This is a throwback post to my Reflections on Rwanda Genocide Study Trip in May 2012
In May 2012, I travelled on the Reflections on Rwanda program, a two-week trip for Canadian students to visit the Republic of Rwanda and study the genocide that occurred there in 1994. The purpose for studying genocide is to gain insight into human nature through studying the extremes in human action. Listening to the stories of rescuers and survivors prompts me to study the virtues required to affirm the sanctity of human persons.
Confronting profound evil is a difficult experience that challenges my faith. We toured dozens of memorial sites throughout the country. Many of these sites were former churches where people had fled seeking refuge and peace. At each site, we saw hundreds of skulls and bones of victims. Looking at those skulls and bones, I thought about my own skull and my own bones. I thought about how these bones and skulls fall short of truly representing the victims. What the skulls and bones do emphasize is equality, but what they deemphasize is individuality. When I observed a display with rosaries and identity cards among the skulls, it made me think about the dynamism of the life that once animated those bodies that were so violently destroyed.
A few days ago, I attended a conference at which I met a Venezuelan currently in exile in the U.K.
This young man is passionate about politics and philosophy.
When I shared with him about some of the current debates in Canadian politics concerning bioethics, he was perplexed.
Essentially he expressed his perplexity as follows: My country is a mess. There is massive corruption, countless human rights violations, and many basic needs of citizens are unmet. We imagine that Canada is so much more advanced. Yet, you seem to be divided on the most fundamental questions.
Indeed, Canadians are divided about what it means to be a man, to be a woman, to be married, to be a person, to be alive.
Despite industrial development, material prosperity, and impressive longevity, we are still unsure about a lot of the basics.
It is revealing that someone from Venezuela can question our supposed advancement in this way.
A few years ago, I conducted this interview with Juliana Taimoorazy, founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. Since it was not previously published, but contains many worthwhile remarks about why cultural preservation is an important aspect to human dignity, I now post it here.
Amanda: You were once interviewed on CBN about the Iraqi elections and Iraqi Christians. In that clip you said, “In addition to building communities in terms of brick and mortar, their homes, their streets, and churches… there must be real attention paid to building the human person.” What does it mean to build up the human person, in general and in Iraq specifically?
The motto caught her attention, and I can see why.
The dead are not the only ones who deserve to be treated with reverence, of course. For the living, too, this is their due. Yet, if you went to a restaurant that advertised “We serve with reverence”, you might think that’s a bit much.
This, however, shows my point that how we die (and how we naturally conduct ourselves before the mystery of death) has the power to humanize our culture.
Among my hobbies these days is attending a bioethics book club every two weeks on O. Carter Snead’s new book What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. The book is about how the dominant view in our time of persons as expressive individualists contradicts the lived experience of our embodied reality. Snead analyzes why we go astray in our public bioethics when we do not account for the realities of vulnerability and mutual dependence in and throughout our lives.
Most recently the study group finished reading the chapter on Death and Dying. In it, Snead notes: “By far the most common rationales cited for seeking assisted suicide were concerns about ‘losing autonomy’ (92 percent) and being ‘less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable’ (91 percent).”
Since there are many reasons why we can lose autonomy and the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, it is worth scrutinizing these ideas of “freedom” – the loss of which risks rendering life seemingly not worth living.
I am reminded of Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky’s reflections. In Sculpting in Time, he says: “And the longer I lived in the West the more curious and equivocal freedom seems to me. Freedom to take drugs? To kill? To commit suicide?”
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the 2010 plane crash in which 96 people, including Poland’s then president Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, died.
They were en route to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre in which more than 20,000 Poles had been murdered by Soviets.
Those on the flight composed an official delegation and so many of the other crash victims were political, church, and military leaders in Poland.
I still remember a religious sister guiding me toward a monument commemorating victims of the crash in the Lublin cemetery. She whispered, “Some do not refer to this as the Smolensk disaster but rather as Katyn the Second.”
One of my favourite classical texts is Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. In writing about the lives of noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch said his intention was not so much to write history as to write edifying moral biographies.
He said, “For I do not write Histories, but Lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of necessity exhibit a man’s virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight circumstance, a word, or a jest, shows a man’s character better than battles with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays of armies and sieges of cities. Now, as painters produce a likeness by a representation of the countenance and the expression of the eyes, without troubling themselves about the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to look rather into the signs of a man’s character, and thus give a portrait of his life, leaving others to describe great events and battles.”
In introducing the life of Lycurgus, Plutarch even admits, “Concerning Lycurgus the lawgiver, in general, nothing can be said which is not disputed, since indeed there are different accounts of his birth, his travels, his death, and above all, of his work as lawmaker and statesman.”
Nevertheless, he has much to say about Lycurgus and his efforts “to make his people free-minded, self-sufficing, and moderate in all their ways.”
One section that I found particularly interesting is about burial. Here’s what Plutarch tells us:
Surveys consistently indicate that the majority of people would prefer to die at home instead of in a hospital. However, a minority actually do.
Cicely Saunders International just published You Matter Because You Are You, an action plan better palliative care, in which the charity explores the key challenges faced at the end of life.
The report notes that “Too many people with life-limiting illnesses – as well as those approaching death – spend long periods of time in hospital, in part due to a lack of social or community care. Meanwhile, hospital admissions are rising to unsustainable levels across the country, something that was made all the more apparent as parts of the NHS risked being overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Most people want to die at home and most hospital workers would be in favour of much greater home care.
Some of the main obstacles to this include: the weakness of social and familial ties, lack of “coordination and information sharing between health and social care providers”, and inadequate emphasis on professional palliative home care.