I need this more than ever today.
Legalising assisting dying would mean “less suffering not more deaths”, a leading campaigner has said.
Lord Falconer, whose private member’s bill would legalise the practice for some terminally ill patients, said a “limited” change was needed to the law to give people choice on their deaths.
But Lord Tebbit said it would create “too much of a financial incentive for the taking of life”.
The bill passed its second reading in the Lords on Friday without a vote.
The proposed legislation would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live.
Making the case for his bill, Lord Falconer insisted that the “final decision must always be made by the patient”, with safeguards to prevent “abuse”
About 130 peers requested to speak in a debate that lasted for around 10 hours.
The bill will now be examined line-by-line by peers in the Lords as it passes to committee stage.
However, without government backing, MPs are unlikely to get a chance to debate it in the Commons, meaning it will not become law.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is not “convinced” by the arguments for legalising assisted dying but the bill has won the backing of Lib Dem Care Minister Norman Lamb.
The legislation would allow a terminally ill, mentally competent adult, making the choice of their own free will and after meeting strict legal safeguards, to request life-ending medication from a doctor.
Two independent doctors would be required to agree that the patient had made an informed decision to die.
Opening the debate in a packed house, Lord Falconer – a former Labour Lord Chancellor – told peers the current legal situation permitted the wealthy to travel abroad to take their own life while others were left “in despair” to suffer a “lonely, cruel death”.
“The current situation leaves the rich able to go to Switzerland, the majority reliant on amateur assistants, the compassionate treated like criminals and no safeguards in terms of undue pressure now,” he said.
He said many people were so worried about “implicating their loves ones in a criminal enterprise” by asking them for help to die that they took their lives “by hoarding pills or putting a plastic bag over their heads”.
Legalising assisted dying, he argued would allow a “small number” of people who didn’t want to “go through the last months, weeks, days and hours” of life to die with dignity.
Lord Falconer’s bill was backed by Lord Avebury, the former Liberal MP, who was diagnosed with terminal blood cancer in 2011.
He urged peers to consider helping thousands of people whom he said faced “weeks of torture before they die a means of escaping from that unnecessary fate”.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said he had changed his mind about the issue and now believed that belief in assisted dying was “quite compatible” with being a Christian.
“When suffering is so great, when some patients already know that they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it seems a denial of the loving compassion that is the hallmark of Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their clearly stated request,” he said.
Assisted dying debate
What is the current law on assisted dying around the UK?
The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison.
The law is almost identical in Northern Ireland. There is no specific law on assisted suicide in Scotland, creating some uncertainty, although in theory someone could be prosecuted under homicide legislation.
Have there been any previous attempts to change the law?
There have already been several attempts to legalise assisted dying, but these have been rejected.
The Commission on Assisted Dying, established and funded by campaigners who have been calling for a change in the law, concluded in 2012 that there was a “strong case” for allowing assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill in England and Wales.
But the medical profession and disability rights groups, among others, argue that the law should not be changed because it is there to protect the vulnerable in society.
What is the situation abroad?
In other countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, legislation has been introduced to allow assisted dying. France is considering a possible introduction of similar legislation, although there is opposition from its medical ethics council.
Campaign group Dignity in Dying predicts that a lot more countries will follow suit.
Complete Article HERE!
By Nina Shapiro
Katrina Spade started thinking about her mortality when she hit 30, while studying architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. What would she want to happen to her body after she died? she wondered. A traditional burial was out. She didn’t like the idea of putting her body in a casket, “pumped full of formaldehyde.” “I guess I’ll be cremated,” she thought, envisioning her ashes being scattered in beautiful New Hampshire, where she grew up, or maybe over the ocean.
Then she started musing over the notion of a “natural burial,” a phenomenon that has caught on in the past 10 or 15 years, helped by its starring role in one episode of the popular mid-’00s TV show Six Feet Under. Bodies skip the embalming process and are placed into the ground wrapped in a biodegradable cover—a simple pine coffin, perhaps, or even a cardboard box. Spade liked the idea of getting “bodies back to the earth as quickly as possible.” The problem was that natural-burial cemeteries are usually located outside cities, where there is more land. And Spade considered herself a devoted city dweller, even in death.
