Thursday, 16 June 2011

Through a glass darkly

I just watched Terry Pratchett's TV film about assisted dying on iPlayer, and found myself crying at the screen, not a common thing.
The programme followed two men going to Switzerland to die. Pratchett was accompanied by his assistant, who seemed disturbed by the whole thing. When we went to view the actual death of one of the men, although the assistant was there, we didn't see his reaction. We did see the dying man gasping for water, quickly denied him by the Dignity helper. Sir Terry was asked his reaction within moments of the death, and replied "I'm fine" - with tears in his eyes. A few moments later he told the camera how he'd been at something so beautiful. And at the end of the programme he claimed that the man whose death we witnessed was the bravest he had ever met. Really.
As a priest I have been present at a good few deaths. I have to say that they are some of the most awesome moments in my ministry and life. Those moments, even though sometimes surrounded with such suffering by all, are filled with an aura, as if something is happening on a plane that is different to anything else we encounter in this world. I am deliberately trying not to use specifically Christian language here. Here we are dealing with something other, touched by a preciousness that surely all can appreciate.
Yet the euthanasia agenda elevates the so-called rights - actually the desires - of the person involved to a sacredness higher than any sacredness that Christians or anyone else for that matter would want to give to life itself. 
I found this programme with its specially composed music and its strange Doctor Who-like background for Sir Terry's pieces to camera disturbing. I was very tempted to turn off my computer, but wanted to see how they handled that sacred moment of death. 
The picture shows the tomb of the first person on my family tree, Jenkin Williams 1650-1728, my father's mother's father's father's father's father's father's father. It just seemed appropriate to remember nine generations who would not have doubted the sacredness of life. We must all be on our guard against the drip-drip of attacks on life, at its beginning and its end. I feel it is on these issues that we will be judged in years to come.

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