This event was a few weeks ago now, however I wanted to wait for the video to be uploaded in case anyone wanted to watch it. This was an event sponsored by the Institute for Christian Studies and Society at the University of Concordia. Rabbi Daniel Friedman (Beth Israel Synagogue), Reverend Jim Gimbel (President, Concordia Lutheran Seminary), and Dr. Doris Kieser (St. Joseph’s College) were the guest speakers and the event was public and announced via facebook.
A friend invited me, so I decided to go.
Before the presentation even started a lady sitting in front of us was handing out some pamphlets from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. The pamphlet, Caring Not Killing, can be viewed on their website. With close to 60 people in attendance, I suddenly was very aware my friend and I would be alone in our views that PAD was a human right, should remain legal and was the compassionate way to allow people to end their lives if they so chose to.
First up was Dr. Doris Kieser, who did a pretty good job of explaining the legislation and then enlightened us to the Catholic perspective on things. Something that stood out to me was that the definition of dignity was different than what I would consider dignity. Another point that was different in our views was the definitions of suffering and compassion. Catholics expect suffering, this is part of life. These definitions and her explanations of the Catholic view can be seen starting around the 20 minute mark. Dr. Kieser was quite open that the struggle with the secular world vs the Catholic view for PAD is the differences in these definitions. I remind you of the Mother Teresa quote: “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
Next up was Rabbi Daniel Friedman, who at first really seemed to be heading down a road that meant PAD could be completely forgiven in most circumstances. I felt hopeful half way through his presentation, feeling he was making some arguments for why advance directives should also be legalized (currently these are not allowed for PAD). Then it took a turn. His explanations of what he considered coercion and competence were intriguing, that pain could ”coerce” you into making decisions you couldn’t make competently.
Eventually his discussion moved towards meaning and purpose of life. ”The real Catch 22 is for atheists….they say ‘I can’t believe in a God who makes so much suffering in the world’ so I say ‘really? If life is that bad, and you have no reason to live, then shoot me now! What are you waiting for until you get the terminal illness? You think life is terrible! ….if I didn’t think there was a purpose I’m already terminal!”
I admit to taking him up on these comments after the presentation was over, introducing myself as an atheist and he immediately responded with ”oh, sorry didn’t mean to offend”.
Anyway, the final speaker Reverend Jim Gimbel gave us all a handout with many biblical reasons/scripture (50 of them I believe) as to why it is against God’s wishes and commands to commit PAD. His presentation at times felt a bit like sitting in church, and my friend who was with me joked that we should prepare ourselves for an alter call (that’s when they invite the crowd to accept Jesus into their hearts). Obviously he was interpreting these scriptures based on a Lutheran understanding of them, and clearly other Christian groups that support the PAD legistlation look at these same scriptures and come to different conclusions.
Overall, as expected, the presentations were very much one sided, although I did appreciate during question time that Rev. Gimbel acknowledged that the non-religious/secular view was missing from the discussion. It felt very much like each of the viewpoints presented KNEW EXACTLY (and were authorities on) what God would and would not want, and didn’t offer the suggestion that God may speak to the dying in their own way. Even the young Jewish man in the audience who asked if Jesus had had an assisted suicide was met with a rationalized answer (it was a sacrifice, rather than a suicide, much like a soldier would do). They had their answers, which they apply to the rest of us too . End of discussion.
While normally I would think to myself ”plenty of work to be done” I actually left feeling that these differences between us can NEVER be resolved. Well, not unless doctrines can be changed.