Could there be an urban alternative? This, she thought, was a design problem. And, as an architecture student, design problems were her métier.
So began Spade’s work on what she calls the “Urban Death Project,” which turned into her thesis. Its central idea is so radical, so contrary to deeply ingrained notions about how we treat our dead, that she knows that one wrong word used to describe it will turn people off. But there’s only one plain way to put it: Our bodies would be composted. Turned to dirt, spread on gardens, used, as Spade sees it, for something “productive one last time.”
Radical or no, her vision—which she kept refining after graduating, moving to Seattle, and taking a design job with the nonprofit architecture firm Environmental Works—is getting some traction. Late last month, the New York foundation Echoing Green awarded Spade an $80,000, two-year fellowship that will allow her to work on the project full time and build a prototype in the Seattle area.
“We recycle everything, why can’t we recycle ourselves?” asks Nora Menkin, who has heard Spade talk about her idea. Menkin is the managing director of Seattle’s Co-Op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial, which seeks to provide affordable cremations and burials and help families explore alternatives to the norms developed by the heavily commercialized funeral industry.
Spade is not the first to float the idea of composting bodies, according to Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a Washington State University agriculture professor who has long worked on composting projects. But, she says, “This is certainly the most serious and socially appropriate trial I’ve heard about.” By that she means that Spade’s project tackles not only the mechanics of composting bodies, but also our need to create meaningful ceremonies around death and to treat the remains of our loved ones with respect.
“I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”
Spade, speaking by phone last week from Rhode Island, where as it happens she was attending a memorial service for her grandmother, explains that she sees one of her chief jobs as “making this an incredibly beautiful experience for people.” The model she has come up with, pictured in drawings that can be seen on her website, involves a four-story building that would have a series of ramps connecting each floor. The vertical model saves space; Spade envisions it needing no more than a plot of land suitable for a small apartment building. Crucially, though, the structure also plays a ceremonial role, as loved ones would walk the body up the ramps in ritualistic procession.
On the third floor, the family would pause and the body would be wrapped in linen. Spade envisions a “death midwife” taking the lead here. Death midwives, also known as “home funeral guides,” are another product of the movement to reclaim life’s end from the industry that has grown up around it, according to Menkin, who took a California workshop to train for such a role herself. Midwives clean and prepare the body for what comes next, often working with family members who want to help—the process that Spade sees happening on the third floor of her center.
Then, family members would walk the body up to the top floor. Here, they would lay the body on what Spade calls “the core”—the compost pile of bodies that would be mixed with wood chips and sawdust in a formula that fuels the decomposition process. Our bodies in themselves are a great start, full of “nutrients” that microorganisms love to eat, according to Carpenter-Boggs, who adds that it’s this feeding frenzy that produces the energy crucial to the process.
Spade acknowledges that this communal pile, rather than individual plots of land or a cherished urn, is a psychological leap. “I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”
And what about the smell? Spade says that’s the first question she gets—a crucial one, because foul odors are a big problem at many composting facilities. Local composting giant Cedar Grove has faced community complaints about that for years.
Spade says she’s confident that won’t be an issue with her death centers, pointing to the process used to compost livestock animals. Carpenter-Boggs, who’s helped pioneer the practice at WSU with the university’s farm animals, explains that there are fewer fumes than at commercial facilities because animal composting doesn’t involve rotting garbage. Commercial faculties also sometimes use smelly manure as additives to the compost pile. That practice would be avoided when dealing with humans, says Carpenter-Boggs, who is working as an informal consultant to Spade.
The professor imagines the death centers, which would use neutral or even sweet-smelling additives, smelling “like a garden.” Indeed, Spade hopes city dwellers will treat her sites as if they were such, strolling through on their lunch hour, for instance.
Still, there’s no doubt she’ll have to overcome what Menkin calls “the ick factor.” The co-op funeral home director says marketing will be key.
Spade has got a start on that. She makes the environmental arguments for composting, noting that it won’t take up arable land, require “toxic” chemicals as embalming and burial does, or use the 30,000 cubic feet of natural gas that she says it takes to burn a single body. If some might bristle at that approach—Michigan funeral director Thomas Lynch quipped to The New York Times, writing about natural burials a decade ago, that one must now be a “politically correct corpse”—Spade also has a financial case. She says composting should cost far less than either burials or cremations.
