Diane Stranz on American Life

On Euthanasia and Other Complicated Issues

My mother told me yesterday she was going to a Memorial service for an elderly neighbor who had just died:  D. A.   She said the sad thing is that his wife had to approve ‘the plug’ being pulled.  Something didn’t sound right.  “Wait,” I said, “Isn’t this the same neighbor you mentioned last week who has been on oxygen for two years, and his problem is that his airways are so constricted he can barely breathe?”  “Yes:  he was telling me his airway was down to the size of a straw, and that is why his health was failing so rapidly.”  Okay.  But how did he suddenly end up so incapacitated he was on life support such that his wife had to metaphorically ‘pull the plug’?

As I questioned my mother more about the facts (as I am wont to do), I discovered that the reality is that when D.A. ended up in the hospital for the third time in two months, his doctors approached his wife about withholding oxygen (while he was under sedation) since he was clearly dying and was certainly not going to do anything but further deterioriate until the point of death.  I said to Mom, “He wasn’t unconscious and unable to make this decision for himself?”  “No, but he was asleep because they had sedated him.”  OH MY GOD!  That’s not the same thing as ‘pulling the plug’!   Basically the doctors asked his wife to give them permission for them to withhold oxygen and let D.A. die via asphyxiation instead of allowing the sedation to wear off so they could ask him directly.   This is the idea which appalled me:  that they deprived D.A. of the right to participate in the decision when it was his life after all.

It also made me wonder how painful that type of death is . . . and it made me think about the fact that if D.A. and his wife had been at home and he had suddenly said — upon prayer and reflection — “Honey, I’m in a lot of pain and discomfort here, and we both know I am not going to get any better . . . and I’ve made my peace with God and I am ready now to go, and to have YOU let me go . . . could you please disconnect the oxygen tank and let that happen for me?”  the net result could have been a criminal conviction of homicide for his wife.  Yet these doctors are completely immune for a similar conviction because (I assume) they have ensured all appropriate paperwork has been worded so as to cover their asses (sorry to be crude).

Which gets me back to my real point:  I do not condemn fertility treatments across the board (although I have a problem with with most of them, considering that orphanages are full of children who would LOVE a permanent family and home) and I similarly do not condemn abortion or euthanasia across the board even though I believe that 95% of the time abortion and euthanasia are the wrong choice.   A certain level of suffering is redemptive (even during the process of death) and I have read many accounts by women who later in life deeply regret that their youth, fear, rage and/or lack of wisdom and discernment caused them to choose abortion earlier in life.

That said, these are deeply personal matters which should be left in the discerning hands of the individuals involved.  This is especially so since EVERY TIME ‘we the people’ try to get involved en masse as a corporate body (i.e., by making it illegal for individual to exercise free will and free/legal choice) all we seem to do is create even more injustice, suffering and heartache than what already exists on its own.  And surely God doesn’t intend THAT!

Despite my Catholic upbringing — which subjected me to more than one gruesome film about abortion — I became a pro-choice legal advocate in my 20’s for one primary reason:  watching movies like Behind These Walls and learning the history of abortion in America before it became legal convinced me that without doubt human suffering is increased when abortion is banned legally, across the board.  Class distinctions heighten, and injustice based on wealth (or the lack thereof) increases, because the rich ALWAYS have the right to a decently performed abortion by a medically-trained individual, whether abortion is ‘legal’ or not.  And there is MORE loss of human life when abortions are done illegally because not only do the fetuses die but so do many of the women themselves.  The number of women who died as the result of ‘wire hanger’ and other non-medical, secret homemade abortions during the years abortion was banned in America is staggering.  If you care about human life, you must care about the woman’s life as much as the fetus’, amen.  If you do not, then you are just a misogynist (a hater of women).

