Life with Dignity: a Personal Plea against Assisted Suicide

Saint Augustine wrote, “it is never licit [right] to kill another: even if he should wish it, indeed if he request it because, hanging between life and death, he begs for help in freeing the soul struggling against the bonds of the body and longing to be released; nor is it licit even when a sick person is no longer able to live”.  (Ep. 204, 5: CSEL 57, 320)

For centuries, good and brilliant people have been advocating respect for human life.  I am not so very good, and certainly not brilliant, but the issue of assisted suicide, the so-called “right to die with dignity”, is very important to me. Physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients is the law in some states, like Oregon, Washington, and California. Other states have sought to pass similar legislation, including my own state of New Hampshire. When attempts fail, advocates continue to push and I’m sure that more proposed bills will be coming to a state or country near you – perhaps your own.  Here, I don’t offer pages of arguments against these laws.  Instead, I offer a heartfelt plea against “Death with Dignity” in the hope of saving countless innocent lives.

Christina Chase, disability rights, pro-life

My Life

Do you know what it’s like to be weaker than an infant, laboring daily to breathe, ravaged by an incurable disease, completely and utterly dependent on others for every basic need of survival? I do.  Although I am not terminally ill, but rather chronically ill, I know that one chest cold can turn into pneumonia and kill me… probably an agonizing death over days… or weeks.  Living all of my life with a progressive motorneuron disease, I have slowly weakened over time, becoming more crippled up and deformed, losing strength, losing simple abilities, losing energy, losing privacy. My family and paid home health aides feed me, brush my teeth, clean me of waste, bathe me, dress and undress me, transfer me to and from my wheelchair… and more. My parents have made tremendous sacrifices in order to help me survive each day. They are sacrificing their time, energy, strength — their own personal lives — for my life. And there have been times when I have wondered… is my life worth all of this? … all of this work, sacrifice and heartache? Continue reading

Food of Prayer

 

I have rather hated the stereotype that religious people need religion as a crutch.  Prayers, Scripture, faith itself, they say, are all wishful thinking that bring comfort to the elderly, the poor, and the disabled.  “Poor things.  Let them have their church.”

fingers praying

For me, religion has been much more of a challenge than a comfort.  It was in the beginning and it is still now.  But, it would be foolish of me to push away the comforting and consoling aspect of faith just so that I won’t fall into prejudicial people’s stereotypes.  When turning to God intentionally, with my whole body, mind, heart, and soul, it is good and it is right to receive from God some solace.  No one loves me more than God loves me, no one delights in me more than God delights in me, no one cares about my joy more than God cares about my joy, and no one else has my eternal life in hand but God.  Knowing this, to whom else would I turn?

Lately, for almost all of 2017 so far, I have been in need of solace.  I need comfort and, for me, that means that I need wisdom.  I need a glimpse of the big picture so that, in faith, I may know what is right and have peace.  I need a full relationship with God.  I freely admit this.  Does this mean, then, that religion has become a crutch for me?  Well, if I am lame, don’t I need a crutch?  Would the atheistic-minded naysayers of the world have me crawl or lie motionless on the ground?  The mistake that nonbelievers make is in thinking that they are not crippled in the limitedness of being human.  They are limping, crawling, or not moving at all – and they don’t even know it. Continue reading

Glory Days: Valedictory Speech

Twenty years ago today, I graduated from high school.  And, yes, that makes me feel old.

Graduating from Pembroke Academy was a big deal to me, for reasons that I gave in my very short valedictory speech, but also because I was the third generation of my family to graduate from PA – and the second to graduate with the highest GPA in the class.  I did feel a lot of pride on that day… although, I admit, I also had the sense that, perhaps, I didn’t really deserve to be valedictorian.  After all, I hadn’t even attended classes in the high school, instead, the public school teachers came to my home to teach me, due to my physical disability.  It wasn’t that I didn’t think that I was intelligent – I have quite high self-esteem, so I knew that I was intelligent – but I felt bad that I didn’t have the opportunity  to fully test the depth and breadth of my intelligence.  In a way, I almost felt too normal to be valedictorian.

Thankfully, I was not chosen because I was in a wheelchair and seen as “special”.  In my school, it was all about the grades.  So, I did, as I have reminded myself many times, earn the top spot with self-discipline and devoted studying, fueled by my love of learning.  All made possible by an understanding public school faculty and administrators, generously supportive parents, and the mysterious gifts of God.