Complete Article HERE!
Lord Carey writes in the Daily Mail that he has dropped his opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill “in the face of the reality of needless suffering”.
But the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called the bill “mistaken and dangerous”.
Peers will debate the bill on Friday.
Tabled by Labour peer Lord Falconer, the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance ending their own life. It would apply to those with less than six months to live.
Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.
Some 110 peers are already listed to speak when the House of Lords debates the private members bill on Friday.
Humor takes the sting away; it humanizes us; it helps us keep our perspective. Humor enriches us; it educates us; it brings us joy. Humor doesn’t dissolve the pain or make our life any less poignant, but it does help make things more bearable. That’s my philosophy, and I’m happy to share it with you on a weekly basis. I hope that if you enjoy what you see, you will take the opportunity to share it with others.
The task of interpreting the symbols on a headstone or memorial is a daunting one. Although most of the symbols that you will see DO have a textbook meaning, it is quite possible that the headstone or memorial you are looking at was put there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased or those left behind to morn. The point is that many people choose a memorial motif not for its textbook meaning, but simply because they like the ornamentation or design, because it feels “right” or appropriate.
My friend Kevin is 39. He is living with HIV. He tested positive twelve years ago. Luckily he continues to be asymptomatic.
Kevin is a music teacher and member of a jazz quartet. He is currently single and shares his house with two roommates. His lover, Doug, died five years ago just one month shy of their tenth anniversary together.
Kevin is trim and buffed. He works out at a local gym four days a week. He is boyishly handsome with tousled red hair. He rides a motorcycle and is a wicked pool player.
Kevin tells me; “Even though I’ve had many friends die of AIDS, I still have plenty of my own death stuff to deal with.” He reports that he has recently engaged in some questionable sexual practices. “That’s a sure sign that I’m shoving a lot of this under the carpet. And I know this kind of thing could be, well, a fatal mistake!”
Kevin was born and raised a devout Roman Catholic. His Boston Irish Catholic family had high hopes that one day he would become a priest. “I know I disappointed them and I don’t think they ever really got over it. Ya see, when I came out in college I left the church at the same time. It was a preemptive strike, if you want to know the truth. I wasn’t about to wait around for them to throw me out just because I was gay.” His inability to find a suitable spiritual home makes him sad. “Sometimes I feel lost and rudderless. I know God loves me, but the sweet and easy connection I once had with God as a younger man eludes me now.”
My friend Kevin and I meet for lunch about once a month. We talk about life and death and what makes us tick. At a recent lunch we started to talk about life and love after the love of our life dies.
Kevin tells me; “My sexuality has always been a driving force in my life, but sometimes I simply feel driven. A manic pursuit of pleasure is no pleasure, if you know what I mean.”
“I do know what you mean. That’s how so many of us pursue our pleasure. It’s exhausting, huh?”
“Yep! Do you think it’s just a gay thing?
I don’t want to suggest that I’m a sex addict or anything, but I sometimes feel out of balance. I know a lot of this has to do with my relentless pursuit of love. I had real love in my life once with Doug and I would desperately like to have it again. I know this is a big trap…sex and intimacy are not one and the same thing. But I always wind up acting like they are the same. I always have it in my head that maybe my next sexual encounter will bring me love. It’s maddening.”
I smile knowingly and say; “I wish I had a nickel for every time I head a similar lament. We gay men, in the age of HIV/AIDS, have a unique set of sexual issues that need to be understood and addressed. Besides the obvious safer sex concerns, there are all the issues that arise with the death of a partner. Unresolved grief can and does cause sexual dysfunction. When a relationship ends with the death of a partner, the surviving partner has an array of new concerns. How and when does he begin to date again? If he is sexual with someone new, does this violate the memory of his deceased partner?
I frequently hear the same complaint. ‘I’m so lonely, but my grief is getting in the way of my having any kind of sexual feelings.’ As a therapist I try to help the surviving partner face these concerns as soon as possible. I often find myself saying; ‘Listen, I’m sure your lover wouldn’t want you to stop living. Choose life! It will be the best testament you could offer your deceased lover.’
It’s been my experience that if these concerns go unresolved for too long, the likelihood that they will develop into a full-blown dysfunction increases exponentially.”
