The Archdiocese of Washington DC asked me to deliver the
keynote address at Saint Matthew's Cathedral to the Adult and Family Rally for Life prior to the 2016 National March for Life, On January 22nd. After my address, many people asked for copies of my speaking notes. I promised to post them on the HumanLifeMatters blog. They are below.
|Delivering the keynote address|
to the Adult & Family Rally at
St. Matthew's Cathedral
Although I am a
Canadian, I have an abiding love for America. In fact, for the longest time I
kept a copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging on my wall at home.
The towering words of
its preamble have struck a full chord of truth within humanity’s breast since
the day they were proclaimed 240 years ago:
“We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and
the pursuit of Happiness.”
I believe the
collective wisdom of America’s Founding Fathers intentionally placed the Right
to Life first because all other rights depend upon it.
The Right to Life is
properly the first and highest human right endowed to every human being by
their Creator (God). It begins with that spark of life we commonly call
conception. It is the highest right
regardless of what any court or legislature may decree. There is a higher law
and Law-giver (God). To rob someone of their right to life is murder.
Never mistake licence with Liberty. The
legitimate pursuit of happiness is never gained by killing someone. America may
be the land of the free (as your national anthem says) but that does not (and
must not) include the freedom to choose death for another life.
The 1973 Supreme Court
decision, Roe versus Wade legalized that very thing in the form of abortion. The
death toll from abortion has surpassed 58 million unborn children. It wounded countless
parents physically, emotionally and spiritually. A woman can have an
abortion for any reason at all or no reason whatsoever.
I believe the signers
of the American Declaration would be horrified to learn American soil is
polluted with the blood of its own children before they ever saw the light of
Do not think I am
removed from the tragedy of abortion. My hands are bloody too. When the
abortion holocaust was just beginning in Canada, I pressured my girlfriend to
abort our child. She wanted to get married and have our baby. We were 18 years
old. I wanted to party with my friends, so I pressured, cajoled and emotionally
abandoned her until I got wanted.
For a short time we
felt relief. We were told the usual lies
that our baby was just a blob of tissue, that we did what was best – after all
we were too young to be parents and we would always be poor. Here’s a truth: Nobody
knew whether having a child as teenager automatically
relegated us to a life of poverty. Here’s another truth: It was not a blog of
tissue and that truth was known long before the abortion laws in your country
and mine were changed.
Even as an 18 year old
teenager, I knew what my girlfriend was carrying within her was another human
being. I was aware of early embryonic photography dating back to 1957. I saw
the photographs. I knew the truth; I chose to ignore it. If we had let our baby
be born there were many families who desperately wanted to adopt. We did not
have to kill our baby.
The relief and freedom
from fatherhood did not last. I also had a conscience. Eventually 18 year olds
grow up (at least they should). Four years later my daughter was born. I loved being a dad (I still
do). I loved having a family (I still do). But even now as an old man there is
a sadness knowing I did not protect my first child, that I was directly
responsible for that baby’s death.
The mother of that
aborted baby grieved her abortion for decades. I know. She has been my wife for
42 years. That abortion is the biggest regret of our lives. Happily, we have
been forgiven by none other than God.
Let me speak to people
here who may have been involved with
God is in the forgiveness business. He wants to forgive us. Pope Francis
has declared this year the Year of Mercy. One Catholic website put it this way:
“Pope Francis is
offering you the opportunity to encounter the incredible mercy of God.
Encountering mercy means encountering God. It can transform your life, your
relationships, your work, and your ability to embrace and experience all of
I know from personal
experience the truth of those words. If there’s anyone here who has had an
abortion or been involved in one, and not yet confessed it and received
absolution, now is the time to set things right with God, in the Year of Mercy.
Participating in the
March for Life is an important witness for life to a culture that has forgotten
that every life is sacred. Not only does the March
for Life decry the evil of abortion and euthanasia, it calls out for a better way
that always affirms life, and never denies it.
Any action or law meant
to intentionally kill human beings must be adamantly opposed by people of faith
and good will. The intentional taking of life can never be condoned or
supported in any just and civilized society.
