter Singer: “The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old; and this should be reflected in our priorities…” you will not believe this next quote: “Saving one teenager is equivalent to saving fourteen 85-year-olds.” 

We may dismiss Peter Singer Peter Singer as a nut job but the fact is that he is teaching future professionals at Princeton University and he is a consultant to the president of the U.S. about matters that concern your life and mine. 

To make matters worse, many in the bioethics field agree with him, including dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel, who wrote much of the national health care bill.

Once a society decides that some of its members have a life of such low quality that it is acceptable for doctors to kill them, and once these patients—many of whom already feel like burdens—learn that they can save lives by their suicides, the seductive pull of asking for euthanasia/organ harvesting could become widespread. 

A few years ago a hospital in the Netherlands—the first modern nation to permit euthanasia— proposed guidelines for “mercy killings” of terminally ill newborns. The main physicians’ association in the Netherlands urged the health ministry to create an independent board to review euthanasia cases for terminally ill people “with no free will”, including children, the severely mentally retarded, and people left in an irreversible coma after an accident. These were all considered non-persons.

When someone mentioned death panels in our health care system many laughed in mockery. Now we learn from the new york times that a new policy calls for the government to pay doctors to advise patients on options for ending their lives. These could include directives to forgo aggressive treatment that could extend their lives. This rule will inevitably lead to bureaucrats deciding who is fit to live and who is not. This rule does not reflect Human Exceptionalism. 

Remember that Human Exceptionalism is the only reality that separates us from plants, micro-organisms and animals.

When people forget the value of a human person because he is disabled or dysfunctional tragic things can happen. In 1933 the German courts were calling for the sterilization of all psychiatric patients and codifying laws that would eventually lead to the deaths of 275,000 handicapped and mentally disabled patients.

An elderly Canadian woman who was born in Germany in 1940 told a disabled activist this story. She said: “I’ve been disabled all of my life. My parents had to hide me for three years before they snuck me out of the country. The German government would have killed me” 

Then she said: “nothing has changed—the only thing that has changed is the country. It’s no longer Germany now but the united states. She was referring to the philosophy of the “non-person” that is gaining momentum in our country as well as the movements toward euthanasia and assisted suicide.

These are just a few examples of the way some intellectuals are thinking about human life. We could just blow it off if the people who advocate this belief were not actually being consulted in the formation of policy about health and human services. 

What we believe about human life affects how we think about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, organ transplant and assisted suicide. 

Whenever you see legislation promoting euthanasia or assisted suicide oppose it immediately. They are dangerous and selfish movements. They do not promote Human Exceptionalism.

Before I conclude I want to remind you that what we have been talking about is not merely academic. Anyone can be disabled at anytime—young and old. It can be Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or stroke or paralysis or cancer that strikes us. A car accident can reduce a person to a vegetative state in a few minutes.

Make sure that those who are close to you know that you value human life. Make sure they know that you have a right to nutrition and hydration. Make sure they know 

What your wishes are regarding resuscitation, artificial respiration and all the other medical interventions that you have a right to.

I strongly recommend that you appoint someone as a health proxy who knows what you want and can make a decision about choices of treatment. A health proxy is someone whom you trust to make life decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself. 

It would also be beneficial for you to fill out a health proxy form. You will find health proxy forms in the booklets at the exits of the church. 

Talk to your children—talk to your parents—talk to your spouses—talk to your most trusted friend. And let them know exactly what you want when the time of crisis comes. The health care proxy booklet explains various methods of treatment. I advise you not to put this off. Pick up a booklet on your way out of church today. If there are not enough booklets to go around I will supply more next week. 

Psalm 8

O lord our lord how wonderful is your name in all the earth.  Your magnificence is high above the heavens

I behold your heavens, the works of your fingers: the moon and the stars, which you set in place.

What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you visit him?

You made him a little less than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor and you have set him over the works of your hands. 

You have subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and all the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea 

O lord our lord how wonderful is your name throughout the earth.