I sense that I’ve hit a nerve in Kevin, but I push on.
“Kevin, you said you’re looking for a partner, but that you are only meeting men who are interested in sex. Searching for a life partner isn’t easy even under the best of circumstances. Looking for someone new after the death of a partner is even more difficult. There is always the tendency to compare the new love interest to the one who’s died, and that can be disastrous.
On top of that, where does one go to meet a potential partner? One thing’s for sure, it’s not likely that you’ll find this person in a sex club or in a bar. I suggest that you look in a less seductive environment like a café or at the gym. An HIV support group might also be a good place to look. Or perhaps you could try a common interest club, like the ones they have for line dancing or playing bridge.”
Kevin thought for a moment and responded. “I’ve considered all those things and have tried them all too. But then I begin to think; what happens if I meet someone who is HIV negative? I don’t want to get attached to guy who might reject me just because of my HIV status. That’s why it’s less of a gamble if I keep the connection more casual. So you see, I’m in a double bind. I want the intimacy that comes from a long-term relationship, but I’m afraid of the rejection. Or, what if I infected him? That would be the worst. And, even though I’m doing okay now on the medications I’m taking, but what if I get sick later? I don’t want to put anyone through what I went through with Doug.”
“If ya focus on the fact that you could be rejected for your HIV status, or infect a partner, or get sick and die yourself you simply won’t be able to live each day to the fullest. And all the love you have to give will die on the vine, so to speak. Fear is ruling your life, not pleasure, and certainly not love.
So many of my friends with HIV consider themselves damaged goods. That’s no way to approach the rest of one’s life. I understand the stigma, but HIV is simply a chronic illness like any other. Nowadays it’s manageable and there’s very little to interrupt one’s quality of life. Do you honestly intend to live without the intimacy you need and desire and sabotage the very thing that will enrich your life, just because you’re afraid? Gosh, I hope not.”
by Beverly Amsler
Peanut, Bootsie, Choppie, Sassy Mae. They’re a collection of names engraved into the flat stones marking the graves of dogs and cats at Mountain View Cemetery, a resting place in Vinton, Va., run by Don Wilson.
“We see people coming to visit and pay their respects and remember their pets in this section just as we do in the rest of the cemetery,” Wilson says.
Across the country, there are cemeteries for people, and cemeteries for pets. But in the past few years, some states have passed laws allowing cemeteries to create sections where pets and humans can be buried next to each other. Virginia is about to become the latest state allowing cemeteries to designate sections where pets can be buried next to their beloved owners.
Pets have been buried at Mountain View for four years now, in a section separated from human plots by a row of short, green shrubs.
Starting in July, Wilson, who runs five cemeteries, will able to designate a separate section of land in them for humans who want to be buried beside their pets.
Tom Rakoczy and his wife moved from Ohio to Virginia so they could be buried in a plot next to their 11 dogs.
“For my wife and I — our dogs, they’re our family,” he says. “Loved ones could come with two legs or four legs. And our dogs, for the last 40 years of our marriage, have been our family. We have no human children.”
Virginia joins a growing number of states, including Pennsylvania and New York, where cemeteries are allowed to create special pet-human burial sections.
The law was spearheaded here by Kelly Farris who owns a funeral service in Abingdon, Va. A few years ago, he and his family set aside some land for a future “Garden of Loyalty.”
“I think that we’re just progressive and we thought of something with the help of our clients, basically. To me it was a commonsense thing to do,” Farris says.
He currently has a waiting list of 25 people. When the law goes into effect, he can start the burials. Pets will have to be in special caskets, he says.
“Just like for humans, they’re going to have to be in an outer burial container, because we got to maintain the appearance of the graves forever,” he says. “There are pet caskets; there’s companies out there that we use that have caskets designed for different sizes of [animals]. Primarily it’s cats and dogs that we’re working with.”
Hillcrest Memorial Park, in western Pennsylvania, was the first to set up this type of cemetery, and owner Tom Flynn estimates that 80 people and pets have been buried in what he calls the “People and Pets Garden.” He says some of the pets buried here are waiting for their owners to join them. Some owners already buried here are waiting for their pets.
