Tuesday 19 December 2023

On blessings and on assisted dying

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has published a Declaration on the meaning of blessings, particularly addressing the question of how blessings might be appropriately used with same sex couples and couples whose marriage situations are not fully in accord with Catholic teaching. News reporting inevitably offers a part of the whole, so I do think it is worthwhile going to the website of the Holy See to read the entire document itself: Fiducia Supplicans. There are some careful distinctions that can be easily lost in reporting.

Before highlighting the possibilities of blessings for same sex couples etc,  the Declaration offers a concrete affirmation of Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage:

Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage—which is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children”[6]—and what contradicts it are inadmissible. This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.

And, subtly, there is also a clear intention that the style of informal blessings envisaged for same sex couples or couples whose marriage situations are not fully in accord with Catholic teaching, is given to those who (my italics added)

....recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help—do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

And correspondingly:

How often, through a pastor’s simple blessing, which does not claim to sanction or legitimize anything, can people experience the nearness of the Father, beyond all “merits” and “desires”? 

The blessing of a same sex couple that recently took place at an Anglican Church in Felixstowe clearly has, and was seen as having, the character of a legitimization of the status of the couple involved - and would not be countenanced by Fiducia Supplicans

The BBC news website is reporting that  Esther Rantzen, being treated currently for a Stage 4 cancer, has joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland.

Speaking about her decision to join Dignitas, Dame Esther said it was driven in part by her wish that her family's "last memories of me" are not "painful because if you watch someone you love having a bad death, that memory obliterates all the happy times".

For those, like myself, who do spend time with patients and family/friends as a patient comes to the end of their lives, there are two elements of Esther Rantzen's words that prompt a sadness. Whilst accompanying a loved one as they die is often going to be challenging, we should not assume that it is going to be "bad". It is for those who surround the dying person to use their time with them to create positive memories in that time; and this is a responsibility that is wider than just the immediate carers. It is a matter of creating a culture, that runs alongside the provision of good clinical, palliative care. In visiting with patients and family/friends in these circumstances, there is a very particular opportunity for them to share anew the memories that have been lived before, as well as living together the present experience. It is a question of accompanying, so that the memories of this time will not be ones that exist to the exclusion of all other memories, and so that they are memories that are enhancing rather than debilitating.