The Prairie Messenger is pleased to include a special supplement to introduce Bishop Mark Hagemoen.
After spending most of his life in Vancouver, he was called to serve as the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie - Fort Smith. Bishop Mark took up his new task with enthusiasm and vigour, where he found “in this cold place a people of warm hearts!” Now, only four years later, he has been called to serve in Saskatoon.
As readers will learn from our welcome to Bishop Mark, his passion lies in building relationships, to become aware of the gifts of the People of God. His priorities also include finding ways of communicating the Gospel in an age of rising anxiety and anger, listening to and learning from indigenous peoples, encouraging active faith and youth ministry, and supporting Catholic education.
It is with great joy that we welcome Bishop Mark. His down-to-earth pastoral style bodes well for the Saskatoon diocese.
November is labelled Month of the Dead. It begins with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls on Nov. 1 and 2 and ends with the feast of Christ the King, which emphasizes the Last Judgment in the liturgy. In many European countries, weddings are avoided during this month, as a bad omen.
Pope Francis has clarified the Catholic approach to death. In a message to the European members of the World Medical Association Nov 16 he said people who are dying must be accompanied with the love of family members and the care of medical professionals, but there is no requirement that every means available must be used to prolong their lives. He said that Christians need not “futilely resist their death.” With advances in medical technology and new medications, people can be kept alive much longer than was possible decades or centuries ago.
Pope Pius XII had already taught that extraordinary measures are not morally required to keep a dying person alive. Referring to this, Pope Francis said that even 60 years ago, Pope Pius XII told anesthesiologists and intensive care specialists that “there is no obligation to have recourse in all circumstances to every possible remedy and that, in some specific cases, it is permissible to refrain from their use.”
Pope Francis continued: determining what measures amount to “therapeutic obstinacy” or “overzealous” treatment, and are therefore either optional or even harmful, requires discernment and discussion with the patient, the patient’s family and the caregivers.
“From an ethical standpoint,” the pope told the medical association, withholding or withdrawing excessive treatment “is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death.”
The pope commended the development of palliative care, which Canadian bishops and health care workers are advocating to the Canadian government, which has legalized doctor-assisted suicide. Palliative care, Pope Francis emphasized, “opposes what makes death most terrifying and unwelcome in our culture: pain and loneliness.”
In his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II also clarified how dying people need to be accompanied, but with no obligation to be kept alive at all costs. He wrote:
“Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called ‘aggressive medical treatment,’ in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his/her family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience ‘refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted.’ Certainly there is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take account of concrete circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means of treatment available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for improvement. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death” (No. 65).
Because of advanced technology and medication, end-of-life decisions are becoming more complex. With doctors in Canada and many European countries given legal protection for doctor-assisted suicide, patients or their advocates need to be fully informed of their rights and the teaching of their faith. Human emotions of guilt or neglect can often play a major role in the decision to keep a person alive at all costs. And in a society that does not believe in life after death, everything ends here.
Death is the moment we are most vulnerable. In the eyes of faith, it is also the most promising.