St. Mary hosts panel on death and dying

GREENVILLE — The crowd that came to hear a discussion of end-of-life issues at St. Mary’s Gallivan Hall on Oct. 20 heard three different perspectives from pro-life advocates. The most surprising talk was that of Wayne Cockfield, a lobbyist for the National Right To Life Committee at the United Nations.

Cockfield, a Florence native who was badly wounded as a Marine sergeant in Vietnam in 1969, said that he was shocked by what he learned when he went to work at the United Nations.

“There are evil forces there, trying to make abortion and euthanasia international law. This movement is constant and strong, especially among European Union representatives. The effort to prohibit pro-death language and insert pro-life language (into treaties) is a constant battle,” Cockfield said.

He said that handicapped people like himself are being devalued in America and elsewhere, and that killing them has become part of what he termed the crumbling moral consensus of the culture of death. Having an inherent value by being made as a human being in God’s image is not enough anymore, he said; one now has to prove his or her value.

“It’s gotten so that you cannot even rely on your family anymore,” Cockfield said. “’Death with dignity’ is a slur. If constitutional law cannot protect the undervalued person, it cannot protect anyone. This is about power and control.”

The retired Marine, a Baptist, told The Miscellany that the Holy See and Latin American and Moslem countries are his greatest allies at the U.N. in the struggle for pro-life protections.

Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, and Mark O’Rourke, an oncologist and a Catholic pro-life activist, were the other two speakers on the panel discussion, which was sponsored by the parish Culture of Life Committee.

Gatling told the audience that her 91-year-old mother signed a South Carolina living will because she didn’t want to be a burden on her family. Gatling called the document deceptive and dangerous and told her mother that she had signed her death warrant.

“’Please don’t deny me the privilege, the grace of taking care of you,’ I told her. She went to her lawyer and had an advanced directive drawn up instead,” Gatling said.

“All couples should have ‘The Talk’ and decide early on what you want done at the end of your life. Let everyone know,” she said.

O’Rourke handed out directives from Catholic moral teaching to demonstrate that the official Catholic position is not uncaring or unfeeling, as it has sometimes been unfairly categorized.

“The church does not say that you have to stay hooked up to life support machinery forever. It calls only for ordinary and proportionate means to protect your life. The church affirms that we are all created for immortal life, so it is not our decision to end our life,” he said. “The church has a body of knowledge and tradition that is our witness to the values of human life, from conception to natural death.”

He talked about palliative care, a new specialty in hospitals for terminally ill patients. “These palliative care teams will include a doctor who communicates,” O’Rourke said.

Aspects of the Terri Schiavo case were discussed and all panelists agreed that it was immoral to withhold water and food from the woman who was in a semi-comatose state for years.

“Terri Schiavo was not dying,” said O’Rourke. “She was not in pain.”

Cockfield said, “Euthanasia is not for the dying; it’s for those people who will not die.”