Mother Teresa embodied true compassion for sick, dying

Categories: Messages from Bishop Kettler

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Some of the most memorable photos of Mother Teresa are those in which the saint is offering comfort to the poor, the ill and the elderly. In those images, she looks intently at the people, holding their hand or offering a healing touch. At that moment, no one was more important to her than the person in front of her. Mother Teresa recognized the face of Christ in those she served, and she offered them the love, care and compassion they needed.

I’ve been thinking about her ministry in light of efforts over the last few years by proponents of physician-assisted suicide to pass a bill in the Minnesota Legislature legalizing the practice in our state. They describe it as “aid in dying” or “death with dignity.” But human dignity is never honored when a person intentionally causes his own death or the death of someone else.

We serve the ill and our entire society better when we “surround patients with love, support and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional and spiritual suffering,” as we U.S. bishops said in our 2011 document “To Live Each Day with Dignity.”

Showing respect for human life and human dignity doesn’t mean forcing people to undergo overly burdensome or ineffective treatments. Rather, it means providing them with effective pain medication and whatever other support they need as they prepare for the end of life. It means seeing the face of Christ in the sick, the disabled and the dying, and responding with the same love and compassion that Mother Teresa showed to those she encountered.

Thankfully, both the Minnesota House and Senate are currently controlled by pro-life majorities, which lessens the chances that another assisted suicide bill will come up for a hearing or vote this year. But that could change in the future, and we need to use this time to educate others — including our legislators — about why legalizing assisted suicide would do more harm than good for our state.

Several Catholic organizations are part of a diverse coalition called the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, which opposes efforts to legalize assisted suicide and educates others about life-affirming alternatives.

The alliance is doing important work, but more needs to be done. Every Catholic in our diocese has an opportunity to address this issue with their legislators at an upcoming event sponsored by our Minnesota Catholic Conference. “Catholics at the Capitol” is set for March 9 in St. Paul, and it will give you opportunities to learn more about our church’s public policy priorities and visit with your legislators. You can find out more about the event by visiting www.stcdio.org/CatholicsAtTheCapitol.

I hope to see you there! Working together, we can make an important contribution to defending the culture of life in our state.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Donald J. Kettler