What you are opposing are aberrations in history of western
In a 1997, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice
William Rehnquist stated as much: In the Supreme Court
ruling on the case of Washington versus Glucksberg, Chief Justice Rehnquist
“… an examination of our Nation’s
history, legal traditions, and practise demonstrates that Anglo American common
law has punished or otherwise disapproved of assisting suicide for over 700
And yet in the span of my
lifetime, both America and Canada have lost their Judeo-Christian morality about
the sanctity of human life; the moorings have been swept away by a tide of
It may be different in the United States, but
Canada has, in large measure, turned its back on its Christian heritage and we
are paying a terrible price. Every abortion in Canada is paid by taxpayers
(whether they want to or not). In the coming months, Canada will usher in a new
phase of killing with legal assisted suicide.
Last year, Canada’s
Supreme Court struck down our laws against assisted suicide. They gave Canada’s
Parliament 52 weeks to put in place assisted suicide mechanisms for Canadians
with what they called “… a grievous and irremediable medical condition
(including an illness, disease or disability)”.
Would these parameters
include mental illness or clinical depression? Yes, they could.
And the individual does
not need to seek treatment to qualify for physician assisted suicide. People
will push the envelope. That is the direction my country is about to take. Is it what you want for America? Would that be
consistent with the moral vision of your founding fathers?
The cultural poison of assisted
suicide is coming to America state by state. It is already in Oregon,
Washington, California, and Vermont. There are currently
bills before the legislatures of Maryland and the District of Columbia to
legalize assisted suicide.
Maryland’s Senate Bill 676 is to assist people with
a terminal illness, to have assistance with their suicide within “certain”
circumstances.Bill 676 defines
terminal illness as, “a medical condition that, within reasonable medical
judgement, involves a prognosis for a patient that will likely result in the
patient’s death within 6 months.” Doctors are notoriously inaccurate at predicting
when patients will die. And what does “reasonable medical judgement” mean?
I am not a lawyer but there
seems to be a startling feature in the Bill that says the “death of a patient
by reason of self-administration of certain medication [poison] shall be deemed
to be a death from natural causes.” I
may be mistaken but didn’t we used to call that falsifying medical records? Is there a motive to
avoid having to give evidence in “certain” legal proceedings? It’s all so
questionable. But then, it usually is when it comes to killing people.
The District of
Columbia is also facing a so-called Death with Dignity bill that supports the
odious human abandonment of physician assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
It defines terminal illness as:
irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within
reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months.”
Again, the bill does
not define “reasonable medical judgment” and again let me say doctors are not
very good at predicting death.
of assisted suicide and euthanasia are masters of twisting words and using
euphemisms to make evil appear good and good appear evil. They make death a
blessing and living a curse.
Be careful of
language. Those who control language
shape attitudes and set agendas. Effective use of words and euphemisms can
disguise evil and muddle good people’s ability for thoughtful discernment.
We must ask where do
euphemisms come from and why they were coined? Euphemisms are intended to disguise
“Medical aid in dying”
is meant to give an air of medical legitimacy killing the incurably ill whereas
the word euthanasia still makes many people recoil. Cloak lethal injection of
the sick with clever euphemisms … and it is still murder.
The phrase Death with dignity is designed to give
the impression of compassion to euthanasia and assisted suicide and make
killing respectable. Death with dignity is not achieved by injecting someone
with poison when they are at their lowest point or starving and dehydrating
them to death. That is abandonment not dignity. Let me tell you something about
death with dignity: It is not an event rather the end of a process of having
lived with dignity.
of life: Let me tell you something about quality of life.
It is a moving target, It changes with time, circumstances and perspective.
When I was twenty-five, if some clairvoyant told me that within a few years I
would go from being healthy, able-bodied and athletic to being chronically ill
with an incurable degenerative disease, that I would lose my upwardly mobile
career and be forced to live on a modest disability pension, all before the age
of forty – I would have said there’s no quality of life in that. I don’t want a
life like that. Yet today, in my sixties, my life has quality. Why the
difference? My standard for quality of life changed. Today what gives my life
quality is to love and be loved.
