At a Kansas City conference on end-of-life care, Cardinal Raymond Burke said that suffering does not cause a person to have less meaning in his life, nor does it give the government the right to decide if that person should live or die.
“No matter how much a life is diminished, no matter what suffering the person is undergoing, that life demands the greatest respect and care,” Cardinal Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, told CNA.
“It's never right to snuff out a life because it's in some way under heavy burden.”
Cardinal Burke spoke July 23 to a packed auditorium of over 350 people at the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. on the “mystery” of human suffering and dying for his keynote address at the “Being Faithful, Even Unto Death” conference.
The meeting, organized by the St. Gianna Physician’s Guild, addressed medical issues surrounding those suffering and those at the end of their lives. The event was the first initiative of its kind for the group.
In his speech on Saturday, Cardinal Burke said that human suffering can only be understood in light of the “gift” and “dignity” of human life.
“Human life is a gift to be accorded the highest respect and care from its beginning until natural death,” he emphasized. “We are not the creators of human life and must respect the plan of the author of life for us and for our world.”
The cardinal stressed the importance of Catholics giving end-of-life care more attention, in light of cases involving vulnerable people such as Teri Schindler Schiavo – a severely disabled Florida woman who was deprived of nutrition and hydration by court order and her husband's request in 2005.
He underscored that nutrition and hydration are part of “basic human care” and to deprive patients of such care is not in any way “compassionate.”
Rather, “deliberately taking the life of an innocent human person is intrinsically evil and therefore, is never justified,” he said.
Along with the need for Catholics in general to be more informed on Church teaching about euthanasia, Cardinal Burke put special emphasis on Catholic students and seminarians being well versed on the topic.
All students, he said, should “pursue a certain number of courses of philosophy, so that in whatever field they specialize in,” they will use a logical, faith-filled approach to life issues.
Ultimately, he noted, “respect for the dignity of human life is the foundation of good order in our individual lives and our society.”
Without this respect, “our personal lives become profoundly disordered and society soon becomes a theater of violence and death.”
Cardinal Burke told CNA in comments following his talk that a Christian worldview isn't necessary for people to agree that society does not have the right to determine who lives or dies.
He said that “right reason” alone is enough for people from different perspectives to enter into productive dialogue on the issue.
Also speaking at the event on Saturday was Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla who discussed the spirituality, life and legacy of her mother, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla.
Dr. Molla’s mother was declared a saint in 2004 by the Catholic Church and is known for her heroism in choosing a risky operation to save her daughter Gianna’s life when she was two months pregnant. The conference marks the first visit to the U.S. for St. Gianna’s daughter.
Other speakers included geriatric specialist Dr. Austin Welsh, Thomas More Society executive director Peter Breen, and Bobby Schindler and Suzanne Vitadamo – both siblings of Teri Schiavo.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph also attended the event.