“People buy ahead of time so they can be buried with their pets. Some people even exchanged their lots in the cemetery for lots in the ‘People and Pets’ section. It’s over a hill; it’s probably the prettiest part of the cemetery,” Flynn says.
In Virginia, the new state law doesn’t require cemetery owners to set up a joint pet-human burial section. It merely allows them to.
Wilson of Mountain View Cemetery has no plans to create one; he doesn’t have enough land, he says. But, like most businesses, cemeteries are supply and demand.
Wilson says if there’s enough interest, he’ll reconsider.
Complete Article HERE!
By Heidi Schlumpf
When I heard that my friend Linh’s father had passed away, I knew I wanted to go to the funeral. Her father, who had fled Vietnam with his family during the war, had been especially kind and welcoming to our son, who was adopted from Vietnam. He had made us feel like family.
The funeral Mass was at his home parish, which was about an hour from my home. The pastor from that church, as well as from the parishes that are the base for Vietnamese Catholics in Chicago and from the local Divine Word Missionary community, concelebrated. There must have been almost a dozen of them. Parishioners from his parish and beyond were there too, as well as almost 100 family members, who wore traditional white headbands. The church was packed.
Since the liturgy was in Vietnamese, the only responses I could join in on were “Amen” and “Alleluia.” But the eulogy by the youngest son was in English and brought tears to my eyes. I was sad for my friend, for her widowed mother and for her children who had lost a grandpa.
At the end of the funeral, we were invited to the cemetery for the graveside service, to be followed by a luncheon. I assumed it was only for close relatives, but everyone else seemed to be going, so I got the “Funeral” sticker for my car and joined the procession.
At graveside, there were more prayers and songs — again in Vietnamese. Then the massive floral arrangements, which had been brought from the church, were dismantled, and the flowers distributed to people in the crowd.
The gravediggers were called to lower the casket into the ground. Next, they backed up a nearby crane and lowered a cement slab over the casket. We all waited patiently. Then we all threw our flowers into the casket-sized hole in the ground. While everyone stayed and chatted, visiting nearby graves, Linh’s 6-year-old daughter tossed every last flower into her grandfather’s grave.
What a powerful and moving example of “burying the dead.”
Burying the dead seems like the lonely stepchild of the corporal works of mercy. The others — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick and imprisoned — are embraced by Catholics committed to social justice, with entire ministries and even nonprofit organizations created to try to meet those needs.
But burying the dead? That ministry is usually left to priests, close friends and relatives, and the dedicated parishioners (often retired women) who sing at funerals or serve post-funeral luncheons in church basements.
Catholics of all ages — especially social-justice-minded ones — should remember that burying the dead is just as important as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Being part of a proper burial not only maintains the deceased person’s human dignity and is a service to the survivors, it also benefits the church and broader culture by offering ritual and meaning when people need it most.
Although burial of human remains in the ground may have begun as an efficient way to dispose of decomposing bodies, it acquired ritualistic and religious significance early on. For Catholics, burial of the deceased is not only a sign of respect but connected to our belief in the resurrection of the body. Burial is still preferred to cremation, which is now allowed by the church, “unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176).
To be clear, I’m not just arguing for comforting the sorrowful — a related spiritual work of mercy — although certainly Catholics should consider spending time with widows or widowers, praying for those affected by the death of a family member, or perhaps volunteering at a hospice or hospital.
No, I mean actually attending wakes and funerals, including burial and graveside services. I know funerals are often held during business hours on weekdays, inconvenient for working people, but what could mean more to a family than their faith community accompanying their loved one to a final resting place?
The other six corporal works of mercy are taken directly from Matthew 25 (“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters …”), the parable of God’s judgment. Burying the dead was added to make the list a spiritually significant seven. The admonition to bury the dead comes from the Old Testament Book of Tobit, whose namesake is exiled for his righteous work of burying the dead, especially criminals.
Like Tobit, we should help bury not only our own deceased friends and family members, but others as well. This could include attending funerals of those in our community whom we did not know well in life, or even assisting, financially or practically, organizations that help low-income folks with funeral expenses (which today run in the thousands of dollars).
In our death-avoidant culture, it’s understandable that attending funerals is something many prefer to avoid. But I can’t think of anything more merciful than helping to ritualize the end of a life. My friend’s Vietnamese community has it right. Complete Article HERE!