But!  I also love the movie Vera Drake and have compassion for its (fictional) heroine:  a grandmotherly former midwife who helps desperate women (who are usually single and poor) abort fetuses using an age-old method of douching with lye.  She is loving and compassionate, and she does what she does without pay because she has compassion for women who feel they have no other recourse.  She sincerely believes she is doing a service, and she did not deserve a jail sentence because one (out of hundreds) of the women she helped had complications.

Similarly, check out the true story of Hungarian gynecologist and Holocaust survivor Gisella Perl portrayed in the movie Out of the Ashes starring Christine Lahti.  Dr. Perl was ardently pro-life until she discovered that in Auschwitz, pregnant women would either be summarily executed or subjected to gruesome ‘experiments’ by Dr. Mengele.  So she started performing mercy-abortions.  The fact that she did this came back to haunt her and was held against her when she applied for U.S. citizenship after WWII, since abortion was illegal in America.  Uh!  Talk about none of us having ever had to even REMOTELY walk in that poor doctor’s shoes!

This brings two Gospel passages to mind:  Matthew 9:13 (Jesus said, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice”) and a passage I cannot put my finger on at this moment (but which I know exists) about how neither Jesus nor God Himself are sitting in judgment of us:  if left alone with our own decisions, we will each eventually effectively judge ourselves in all the ways necessary . . . not to mention that the fabric of Created reality is PERMEATED with divine justice, such that consequences and karma and ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ happen of their own accord in God’s divine time, whether we feel that we can see and perceive that or not.  It is just reality.

Peace, Shalom, and Good night.  Diane Stranz.

Disclaimer:  Post fueled by liberal doses of Fantasia Barrino singing I believe:  

“I believe in the impossible, because I feel it deep within my heart.  See, I strive to be the very best, shine my light for all to see, because anything is possible when you believe!”

About my Vow of Poverty

I noticed that the first search of this blog was an attempt to learn more about my vow of poverty.   I plan to eventually publish a book on the topic and do not want to ‘jump ahead’ of myself by talking off the cuff about something so integral to my life that it deserves thoughtful, deliberate, documented writing and analysis . . . .  But I started this blog to cultivate an audience, and I have an obligation to be responsive to that audience, so here is a little more information for whomever it was who was enquiring.  I hope what I have written here will suffice for now.

I took my vow of poverty silently and in my heart, between God and I alone, while I was standing in my closet one day in the spring of 1996.  About a month ago it occurred to me for the first time that I unconsciously obeyed Matthew 6:5 to ‘go secretly into my closet and shut the door’ in order to keep my prayer a private matter between God and myself, but there was no conscious intent on my part that day to do that.  The whole thing came about because I was in my closet sorting clothes to give to a homeless shelter when an acute awareness of the over-abundance in my life welled up within and caused me to grab pretty much everything off the rack and spontaneously give it away.  The taking of a vow of poverty had been on my mind and heart for some time, and suddenly that day, in my closet, I knew the moment had arrived for a full commitment.   This was probably in mid-April 1996.

At the time I was a stay at home mother of three children under the age of 5, living in an upscale neighborhood in East Dallas, Texas.  To understand how I got to the point where I would do such a thing — and to understand what it really meant to me at that time to ‘take a vow of poverty’ —  you have to know so much about my own unique spiritual and life journey  . . . and this is where I struggle about how much I should try to include in a solitary blog post!

I am no longer a practising Catholic, but I was devout in my child and young adult hood.  As a Catholic, I was  influenced by the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who I consider the father of the Christian vow of poverty.  [I have a great respect for Martin Luther and the Protestant Revolution, but I was repulsed by the cover of a protestant magazine I saw in the mid-1990’s which referred to protestant author Francis Schaeffer as ‘Our St. Francis’ as opposed to the Catholic St. Francis of Assisi.  It was the kind of ‘nanny-nanny-boo-boo-stick-your-tongue-out-at-your- rival’ sentiment which is juvenile, embarrassing and ought not to be tolerated within groups which claim to be religious and/or spiritual in nature!  Sorry, but I can never think of St. Francis now without thinking of that.] 

