The Conditions for Showing Kindness

Anyone who has ever loved someone who experienced profound vulnerability and dependency knows that people have dignity not only for what they can do but simply, and fundamentally, for who they are.

“Quality of life” is not an individual assessment but a community’s responsibility.

I recently came across these words of Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Breitowitz who says:

The concept of quality of life, per se, is not a relevant idea because any life is worthy of sustaining because there are purposes for a soul to be in the body that we don’t always perceive. Sometimes the purpose of a soul in the body is not because of what the body can do – even if it’s comatose – but the body enables other people to do mitzvos [good deeds] such as pray, give charity, and the like. So sometimes, the purpose of your life is not what you yourself are accomplishing; the purpose of your life is what you are enabling others to accomplish, and that is a great spiritual benefit that will serve this soul well when it goes into the world of truth.

Such a view requires cultivating the ability to receive help, support, treatment, affection, and acts of kindness from others.

Kindness depends on cooperation between the recipient and the giver, between the person in need and the person rendering some form of service.

A seeming “diminishing quality of life” corresponds to increasing need and opportunities to show kindness.

Painting: Visiting the Sick, Modernist Israeli Oil Painting, Avraham Ofek

Declaration of Dependence

The other day a friend of mine shared this profound aphorism from Nicolás Gómez Dávila which says:

Death is the unequivocal sign of our dependence.
Our dependence is the unequivocal foundation of our hope.

In 1993, a Canadian Supreme Court judge included the following statement in his decision:

“Although palliative care may be available to ease the pain and other physical discomfort which she will experience, the appellant fears the sedating effects of such drugs and argues, in any event, that they will not prevent the psychological and emotional distress which will result from being in a situation of utter dependence and loss of dignity.”


Here “utter dependence” is conflated with a “loss of dignity”, not the foundation of our hope.

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This World Day of the Sick

In 1993, John Paul II inaugurated the World Day of the Sick to be celebrated each year on February 11th. He wanted the annual day to serve as “a special occasion for growth, with an attitude of listening, reflection, and effective commitment in the face of the great mystery of pain and illness” and he specifically addressed all those who are sick, calling them “the main actors of this World Day.”

What did he mean by this?

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