In commemoration of this glory day of mine, I’m sharing with you my graduation speech.  As you read it, picture a tiny body swallowed up by a white robe, with a graduation cap fitting snugly on her head.  And when you’re done reading, listen for the standing ovation – yup, I got one.  With a body like mine, it doesn’t take much to move people. 🙂

My Valediction to the Glory Days of High School

“Many people have asked me the common question of what I plan to do after today.  The truth is that I haven’t made plans for the future because I never thought that I would have one.  You see, when I was diagnosed with my disease at the age of two, the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t live to the age of thirteen.  My parents never thought that I would be a teenager, let alone a high school graduate.  But I always dreamed of graduating.  I even planned on being at the top of my class.

Today is a great day.  For here I am, standing before you, graduating from high school, and realizing my dream.  And all of the challenges that I’ve faced and the obstacles that I’ve hurdled have made today the most satisfying and thrilling day that I have ever known.

Now I have this chance to speak to all of you and I don’t want to give any advice.  I just want to say that, today, we are all victorious.  Whether graduation means fulfilling a dream, accomplishing one of many goals, overcoming obstacles or exceeding expectations, for each of us it is a mark of success.  It is a testament to our perseverance.

The future lies before us, holding different paths for each of us.  For me, the future itself is a wonderful gift.  It is an open place for fulfilling more dreams.

Tomorrow may be an unknown.  But, today, we are being recognized for our commitment to succeed and reminded that we are all worthy of our dreams.”

© 2017 Christina Chase

YouTube Channel – For Better or for Worse

YouTube cover, wheelchair, church, light and dark

Sometimes, I think that people make YouTube videos because they like the sound of their own voices.  But, I assure you, that’s not the case with me.  I seriously DISLIKE the sound of my own voice!  My voice is preferred through writing not speaking.  However, I believe that I should try to reach as  many people as I can and I know that there are some people who would rather watch a video than read a 1000 word essay.  So…

Last month (April) I made and published a short video reading a poem about myself and I called the post about it Brave.  I really did feel brave and, yes, a little foolish.  And, yet… I went and made another one!  This one is longer, longer than I intended, and I thought about redoing it to make it shorter and better.  But, then I thought that one of the advantages of speaking versus writing is that I don’t have to be so particular with my grammar, word choices, sentence structures, etc..  Therefore, I simply published it as is. Perhaps as a sign that video production is not for me, I accidentally published  the post with the video “What’s Wrong with Her” early, last Sunday, (with an odd predate of the 18th) instead of on Thursday, my usual posting day.

So, here I am, on my regular posting day, with this little introduction to my YouTube channel.  My plan is to make and post a video every month or so, weather permitting.  🙂 They will mostly be about my disability and disease and, hopefully, under five minutes in length.  I still do feel both brave and foolish doing this, but, here I am…  On this Feast of the Ascension, reminded that Christ is always with us, I hope that I am doing God’s will…

© 2017 Christina Chase

What’s Wrong with Her?

While in a mall or some kind of store, I have often seen, out of the corner of my eye, a young child staring at me in my wheelchair.  Sometimes, I can hear the little voice innocently ask the question to Mom or Dad, “What’s wrong with her?”

Out of the mouths of babes….  Usually, the parent responds with an embarrassed kind of hushed whisper, encouraging the child not to say things like that.  But, why not?  There is certainly nothing wrong with a child who is filled with wonder and curiosity – in fact, witnessing such innocent perplexity, sometimes amazement, and the pure desire to know is exquisitely beautiful to me.  There is no masterpiece created by any artist in the world that is more inspiring and powerful than that little boy, that little girl, with the intently looking eyes and the head cocked, pondering.  A child, I may add, that trusts the guarding adult to know and to teach well.

Of course, the adult usually doesn’t know what to say.  Sometimes, there will be a simple, patient response and I carry on as if I never heard.  It’s when the parent is embarrassed and shushing that I try be there for the child.  If I am near enough and I don’t have to turn in order to have the child in my sight, I have sometimes given answer myself. “I can’t walk because my legs are too weak, they’re not strong enough.  My body is just made this way,” I say gently, with a little smirk, sharing the weirdness of it with the child, and then a smile to show that is not such a terrible thing. Continue reading

Brave

I feel very brave posting this.  Three and a half years of blogging here and I have been careful not to show pictures of myself straight on.  In fact, you’ll only find two.  Yet, here I am sharing a video of myself.

