October 17, 2014


Do not abandon the elderly

Last week’s issue of The Criterion reported on some of the events that have taken place in the archdiocese during Respect Life Month. These included the Respect Life Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, the area Life Chains, and the talk that Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, gave at the Indianapolis Celebrate Life dinner on Sept. 30. (A question-and-answer interview with Hawkins is also included in this week’s issue.)

These events concentrated mainly on opposition to abortion. The opposite end of life must also not be forgotten. Respect life events must also emphasize opposition to euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, and any other movements in our society that tend to devalue life at any age.

Two weeks ago, we reported on what Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI did on Sept. 28 to draw attention to the elderly. They both attended “The Blessing for a Long Life” event at the Vatican, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, which attracted 40,000 grandparents, retired men and women, and their families.

Pope Emeritus Benedict was at the event at Pope Francis’s personal invitation. It was the third time that the retired pope made an appearance in public.

Pope Francis used the occasion to warn against the abandonment and neglect of the elderly, which he called a “hidden euthanasia.” But there is also the problem of actual euthanasia, which is becoming ever more common.

Today, the states of Washington, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and New Mexico all have legalized some form of doctor-assisted suicide, following the lead of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in Europe.

It’s not difficult to understand why elderly people sometimes feel forced to end their lives. Medical care has become increasingly expensive, and the elderly don’t want to deplete their savings or become burdens to their families.

It used to be that the elderly sometimes wanted to end their lives because they were in great pain. That continues to happen, but it’s rarer these days because of advances in the control of pain. Today, the impetus for euthanasia or suicide is more likely to be financial.

The same week that the Church celebrated that event for the elderly, a story came out in Britain’s Daily Mail that a couple in Belgium were planning their double suicide. Neither Francis, 89, nor Anne, 86, had any kind of terminal illness. They just feared becoming a burden to their family and possibly having to spend money that they hoped to be part of their inheritance to their children.

As Francis, the husband, said, “We want to go together because we both fear the future. It’s as simple as this: We are afraid of what lies ahead.”

The article said that the couple has not only the full support of their three adult children, but their encouragement. Why? Their children said that they would be unable to care for a parent who was left behind.

Yes, the problem of caring for elderly parents is becoming more serious as modern medicine has prolonged lives. Parents and grandparents didn’t used to live as long as they do these days. Many middle-aged couples find themselves in the center of the sandwich generation, where they are simultaneously trying to care for aged parents while also paying for the education of their children. The archdiocese is addressing this very topic at a caregiver’s conference on Oct. 17. (Click here to learn more.)

But the solution cannot be that the aged parents decide that they have lived long enough, and that it would be better for the family for them to die.

As Pope Francis said during that celebration for the elderly, people must fight against “this poisonous throwaway culture,” which targets children, young people and the elderly, on “the pretext of keeping the economic system ‘balanced,’ where the focus is not on the human being but on the god of money.”

The pope called old age “a time of grace,” but said that the elderly are too often abandoned. Unfortunately, the concept of respecting and caring for the aged has become countercultural. However, “We are all called to counter this culture of poisonous waste,” he said.

We recognize that the elderly do not have to take extraordinary means to maintain their lives, and we acknowledge the great work that hospice is doing with the dying. Let us not, though, be quick to discard the elderly.

—John F. Fink

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