[At this point someone
may be thinking, “That’s fine for you but what about people who are not loved, and have no connection to a community of concern?” Precisely! What about them! Is our response to
help them kill themselves or do we offer them love and help them search for
community and meaning?]
People talk about a right to die. Death is not a right; it
is an eventuality that will visit us all.The American
Declaration of Independence and even the United Nations declaration of
Universal Human rights declare a “right to live.” Neither declares a right to
I was diagnosed with
multiple sclerosis in 1984 at the age of 30. For those of you who may be
unfamiliar with MS, it is a neurological disease of unknown cause. It is
incurable and often chronic. For whatever reason, my body attacks the fatty
mylen coating around nerves causing scars that impair or stop signals coming
and going to the brain.
In my case attacks
would impair various functions, then remit returning most but not all previous
ability. I would go to bed each night not knowing what function I would wake up
with or without and no guarantee lost function would return or how much if it
Symptoms could last
days, months and even years. It was like a terrifying roller coaster ride.
I would lose the use of my legs, or my
I would lose sensation and be unable to
distinguish hot from cold or sharp from blunt.
My vision was affected and so was my
I would lose my ability to speak.
I would lose bowel or bladder control
and dirty myself.
I would develop painful and frightening
I had a crippling fatigue and I still
All of these attacks
would come with no guarantee I would get back lost function. I went from being
healthy, able-bodied and athletic to walking on a cane, two canes, then
crutches, then a wheelchair or scooter. It was awful!
the 2-3 year point in my downhill slide with MS, my grief
was so profound and
unimaginable, my sorrow so deep, my heartache so sharp, that my judgment was
assisted suicide had been available in the mid-1980s, and if I not had been
enveloped in the love of God and my wife, LaRee, I may have taken my life, at a
low point. I am so glad now that did not happen. I would never have known my 5
grandchildren. (We never know what tomorrow may bring.)
to safely grieve with the freedom to cry out, and not be helped with a death
wish I might have expressed at my lowest point.
need to grieve a loss. They need to know that there are people around them who
will uncompromisingly hold up the value of their lives – even if they cease to
believe in their own value (especially then). A person grieving catastrophic
disability or incurable illnesses needs help to rediscover their natural human
dignity when they have lost sight of it (especially when they’ve lost sight of
30 years with degenerative MS, I have observed and studied grief – both my own
and others. Grief will visit everyone. Maybe someone you know has grieved a
loss, is grieving a loss at this very moment, or is about to grieve. Perhaps
that someone is you.
I want to
address grief because unresolved grief fuels calls for assisted suicide and
euthanasia. Let me say that again, unresolved grief fuels calls for physician
like a river that cuts through the course of human lives. When the current in a
river of grief ceases to move, it can stagnate and can become dangerous if
internalized. Things that block or dam the flow of grief must be cleared away
or broken though.
grieve differently depending on their personality and disposition, their
culture and background, … and most importantly, their openness to the divine
love of God through His Son Jesus Christ.
Grief is distinct in that it is usually focuses
on an object. That’s different from depression which may not have a focus.
and grief are often related but in my experience they are not the same. Grief
that ceases to progress can settle into depression. Depression
is dangerous because it festers and can become entrenched.
Grief is dynamic because it still interacts to
its surroundings and stimulus. Grief is expressive while depression tends to
turns in on itself.
express a multitude of emotions through music, writing, drama or dance. This is
good. It indicates grief that is still fluid and moving. Depression can only
express darkness of the human spirit. It is unresponsive.
grief and depression are so closely related, it is important for caregivers and
loved-ones try to keep them from melding together.
river of grief should have ebbs and
flows. It’s imperative for the
sufferer’s loved ones to keep the river of grief
moving otherwise the sufferer can begin to perceive a perverse solace with his sorrow
and move into despair of life. His despair can masquerade as destiny. It is a
twisted perception, granted, but it is a dangerous state because death can
become preferable to life. Fait accompli.
