Does Tragedy Confer Dignity?

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.”

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Something to offer

Sixteen years ago, Terri Schiavo died.

I remember that when she was in the news, I heard the term “vegetative state” for the first time. It immediately struck me as a completely inappropriate term for any person since it explicitly dehumanizes someone by applying an incorrect analogy. Initially the adjective meant, “endowed with the power of growth” but it has come to denote exactly the opposite in public bioethics – that a person is incapable of any significant growth or development. We do not tolerate those who would dehumanize others by calling them cockroaches, so we ought not tolerate the dehumanizing language that refers to persons as “vegetables.”

When I think about Terri Schiavo, I think especially about the impact that her life and death had on my friend Taylor Hyatt. She wrote this great piece several years ago titled, “13 days that changed my life: Remembering Terri Schiavo.”

In the piece, Taylor reflects on how Terri’s story captivated her when she was in Grade 7.

She wrote:

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Canadian Student Discovers his Online Course is Taught by a Deceased Professor

This evening over dinner, my friend and housemate shared a news story from a month ago about a university student in Montreal who was surprised to discover that his current art history professor had, in fact, already been deceased for two years.

Aaron Ansuini had been following an online course through Concordia University when he Googled the professor to find his email address but instead found his obituary.

The university says the prerecorded material was in no way meant to be deceptive. Nevertheless, the student’s Twitter thread recounting his surprise amassed hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets.

He wrote:

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