Today I read the CDF's new letter "Samaritanus Bonus: On the care of person in critical and terminal phases of life." You should read it. It is good. It's literally life-affirming.
I was reading it very closely to see if there was anything new. New can be good, but it is often bad. I was very much hoping I would not find anything bad, for I would have to ignore all the good and bring everyone's attention to the bad, for such is the nature of my work.
But the loveliest part of Samaritanus Bonus was the emphasis on accompanying the very ill, visiting them in their loneliness, and being compassionate with their suffering, and giving them hope of a better life beyond this one. There was a wonderful meditation on the Crucified Christ, too. And as I read about all this accompaniment, I remembered going to see Benedict Ambrose every day when he was sick, and what he was like when he was sick, and how I called in as many friends and family I thought he could bear the night before his make-or-break operation. B.A. was then too addled to think much about hope, but I was full of hope.
Then I went into the sitting-room where he was reading and kissed the top of his head because I was so happy he didn't die after all.
I went back to reading Samaritanus Bonus, and to my immense relief, on page 19 the CDF explained that priests can't give the Last Sacrament to people who are planning to be euthanised. They can't even be around when it happens. If I decide (God forbid) to get myself bumped off by a medical professional, a priest will not be allowed to sit there and hold my hand while I am bumped.
The CDF had emphasised the love, companionship and care for the sick and dying for eighteen pages, illustrating why euthanasia of any kind was no substitute for that and was, in fact, an a serious sin. That is the context, by the way, in which the guidance to pastors is given. And I was very glad that the CDF didn't cave and allow the the Last Sacrament into a kind of superstitious mumbo-jumbo or toss all the beautiful things it had said out the window in the cause of "being nice." The CDF meant what it said, the Church means what it has always means, and our lives do not belong to us, but to God.
The meditation on the Crucified Christ should be enough to convince His followers that we shouldn't get a pass on suffering, or take the easy way out, when we die.
I wrote a sad story some time ago now about a man who went to see his priest about his funeral shortly before his assisted suicide. A visiting priest had already given him the Sacrament of the Sick, not knowing (apparently) what he had in mind although half the parish did. The pastor tried to convince the man not to do it, but the man was adamant. He had a big party and the church choir came and it was all very Petronius' Banquet in Quo Vadis except with hugs and hymns. Then the man was pumped full of drugs, lost consciousness and died.
What struck me about this story, when I was reading Samaritanus bonus, was the party. What if we had more parties for the very ill? I had a lovely, lovely friend who came home from the hospital to die naturally of her horrible cancer, and for the last days of her life, she kept a kind of salon. Her friends and family came from all over Britain to sit with her and each other, drink, eat sweets, swap stories, pet the cats, and tell her she was marvellous. She was marvellous. I pray for her all the time.
Anyway, read Samaritanus Bonus. It's a bit repetitive and clogged with bishopese, but it is edifying and sound.