Why?  Right now, I’m really not sure!  A video of me reciting one of my poems with no makeup and no video touchup software?  (That would have to be some pretty awesome touchup software…)

But… there is something to be said about showing your wounds…

Being a Christian isn’t about standing on a soapbox yelling out quotes from Scripture or pointing at people “in sin” and warning them that they better change their ways.  Christianity is about Christ – and Christ is about love.  Christ is love incarnate.  So, if I want to share Christ with others, then I must not only love them in my heart and my actions, but also share with them my love – which includes my suffering.

When St. Thomas doubted the Resurrection, Christ came before him and showed him his wounds, let him put his fingers right into them.  We all have wounds.  We all have sufferings.  And we shouldn’t be afraid of them or even ashamed of them.  I am not proud of my defective gene (you won’t see me in any kind of SMA pride parade or whatever) but I am not ashamed to have a defective gene – or to even call part of me defective.  For that is the truth.

By sharing the truth of who I am – all of me – I hope that you may come to better know my love and, through that love, to know Christ.  God doesn’t make junk.  Everybody is sacred – every body is sacred.  And, sometimes, it is through our wounds that the glory of who we are is made known.

Now, remember mercy…

© 2017 Christina Chase

Joyful

A few words about joy.  Well, okay, more than a few…

I used to think that Catholicism was very dour, celebrating solemnities (solemn celebrations?) bemoaning sin and life in this world.  This was a false picture of the Catholic Church, however.  Sadly, I’m not the only one who has had this misconception of Catholicism – probably millions do right now.  The error, I think, comes partly from human attempts to depict the Mysterious Majesty of God and the profound honor, respect, awe, and even submission, due to God.  When contemplating the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, we don’t do so with silly giddiness or casual interest.  We must do so with solemn reverence and humble, awestruck gratitude – so, also with joy.

One problem, it seems to me, is that it’s hard to find an ancient image of Mary smiling.  (If you know of one, please share!)  Smiles probably didn’t mean the same thing then as they do now.  But, let us remember that the Bible does speak clearly of joy.  Mary herself cries out to Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”[1] Mary rejoices.  And so should we.

I do like this modern (1873) Greek icon of the Most Holy Mother of God…

Greek icon Mary Mother of God

Today we observe the “Solemnity” of the Immaculate Conception (celebrating the Mystery of Mary being conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of Original Sin, so that she may truly be The New Eve).  And Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent) is being celebrated this weekend.  So, truly, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the importance of joy in our lives of faith.  With the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, must also come the gift of joy – for how can we not be joyful when we believe that we are made to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with God forever?  With this faith and hope we are free to love – and in the true freedom of loving others and knowing that we are intimately and infinitely love there is true and lasting joy. Continue reading

Human In Utero – No Matter What

Between the 8th and 12th week after your life began, you had your own unique set of fingerprints! Yet another way to identify you as YOU. Of course, God doesn’t need any physical markings to know who you are. As He says through his prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

three-month-old human fetus

Your mother was only near the end of her first trimester of pregnancy when you looked like this picture. And you were less than five inches from the crown of your head to your heel. Small as you were, you bent your knees and elbows and wrists, moving your little muscles with increasing strength – yawning, stretching, squinting, turning your head, and moving your tongue. Your tiny face, hands, and feet were sensitive to touch. Any pressure on your feet would make your knees bend up, pulling your feet away from the stimulus. Your teensy, tiny hands were already capable of grasping.

Yet, despite your sensitivity and action, your mother couldn’t feel your movements. From her, through the umbilical cord, you received the oxygen that you needed while you breathed amniotic fluid in and out to exercise your lungs. As you sucked your thumb, the amniotic fluid that you swallowed was processed through your digestive system. Your incredibly itty-bitty fingers and toes were growing nails, and you touched your hand repeatedly to your face, where your little nose and lips were completely formed. Your facial appearance continued to change, as it continues to change through every stage of your entire lifecycle. At this tender and tiny age, in the fetus stage, you made complex facial expressions – and even smiled.

Given all of this, many might still have dismissed you as nothing but tissue, using the scientific term of fetus as a way of denying your humanity. But, you were you from the beginning. YOU – who are made to grow, developing and changing in both large and subtle ways, every day of your life for as long as you live.

And even if, through deformity or disease, your knees, elbows, or wrists could not bend, or your nose, lips, fingers, or toes could not neatly form, you were still you – and you are human. Physical appearance and abilities do not limit your humanity. From the moment God created you with a spiritual soul, animating your unique life form, you were a living human being. No matter what size or shape, no matter how limited or weak, the Creator of All delights in your existence. You are created in the image and likeness of the Divine, which has no physical criteria, and that is why you are sacred from the beginning – independent of length of time or breadth of space – and for all eternity.

You are God’s beloved human creature, no matter what.

