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Pope, others pray as parents of Charlie Gard end legal struggle

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Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England — Pope Francis is praying for the parents of Charlie Gard after a U.S. doctor told them nothing could be done to help their son.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates announced in London’s High Court July 24 that they had ended their legal struggle to take their baby overseas for treatment after a U.S. neurologist, Dr. Michio Hirano, said he was no longer willing to offer Charlie experimental nucleoside therapy after he examined the results of a new MRI scan.

People attach a message for Charlie Gard and his parents to the railings outside the High Court in London July 24. Pope Francis is praying for the parents of Charlie Gard after a U.S. doctor told them nothing could be done to help their son, who suffers from encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. (CNS photo/Peter Nicholls, Reuters)

People attach a message for Charlie Gard and his parents to the railings outside the High Court in London July 24. Pope Francis is praying for the parents of Charlie Gard after a U.S. doctor told them nothing could be done to help their son, who suffers from encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. (CNS photo/Peter Nicholls, Reuters)

Their decision means that the child, who suffers from encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, will receive only palliative care and most likely will die before his first birthday Aug. 4.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said in a July 24 statement that Pope Francis, who had taken a personal interest in the case, “is praying for Charlie and his parents and feels especially close to them at this time of immense suffering.”

He said: “The Holy Father asks that we join in prayer that they may find God’s consolation and love.”

The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales also issued a statement July 24 in which they expressed their “deepest sympathy and compassion” for Charlie and his parents.

“It is for Charlie, his parents and family that we all pray, hoping that they are able, as a family, to be given the support and the space to find peace in the days ahead,” the statement said.

“Their farewell to their tiny and precious baby touches the hearts of all who, like Pope Francis, have followed this sad and complex story. Charlie’s life will be lovingly cherished until its natural end,” the statement continued.

A July 24 statement from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a bioethical institute of the Catholic Church in the U.K. and Ireland, said it was now time “to remember the preciousness of the child at the heart of this case, and to allow his parents to be with him until he passes from this life.”

“If further treatment may no longer be worthwhile, Charlie’s life is inherently worthwhile, having the dignity and irreplaceability of every human life, and this will remain so even in the coming days,” it said.

Charlie’s parents, who live in London, had fought for eight months for medical help that might have saved the life of their son.

They raised 1.3 million pounds ($1.7 million) to take him abroad for treatment, but the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London had argued that Charlie was beyond help and that it was not in his best interests to be kept alive, triggering a protracted legal battle with the parents that led to interventions from U.S. President Donald Trump and from the pope.

“We are about to do the hardest thing that we’ll ever have to do, which is to let our beautiful little Charlie go,” the parents said in their statement to the court. “Put simply, this is about a sweet, gorgeous, innocent little boy who was born with a rare disease, who had a real, genuine chance at life and a family who love him so very dearly, and that’s why we fought so hard for him.”

“Had Charlie been given the treatment sooner, he would have had the potential to be a normal, healthy little boy,” they said. “We have always believed that Charlie deserved a chance at life.”

“One thing that does give us the slightest bit of comfort is that we truly believe that Charlie may have been too special for this cruel world,” they continued.

Concluding the statement, the couple said: “Mummy and Daddy love you so much Charlie, we always have and we always will, and we are so sorry that we couldn’t save you. We had the chance but we weren’t allowed to give you that chance. Sweet dreams baby. Sleep tight our beautiful little boy.”

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Assisted suicide ‘solution’ coerces the dying and families

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My father-in-law died this past month. He was a good, hardworking man, an immigrant, self-taught and self-reliant.

As is likely both the fear and the fate of many of us, he died in a hospital, tethered to a swarm of IVs. With various doctors weighing in on his various conditions, his family struggled to make the right decisions at a time of conflicting advice and great emotion. No one wanted him to go. No one wanted him to suffer.

All our lives, we’ve been trained to rely on doctors for advice. At this literally life-and-death moment, however, they often let us down. As Dr. Dhruv Khullar wrote in The New York Times recently, “For years the medical profession has largely fumbled the question of what we should do when there’s nothing more we can do.” Read more »

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Robust pain management, emotional and spiritual support offer alternatives to suicide

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Catholic News Service

MC Sullivan has heard all of the arguments in favor of assisted suicide.

“There are arguments that would touch anyone with a heart,” said the director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. “They are couched in emotional language, emotional stories and the reality of a human being who is suffering unbearably.”

In this April 19, 2011, file photo, patient Warren Saunders smiles as Dominican Sister Agnes Mary plays the piano at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who staff a nursing home there that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. The Catholic Church's main weapon against assisted suicide rests in "robust palliative care," said MC Sullivan, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Warren Saunders smiles as Dominican Sister Agnes Mary plays the piano at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who staff a nursing home there that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. The Catholic Church’s main weapon against assisted suicide rests in “robust palliative care,” said MC Sullivan, director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Sullivan, a registered nurse and attorney who holds a master’s degree in bioethics from Harvard Divinity School, nevertheless spends her days articulating the Catholic Church’s stand against assisted suicide and promoting the pain relief and emotional, physical and spiritual support system that are part of palliative care.

Assisted suicide is promoted as “a literal and figurative last resort” for those who are dying, she said. Its supporters rely on patients’ and their family members’ “fear of the pain that they are told is coming,” as well as their fears of becoming dependent on others or experiencing a loss of their dignity.

“The day that those arguments don’t touch us is a day we have to worry about ourselves,” Sullivan said.

“But there are other realities that I think we lose sight of when we engage with those realities and those fears,” she said. “Life is a joyous and wonderful gift and it is not ours to do with as we will.”

