By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Diocesan Communications
Speaking at a diocesan Study Day Oct. 19 in Saskatoon, Sr. Nuala Kenny issued a prophetic call for Catholic faith communities to step up and reclaim the baptismal call to care for and accompany the vulnerable – including the sick, the suffering, the elderly, and the dying.
“I want you to be able in this diocese and in your parishes to accept the challenges to the Christian community – the need for the protection of the vulnerable,” she said.
Her presentation also included a reflection on the meaning of a good death, on the difference between pain and suffering, and the call to accompany those who are suffering. She noted that compassion means to “suffer with” – which also means to make ourselves vulnerable.
A member of the Sisters of Charity, Halifax, Kenny is also a medical doctor, who worked for some 34 years as a pediatrician, including caring for children dying of cancer, as well as serving as a medical educator, and founder of the department of bioethics at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Kenny has worked with bishops in Canada in addressing the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, as well as working nationally on end-of-life questions. She is the author of What Good is Health Care? Reflections on the Canadian Experience (2002),Healing the Church: Diagnosing and Treating the Clergy Abuse Crisis(2012), as well as Rediscovering the Art of Dying – How Jesus’ Experience and Our Stories Reveal a New Vision of Compassionate Care(2017). While in Saskatoon she was also a keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Catholic Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS).
In her presentation at the diocesan Study Day held at St. Anne’s parish, Kenny gave an overview of the Supreme Court of Canada decision that legalized Medically Assisted Death.
She also pointed to studies that show that most people do not request Medically Assisted Death because of pain or other symptoms, but because of feelings of loss of dignity, fear of dependence and loss of control, guilt at being a burden to others, isolation and loneliness, uncertainty regarding future care needs, and hopelessness.
Kenny contrasted pain and suffering, likening it to the difference between chest pain and heartache. While there are medical steps that will assist with chest pain, there is no medical solution for heartache, she said.
Suffering can be physical, emotional or spiritual – as is understood in the three falls of Jesus in the traditional Way of the Cross, Kenny said. But our response to suffering must be more than abandoning people to Medically Assisted Death, she insisted.
She quoted Pope Benedict, who said in 2009 that “Euthanasia is a false solution to the drama of suffering” and that “the true response cannot be to put someone to death, however kindly, but rather to witness to the love that helps people to face their pain and agony in a human way.”
St. Joseph is the patron saint of a good death in Catholic tradition, and Kenny used a painting showing the saint on his deathbed to illustrate a good death – surrounded by his family, at home, gazing into the eyes of Jesus, accompanied by the touch and prayer of family members, including Mary (whom Catholics petition in every Hail Mary to “pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.”)
“Joseph, the just man, the righteous man, is going to God peacefully,” Kenny described.
She pointed to the Ars Moriendi or the Art of Dying, a public way of constantly reflecting in community on the reality of death and dying from the 14thto 16thcentury, and hearkened back to a time when “Nana was dying in the family home”, with family members providing care, and even the children helping out, as part of normal everyday life.
“But we have come to expect medical professionals to take care of everything – we have abandoned our own responsibility as families and communities,” said Kenny, urging her listeners to actively find new ways to accompany those who are suffering.
She also urged her listeners to advocate for the preservation and expansion of hospice palliative care.
The hospice palliative care movement developed at a time when acute care medicine was avoiding the dying, because it couldn’t “doanything” to bring about a cure, Kenny described. Palliative care developed a philosophy of care that offered good medical care for treatment of symptoms and attention to the spiritual, Kenny said.
In secular terms, this philosophy characterized a “good death” as non-abandonment and continuity of care, avoiding unwanted technological intervention, with respectful communication and “completion of life’s last things.” These last things include dealing with “The Four Things That Matter Most”explored in the book of the same name by Dr. Ira Byock, namely: “I love you,” “thank you,” “I forgive you,” and “please forgive me.”
“Palliative Care took these issues on,” said Kenny.
With the legalization of Medically-Assisted Death, there is a great fear that hospice and palliative care will be forced to abandon its philosophy of not hastening death, and that long promised resources and funding for palliative care will not materialize.
As Jesus on the Road to Emmaus, we are called to accompany the vulnerable, and to see Jesus in the sick, the hungry and the poor, Kenny said.
As for who needs accompaniment today, she listed the acutely ill and hospitalized, the chronically ill and handicapped, the mentally ill, the frail and dependent elderly, those with dementia, the bereaved, and the poor – all those “on the peripheries.”
“Everyone who is baptized has a responsibility to care for those who are sick and suffering and dying.”
In conclusion, Kenny challenged her listeners with homework questions: “Are you going to do anything different? Who already has responsibility? How could you make it better?”
Thanking Kenny for her presentation, Bishop Mark Hagemoen said: “Sr. Nuala has given us a very practical, incarnational challenge about what the New Evangelization must not only speak to, but what it must look and feel like as we live out compassion in this very important area in the life of our country right now.”
Hagemoen added that he is proud of many in the province who are rising to this challenge. Another area of concern is the protection of conscience rights for health care providers, he added. “There will be more reflection on that in the coming days.”
Kenny’s afternoon presentaton followed an earlier session led by Dr. Angus Reid, pollster and sociologist, who spoke about trends related to faith, relgion and the future of Catholicism in Canada. Find a report about Dr. Reid’s presentation at: https://rcdos.ca/news/diocesan-study-day-religion-faith-and-society-futu…