can be seen as deliverance from physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual
agony. The isolation of the sufferer is observable by others, especially his
family – that creates isolation for them too. They can feel cut-off from their
loved one’s suffering. Suffering can create isolation that is difficult if
not impossible to express. It deepens the sense of isolation. The sufferer’s
loved ones see the anguish of the sufferer and they feel helpless to alleviate
two anguished solitudes. My wife LaRee speaks of this. She once said “It is
easier to be than to watch.” She believes it is more painful to helplessly
watch my deterioration than to be the one deteriorating. Perhaps she is right: The
thought of things being the other way round is too painful for me to
contemplate. My mind simply refuses to go there!
many times have you heard someone say, “I wish I could trade places with him or
her” as they watched a loved one suffer. But they cannot. They are vocalizing
their agony of helplessly watching the sufferer. Of course, it is impossible to
transfer actual suffering.
ones of the sick can mistakenly project their own internal pain or sorrow on to
the sick person. The family of the sick or dying person can actually perceive
suffering where none exists or is much less than they perceive. Let me
illustrate with an example from my own life:
number of years ago my mother was dying of bone cancer. Her physical pain was
well controlled. Her suffering was of an emotional or spiritual nature. But
overall her symptoms were well controlled, yet I heard friends and loved-ones
talking about her terrible pain. When I would rouse her and ask if she was in
pain, she consistently said No. Friends and loved-ones saw her dying through
the lens of their own sorrow. Sorrow and grief can distort reality.
grieve visually; they grieve in sound and in abstract ways. Perhaps grief
raises its head at the sight a park, lake or even a flower that takes them back
to an earlier and happier time before sickness or disability.
particular piece of music transports them to another place and time. (There is
a certain song that reminds me of the last time I was able to dance with my
wife. It is a bitter-sweet memory.)
Music played a huge part in my
grief journey. There was a time when I was a musician.
Early in my disease, I lost my
sense of musical timing, and the
coordination in my right hand. This was a horrible
shock. I played guitar, and at the risk of sounding boastful, I was very
I grew up in a musical family. My
mother taught music for over sixty years. At any rate, about two years after
losing my ability to play the guitar, I realized it was probably not going to
return. And so, at an apex of sorrow, I took my beautiful, top of the line
instrument and sawed it in half.
My wife was horrified! She yelled
at me, ‟What are you doing! You’ve lost your mind!” I put the two pieces of my destroyed
guitar back in its case. We spent the rest of the evening in stunned silence. But
I was not sorry.
It was like a dam burst to let my
grief move on. It was a letting go that started
a first step ― the first of many ― that continues to this day in a long journey.
I am continually encountering Christ along the way. He helps me redefine my
sense of self within each new reality.
of loss due to acquired disability or incurable illness (whether it be you or a
loved-one) inexorably alters the expected or planned course of life. The
question is “How will you respond?”
how you respond or what you choose there will be a cost. If you choose to move
on with life, it will break your heart but not your humanity; if you give up
and choose death under the guise of autonomous choice, it will break your
humanity and damage the greater human community that you leave behind.
The idea of independent
personal autonomy is diametrically opposed to the concept of interdependent community. Words like family, neighbor, community, nation attest to our interdependence. One
person’s actions don’t affect just them. They never do.
If I choose assisted
suicide it will not affect just me. It will affect my wife, my children, my
grandchildren. It will affect my doctor because I will ask her to stop being a
healer and become a killer. My suicide will affect my community and, in a small
way, it will affect my nation by helping to entrench the notion there is such a
thing as a life unworthy to be lived.
I do not have a right
to ask for assisted suicide because it will help to put in peril vulnerable
people who will come after me. No matter how sick I become I still have a
responsibility to the Common Good of society.