If you have never seen Franco Zefferelli’s movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon about St. Francis of Assisi’s decision to live a life of abject poverty in order to serve and follow God, you really should.  The movie Francesco starring Mickey Rourke and Helen Bonham Carter is also worth checking out, as is Donald Spoto’s 2002 book Reluctant Saint:  The Life of Francis of Assisi.  I do not think St. Francis did everything perfectly (indeed, I feel he royally missed God’s point by living as a celibate monk and refusing to marry St. Clare and father children, for example), but he was a trailblazer for individual freedom and self-determination — and you’ve got to love him for that.

Six months before I took my vow of poverty, I began journaling for the first time in my life as the result of reading and working through Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way (subtitled ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self’).  That book changed my life:  you can learn more about it at http://www.theartistsway.com.  Don’t buy into all the BS about ‘creative clusters’ and study guides and the other hype Julia Cameron wannabes have created.  All you need to do is read the book and do the exercises she recommends to get all the transformative stimulus you need.  It is amazing how people ‘honor’ a nugget of gold by trying to ‘dress it up’ with silver paint and other crap. 

A fledgling journal entry written while I was working through The Artist’s Way in October 1995 reflects my thinking at that time about a Vow of Poverty:

[My neighbor] mentioned that [her son] only has two small crates of toys while our 3 kids have a room and a half full between them, and I got off the phone contemplating whether we are too materialistic — should I be getting rid of more things?  Are we too indulgent with the kids? (really the problem is with over generous relatives, not with us — we have purchased the kids a mere fraction of what they have). 

The reason why I felt to write this here was that as I was mulling this over, a quote stuck on my bulletin board lept out at me – one I rarely look at:  “Do not scatter your energies on unimportant issues in life.”  I immediately knew I had received a direct answer from above:  God really doesn’t care what you have in your life as long as your focus is exclusively on trying to live according to His will.  Indeed, it has been since I started completely focusing on trying to follow God’s will that I’ve had a more light-hearted approach to money and have felt more moved (by the Spirit) to make purchases than ever before. 

Of course, the purchases are completely different: I’ve bought myself virtually no clothes and have bought very few clothes for the kids, yet I buy books for myself constantly (all spiritual) and I liberally buy books, music, and art/craft materials for the kids.  No junk – all good, stimulating stuff (especially the books).  So, when God calls us to a life of poverty, it is not necessarily physical poverty, although I think He does call some to that vocation, for His own reasons.  The poverty to which we all must submit if we are going to do His will is poverty of desire:  when you have no desires to satiate, personal goals do not block you from receiving God’s messages of what He would have you do with your life, including what He would have you purchase and have around you.  (Indeed, I now see all the time all kinds of beautiful, colorful stained glass, art, candles, whimsical (yet reverent) home furnishings that I would love to see in the house – not because of any status thing, or a need to buy stuff, but because they are beautiful and uplifting and would help me to focus on what is important in life).

I still think the gist of this journal entry is true — but God DID lead me into a life of real physical poverty within three years of me taking my vow . . .  so whether I ‘just happen’ to be one of those few who God intentionally chose for that life or whether it is in fact a necessary part of a vow of poverty for anyone who takes such a vow is an issue I can still argue both ways, and which I intend to address at length at some future time.  Until then, it is something to think about for anyone reading this post.

P.S.  Check out also the life of St. Martin de Porres of Peru:  he literally and routinely gave others the shirt off his back and the food off his plate without a care in the world as to how he himself would do without that shirt or food.  That, to me, is the essence of a vow of poverty, and make no mistake that if you live like that in today’s world, you probably will find yourself really and radically poor . . . because even ‘Christians’ are repulsed by (and seek unconsciously to punish) human beings who do not place a high value on physical security and the possession of the objects necessary to ensure that security.   They may not THINK they are sold out to the material world in this way, but I could cite example after example of how their actions speak to this reality very clearly.  Again, more later.