The medical profession as a mission of hope and healing

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Euthanasia reveals culture of death and despair

Following is the text of the homily given by Bishop Rhoades at the White Masses for physicians, nurses, and other health care workers in Fort Wayne and South Bend in October:
As I thought and prayed about what to preach about at this year’s White Mass, the theme of hope kept coming to my mind. Saint Paul wrote about hope in our first reading today in reference to the redemption of our bodies. He wrote to the Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”

I was thinking about how the sick come to you who serve in the medical profession with hope, hope for a promising diagnosis, hope for healing and a cure, hope for relief of pain, hope for good news about their physical condition. Sometimes you are able to give them good news. What a joy that is for you! To tell a person that a tumor is benign, that a condition can be successfully treated, that a suspected terminal illness is not really terminal, that a person’s pain can be alleviated. There are so many examples where a person in anguish is restored to peace. In such situations, you are truly messengers of hope. This must be such a fulfilling part of your profession.

Then there are other situations where the news you give to your patients is not good news. In these situations, it is very difficult to be a messenger of hope. When you have to tell a patient that his or her condition is not curable, that a tumor has metastasized, that surgery is not possible or is futile, that treatment will not bring a cure or may not even extend life, that it will be difficult to alleviate their pain. It is incredibly difficult to be the bearer of such bad news. But yet, as Christian doctors and health care professionals, you are still called to be messengers of hope, not primarily through your words, but through your deeds, your loving concern, your compassion and sensitivity, your help of a patient in a state of anguish or even despair. As disciples of Jesus, we have hope even in the face of death.

A culture of death is a culture of despair. A culture of life is a culture of hope, even in the face of death. “In hope, we are saved,” Saint Paul says. Hope is a theological virtue. The Catechism defines it in these words: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817). I imagine that many of your patients have this virtue. In suffering, that virtue can grow, keeping the person from discouragement and despair, sustaining him or her in illness and in dying. That hope can even be manifested as joy in the midst of suffering. We see this so often in the lives of the saints. As doctors and nurses and medical workers, you can help your patients to hope, even in what may be called “hopeless cases.” But we’re talking here not about clinical cases, but about human persons created in the image and likeness of God and no person should be considered hopeless, since hope is not anchored in physical health and wellbeing, it is anchored in the spiritual reality. It is anchored in God. Notice how the symbol of hope in Christian art and iconography is an anchor.

On October 5th, California became the fifth state in our nation to legalize euthanasia. The culture of death continues to grow. Euthanasia, like abortion and suicide, reveals what I believe is a culture not only of death, but of despair. At its root, we see what I believe is not only a refusal of love of neighbor or oneself, but a refusal to hope. We have a crisis of hope in our culture. Perhaps this is most obvious in the face of the acceptance of euthanasia.

When a person’s health deteriorates, when suffering an