I have a right to
expect the best palliative care available and those things that will foster
life with dignity even at its end.
value is not derived from health, acquisition, ability, wealth or even sentience. It
comes from merely being. Rene Descarte said, “I think, therefore, I am.” To his
assertion I respond, “No, we are, therefore we matter.” To understand this is
to understand human inclusion.
value comes from being image bearers of God and the
immense love God has for
us. My journey of suffering from degenerative MS, and my search for meaning in
pain, brought me to the foot of the
cross and the divine love that put Christ on it.
those of us with incurable or degenerative diseases – and are still cognitively
able to seek the revelation of God’s love – we must be open to letting Christ
use our pain, anguish and trials to spiritually mature us and transform us to
be more like him. It is important that we simply surrender to Christ’s leading,
and to realize that in this earthly life it is more important to understand
than to be understood. I needed to relinquish my pain to Christ and understand
how truly poor in spirit I really am – not because of sickness of the body
rather sickness of sin and separation from God. Christ’s suffering and death was
to pay the penalty for my sin. I am totally helpless to save myself. (But isn’t
that the same for all of us?)
St. John Paul said that Christ invites us to unite our suffering with his
redemptive suffering. I have discovered it to be true. It is within His
redemptive act we will discover divine love ― which is the purpose for which we
were created. Suffering has the capacity to strip away all things extraneous to
life and leave only that which is essential.
taught me that at the center of existence rests a heartrending and beautiful
mystery. Once that mystery has been glimpsed, everything else becomes a
diversion, and irrelevance. That mystery is the light of Christ, illuminated by
His divine love.
is possible to experience an illumination that enables the sufferer to begin to
comprehend the glorious transforming liberty available to the children of God,
even though we are being physically destroyed. Many people throughout history
have discovered this including St. Francis of Assisi, John Milton, John Donne,
Alexander Solzhenitsyn and millions of ordinary people.
this is what St. Paul meant when he wrote:
when one turns to Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and
where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. …”
in dire and miserable physical circumstances can experience shades of this
liberty when in any human context they may not appear to experience liberty
whatsoever. Yet out of their wretched surroundings can come salvation and joy. Christ calls them to unite their suffering
with His suffering and transcend beyond themselves to become more like Him. Jesus Christ will make sense
of our anguish if we invite Him into in to our lives and remain surrendered to
His leading and sensitive to His voice and love. In and by His suffering I
found meaning for my suffering.
has been in my sickroom that I have begun to discover union with Christ’s
Crucifixion and a new hope in the cosmic eloquence of His Resurrection. Tears
of sadness and tears of joy run together. And I think of something else St.
“Therefore we do not
lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is
being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but a moment, is
working for us a far more exceeding and eternal
weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at
things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are unseen are eternal. For we
know that if this earthly house, this
tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands,
eternal in the heavens.”
such assurances of eternity I am called to be about the Lord’s business in the
here and now (just as you are called).
is loved by God – whether they know it or not.
point of life is love (both human and divine). Jesus said that the greatest
commandment is “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is
like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The church teaches that suicide (assisted or otherwise) is contrary to the just
love of self. The Catechism tells us that suicide “…offends love of neighbor
because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and
other societies to which we continue to have obligations.” It is also contrary
to love for the living God.
Whether I am disabled or not, sick or well, in
the prime of life or the end of life, I am still responsible to the greater
common good of the Human Family. We are not autonomous beings. I have no right
to death. If there are any rights they lie with the right to life, its care and
nurture ― not only my own but others around me and those yet to come.
It was John Donne wrote these immortal words:
“No man is an island entire unto itself, every
man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; … any man’s death
diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to
know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
There cannot be personal autonomy if we also
cherish community. There cannot be personal independence if we desire human interdependence.
Lovingkindness is what defines civilized societies.
But love needs the divine. Love without God
becomes selective, coercive and arbitrary – turning the lives of the weakest
and the unwanted into hell on earth. Human benevolence on its own is fleeting
and fickle. The brotherhood of man needs
the Fatherhood of God.
For 240 years the sun has shone brightly on
America. God has
blessed this nation. I believe He blessed America because it was one nation under God that tried to
follow His precepts.
The March for Life proclaims that self-evident
all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, beginning with the Right to Life.
life is worthy of care and defending. It is an unalienable truth that reflects
the love in the heart of Christ.
that message to the streets of Washington, to your own cities and neighborhoods.
Do not let the sun set on ground soaked with the blood of your unborn children
and your old, sick and disabled. May the
sun rise of a new day rise where every life – even the most vulnerable – are
valued and cared about and embraced. God bless the 2016 March for Life. God bless America. Thank you.