Sullivan was serving as director of ethics for Covenant Health in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, in 2012 and joined with the Archdiocese of Boston and other organizations in a coalition that narrowly defeated a ballot question that would have allowed assisted suicide in the commonwealth.

Under Massachusetts law, when a ballot question is defeated it cannot be put on the ballot again until six years later. But that has not kept proponents of assisted suicide from bringing up the matter in the legislature and trying to influence public opinion.

“We hoped the issue would go away, but that has not been the case,” she said.

When Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston decided to open a new office on palliative care in 2015, Sullivan was his choice to lead the initiative, believed to be the only archdiocesan agency in the nation with such a charge.

Compassion & Choices, a leading proponent of assisted suicide in the United States formerly known as the Hemlock Society, presents its arguments in terms of individual autonomy, free choice and “better end-of-life options,” Sullivan said. But “it’s not about end-of-life care choices,” she added. “It’s about ending life.”

The church’s main weapon against assisted suicide rests in “robust palliative care,” she said, describing it as “a comprehensive model of being with and caring for someone with a serious, life-limiting illness.”

Sometimes confused with hospice care, palliative care is not only for those close to death and can begin at any stage of an illness, Sullivan said. It also includes effective pain management and encompasses all of the family members and friends involved as caregivers for the patient, “the people who are your people.”

Palliative care is “patient-centered and family-oriented,” she added.

Sullivan said anyone with a life-limiting illness can reach the point of letting go of the fears associated with death if they have help with pain management and handling of the “practical considerations” sometimes associated with an illness.

“I know how fearful letting go can be,” she said. “But at the same time there can also be an amazing richness of experience of loving and being loved that happens in states of serious illness.”

Surveys nationwide have shown that the vast majority of Americans are not interested in participating in an assisted suicide or even in talking about it, Sullivan said.

“Even its proponents will tell us that it just for a small part of the population,” she added. “So why has it become a matter for public policy, which is meant to be applied broadly? That’s turning it on its head.”

 

O’Brien is retired deputy editor of CNS and is freelance book review editor for CNS.

 

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Living Our Faith — Assisted suicide and palliative care

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Discussions of assisted suicide in the church today often view it both in light of the commandment against taking life and the same commandment’s implicit call to give loving, continuing attention to suffering people.

Opponents of the assisted suicide bill C-14 rally June 1, 2014, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them. (CNS photo/Art Babych)

Opponents of the assisted suicide bill C-14 rally June 1, 2014, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them. (CNS photo/Art Babych)

But in nearly every U.S. state, efforts continue in the legislatures, the courts or the court of public opinion to make assisted suicide a legal option.

Opponents of assisted suicide see the answer to those concerns in greater reliance on palliative care —medical care that reduces pain and symptoms of incurable cases.

Palliative care is not only for those close to death. It includes effective pain management and encompasses all of the family members and friends involved as caregivers for the patient.

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Cardinal George says he’s receiving palliative care

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Catholic News Service

CHICAGO — Doctors have exhausted all options in Cardinal Francis E. George’s cancer treatment and have moved on to palliative care.

The cardinal shared that information with news media during a Jan. 30 news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, following a luncheon where he received the Knights of Columbus’ highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award.

Cardinal Francis E. George, retired archbishop of Chicago, speaks to media Jan. 30 in Chicago after receiving the Gaudium et Spes Award from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.  (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Cardinal Francis E. George, retired archbishop of Chicago, speaks to media Jan. 30 in Chicago after receiving the Gaudium et Spes Award from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

“They’ve run out of tricks in the bag, if you like,” said Cardinal George, 78, Chicago’s retired archbishop.

He’s doing physical therapy because his muscles atrophied during chemotherapy, when he was exhausted and unable to get around much, he said. That situation is typical when undergoing chemotherapy, and especially with polio survivors, such as himself, because their muscles are overworked, he said.

“But basically, I’m in the hands of God, as we all are in some fashion,” he said, adding that he hopes to eventually get off the crutches he’s been using since October.

“In some ways, this particular disease, in my case, has not been following the usual pattern in the past. It probably won’t follow the usual pattern in the future,” the cardinal told reporters.

Like anyone with a terminal illness, he has good days and bad days. If he has enough stamina, the cardinal said, he planned to attend the consistory of cardinals in mid-February, but hadn’t made up his mind.

“Rome is not an easy city for people who are disabled in the best of times,” Cardinal George said.

Since his retirement last November, he has been keeping regular appointments and hearing confessions at Holy Name Cathedral on Thursdays when he’s available. Hearing confessions was one of the things he said he looked forward to most in retirement.

Prior to the news conference, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson presented Cardinal George with the Gaudium et Spes Award. The award was established in 1992 and is named for the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, or “Gaudium et Spes.”

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata was its first recipient. Others include Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and L’Arche founder Jean Vanier.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who is supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, read the award’s citation, which said in part: “Both in his brilliant speeches, homilies, letters and books, and in the brave witness to the faith that he has shown to the world — in sickness and in health — Cardinal George has proven over and over again one of the leading voices in the Catholic Church in the United States.”

The award comes with a $100,000 gift. Cardinal George said he was giving $60,000 of it to the archdiocese’s “To Teach Who Christ Is” campaign scholarship fund, which benefits children in Catholic schools. The remaining $40,000 will be divided and donated to various charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Cardinal George has been a member of the Knights since 1991 and has twice delivered the keynote at the order’s national convention.

In his remarks upon receiving the award, Cardinal George told those gathered: “This award is for you as well as it is for me because you share the joys and the hopes, the anxieties and the griefs of all of the people whom you know and all of the people whom you don’t know but you know you are called to love because God is love,” he said. “And we are made in his image and likeness.”

 

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