© 2016 Christina Chase

originally posted on my parish’s website: CatholicSuncook.org


Jeremiah 1:5

Sources:

The Endowment for Human Development 

Web M.D. (uses LMP for age)

The Archdiocese of Baltimore (image source)

Different Women in 2 Works of Art

How connected are you to your background, how intimate with your landscape?

I love pretty things.  I’m very much of the “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes”[1] sensibility.  The turn of the twentieth century is my favorite time period with its lovely style of dress.  And that is probably one of the reasons why I love the art of Frank
Benson and have a copy of this painting, Summer, in my room:

New England, women, seashore, painting

Summer, Frank Benson

This New England scene of sun-bathed softness and breezy lightness pleasantly soothes me.  Even the colors match my summer decor.  But… in recently looking long at the print and studying it more closely, I found that I started to like it less.  There’s something about the expressions of the women in this impressionist painting that does not touch or move me at all.  I cannot imagine myself in that place with them because I don’t feel like they are really present in that place themselves. Continue reading

What the Assumption Teaches about the Human Person

Do you see this person as beautiful?

popes man riva

Vinicio Riva, disfigured by neurofibromatosis

I have previously written about the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – but, in this reflection, I focus upon what the dogma teaches us about the human body.  And about the beauty of everybody…

The Dogma of the Assumption declares that Mary, the very human mother of Jesus, now lives bodily in Heaven for eternity, by the power and special grace of God.  Yes, she is in Heaven not only spiritually, but also bodily.  For, in order for a human person to be completely fulfilled, the soul needs the body as much as the body needs the soul.

The Holocaust

The Assumption was declared Dogma in 1950, giving an official mandate and explanation to what Christians have believed since the beginning and publicly celebrated in the earliest centuries. We may wonder why it took so long for the universal declaration to be made – but, we know that all things happen in God’s time.

The proclamation came forth just after World War II, a terrible period of history when millions of human beings were systematically murdered, having been stripped and gassed, their dead bodies heaped in piles like cordwood. The graphic images of this massacre and desecration horrified the world – and the Catholic Church took action. With the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Universal Church, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave us a powerful reminder of the dignity and destiny of the human person – body and soul.

Sacred Matter

Our bodies are sacred, not like some kind of prison from which the soul has to escape, and not like some meaningless shell that we can do with as we wish. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit – body and soul as one person – and we believe that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies at the end of time, through the salvific power of Christ.

Therefore, it is right and just to respect human bodies. God loves what He has created. The human body is created by God and is not to be profaned, mutilated, abused, murdered, or desecrated in any way – for every human being is intimately and infinitely loved by God and destined for perfection, body and soul, in heavenly glory.

To fulfill this destiny, we need only to seek it through Christ, in the mercy and love of His Sacred Heart.

Loving As Christ Loves, Seeing As God Sees

Perhaps, you have seen someone as deformed as Mr. Riva, or perhaps you know someone who is much less deformed – as I am with my severe scoliosis.  Maybe one of your loved ones is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, severe autism, or brain injury.  You may have a friend, coworker, neighbor, or family member who is a grave sinner, someone who seems to you to be far from the ideal of a human person, who may even seem to you to be inferior or cursed in some way.  But, did Christ not love the lepers?  Did he not sit and dine with the sinners?  And did Christ not do these things because he loves human beings, so much so that he was willing to give his life for humankind so that each person could be redeemed to the beautiful eternal destiny that he saw waiting for them?

We know that human beings come in all physical shapes and sizes and in all levels of physical and mental abilities.  Some of us have twisted or missing limbs and some have faces so scarred or disfigured that they are hardly recognizable as human.  Far too often, in our society, we don’t even recognize human beings in the first stages of life as human beings.  But, make no mistake about it, whether small and weak, whether impaired in cognition, babbling and drooling, whether aged and decrepit or delayed or deformed – we are all human.  And if we are truly going to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, then we must remember that everybody, every body, is beautiful in the eyes of God, who sees each of our particular heavenly glories….

What would happen if we saw each other that way? What if we truly remember that each human creature we encounter, whether mentally disabled, physically deformed, or mired in sin, is exquisitely beautiful in the eternal eyes of God? If we could see the heavenly glory that God intends for each one of them – for each one of us – we would be blown away by the intense radiance of that beauty, the eternal destiny of every human being redeemed and resurrected by the power of God’s love.

And then, maybe, we would love one another as God loves us and we would experience something of Heaven on Earth.

Pope Francis kisses disfigured man

© 2016 Christina Chase