MAiD is a Mercy

Thanks to Associate Rector Cole Hartin (“Assisted Suicide & the Cure of Souls,” March) for raising an urgent question: whether and how pastors should provide spiritual accompaniment to members of their flock who seek the benefit of medical aid in dying (MAiD) laws to avoid unnecessary suffering when the end is near. Humbly and wisely, Hartin chooses to walk alongside them, albeit at some distance. Sadly, he does so as “a physical reminder of the judgment and mercy of God, even when both have been flouted.” When dying, the last thing a person needs is to feel judged and found wanting. What is called for, instead, is compassionate understanding, support, and relief, as so richly demonstrated by Jesus in his earthly ministry.

But first, it is important that U.S. readers understand that the Canadian law on which the article is based differs radically from the legal context in the United States. Where it is legal in the United States, MAiD allows only a self-administered procedure under stringent conditions, including, typically, the presence of a terminal illness judged to result in death within six months, mental competency, the involvement of an attending physician and a consulting physician, repeated and documented requests, witnesses, and waiting periods. Clinician-administered MAiD, legal in Canada, is illegal everywhere in the United States. Thus, MAiD in the United States is emphatically not a “euphemism…for euthanasia.”

The crux of Hartin’s argument against medical aid in dying (of whatever type) rests on the bedrock belief that “life and death both come from the hand of the Lord.” But our understanding of what life and death are and how they come about has changed drastically with the strides of science. For Christians, the answer to novel and difficult end-of-life questions is in the first place found in Scripture and, particularly, the teachings and life of Jesus. “The message of Jesus is mercy,” said Pope Francis in his second homily as pope. In Jesus Christ, God’s mercy and compassion are revealed. The purpose of medical intervention through MAiD is eminently compassionate: the intent is to avoid suffering when death is near, even if that intervention substantially hastens the arrival of death. If God is compassionate, so should we be. MAiD is a mercy.

Yes, as cultural norms change and medical science opens new possibilities, questions surrounding life and death will continue to throw up new challenges to the faithful and those entrusted with their pastoral care. The questions will not be simply to allow or disallow, but how to deal with either alternative in ways that honor the dignity of being and the love of God. In the exercise of a well-informed conscience, MAiD, as enabled in certain jurisdictions of the United States, allows the faithful to do just that.

Rudolf V. Van Puymbroeck
Phoenix, Ariz.


Gentleness Still on My Mind

I have now read Rand Richard Cooper’s incredible article “The Life of a Song” (February) at least four times. I can remember when I first heard Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind.” I was in a Baptist dorm in Jos, Nigeria, missing my parents. One of the older girls was playing it on her record player, and I was just entranced.

I was going to write this letter to correct what I thought was a wrong interpretation of the lyrics. I always thought she was “waving” from those backyards of his memory, not “waiting.” I finally found a half minute to sit down and listen to an old recording from when Campbell was young. Clearly, in that one, she is indeed “wait’n’.” I was so shocked I nearly fell out of my chair.

But then I noticed in the YouTube sidebar a much later recording of the song, from when he was on tour in London. His daughter, Ashley, performs with him, playing her banjo. Man! If you weren’t crying by then, that should be the tipping point. In this recording, I heard “wavin’.” I rewound it, replayed it, and confirmed.

To me, “wavin’” makes so much more sense. Whoever “she” is, she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would wait for someone to return. If she were waiting, he’d feel guilty, but her “wavin’” personality is gentle to him.

In the fourth verse, when “some other woman’s cryin’ to her mother,” the singer obviously knows he hurt yet another woman by disappearing. But I believe this makes him appreciate the waving woman, who doesn’t mind him coming and going. The lyrics “your door is always open” and “your path is free to walk” show that neither of them is “shackled” or “clinging,” yet the love they share is real. He pretends to hold her to his breast. And, in the penultimate verse, he declares that no matter what happens to him, even blindness, he’s never going to be where he can’t see her back there in those backyards and rivers, which brings him no small comfort. He craves gentleness, and that’s what she gives him.

Thank you for sending me down the backroads and rivers a continent away to that dorm room that afternoon when I was just a homesick missionary kid listening to the big girls’ music, wishing I could be with my parents.

Martha Abadie
Hattiesburg, Miss.

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Published in the May 2023 issue: View Contents
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