Monday 17 October 2011

I applaud Bishop Davies’s courageous critique of the culture of death

A new report from the Care Quality Commission has highlighted the failure in many British hospitals to provide elderly people wtih adequate basic care. Mark Davies, Catholic bishop of Shrewsbury, has responded to the report, saying:
"the neglect of the elderly on National Health Service hospital wards may be a symptom of the 'culture of death' that has grown out the loss of respect for human life following decades of abortion and destructive experimentation on human embryos".
Bishop Davies made his remarks while speaking to the annual meeting of the Society of St Vincent de Paul this past Saturday (readers can find the full text at the end of this blogpost).

I applaud and thank Bishop Davies for his lucid and courageous critique of the current culture so prominent in UK hospitals. Sadly this culture has the backing of legislation in the form of the pro-euthanasia Mental Capacity Act 2005.

From Shrewbury diocese's press release:
"The review involved a targeted inspection programme between March and June, examining the question of whether elderly patients were treated with respect and if they were given food and drink that met their needs. It involved the largely random “spot check” inspections of 100 NHS hospitals.

According to the national report, the review found that nearly a fifth of the hospitals were failing to meet the basic legal standards and a further 35 needed to make improvements in their standard of care. Just 45 hospitals inspected were found to be “fully compliant” with their obligations toward elderly patients.

Among the problems identified was the failure to help patients to eat, and the interrupting of patients while they were eating so that their meals went unfinished.

The privacy of elderly patients was not always respected, according to the report, because of the failure, for example, to close curtains and screens properly.

Call bells were in some cases put out of patients’ reaches, or not answered soon enough, and this left some elderly patients rattling their bed rails or banging their water jugs to attract the attention of nurses. Hospital staff also spoke to some patients in a “dismissive or disrespectful way”, the CQC found.

The report said that basic care of elderly patients was “no mystery”, however, yet concluded that many hospitals were “struggling or failing” to provide such a service.

It blamed the crisis on “excessive bureaucracy” and “short staffing” in some hospitals but also found that such problems existed even on wards that were well-staffed because of the poor attitudes of some doctors and nurses.

Dame Jo Williams, the chairman of the CQC, said that “the fact that over half of hospitals were falling short to some degree in the basic care they provided to elderly people is truly alarming and deeply disappointing”."
Bishop Davies' address in full:
"This week serious concerns were expressed about the care, or disturbing lack of care, for the elderly in Britain’s hospitals. The Care Quality Commission, after visiting wards in a hundred hospitals, found repeated incidences of helpless patients having calls for assistance ignored and witnessed staff failing to help patients with their most basic need to eat, drink or even wash. It is a truly disturbing picture which has emerged not in all of our hospitals but in too many across the country to assume such indifference is now unusual. Management and nursing practice have been questioned but surely we have need today to ask more searching questions of ourselves in a country where millions of lives have been destroyed in abortion, where human life is routinely experimented upon and discarded and when today pressure grows for what is called “mercy killing” to end the lives of the terminally ill and the aged. So as a society we have need to ask: are we losing that respect and reverence for what Blessed John Paul II called, “the sacred value of human life … the incomparable value of every human person”. (Evangelium Vitae no.2) on which the very ideal of the hospital and the caring professions are founded?

As Pope John Paul foresaw in his 1995 letter, The Gospel of Life, which could almost be speaking of the alarming reports we have heard this week when he pointed to the symptoms of what he called the emerging culture of death where: “prosperous societies … see the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated from their families and by society, which are organised almost exclusively on the basis of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value”. (Evangelium Vitae no. 64). Could it be that we have begun to dismiss the cries of the weakest in the place where they expected to receive the greatest care because their impaired lives no longer seem to have any great value?

How different is that law found written in the human heart (Rom 2: 14-14) and revealed by our faith in Christ who “by his incarnation … united himself in some fashion with every human being” (Gaudium et Spes no.22). The faith which Pope Benedict expressed in these striking words which I often repeat to the young in the diocese: “Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,” he declared at the beginning of his ministry as the Successor of St Peter, “each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate 24th April 2005). How differently we begin to see in this light our own lives and the lives of those frailest and most needy in the light of being willed, loved and so needed. This was the vision which first inspired the work of the hospital and the vocation of the medical and caring professions. It is the vision of life, every human life, which led St Vincent de Paul to say: “The service of the poorest is to be preferred to all else and to be performed without delay … above all abandoned persons are given to us (not as burdens) but as lords and patrons (Letter 2546).”

This is the tireless work and witness continued by the Society of St Vincent de Paul and so many of the Church’s voluntary organisations on the streets, the hospital wards and the nursing homes across this country. In those memorable words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we go out to meet and serve Christ so often “in his most distressing disguises”. Today I wish to remind you how this witness to the value of every human life, especially the most impaired, is more vital than ever before. For whenever you set out to make your visits to those most isolated and vulnerable in our society it points to what our Holy Father Pope Benedict reminded us of on his visit to the United Kingdom, “As advances in medicine and other factors lead to increased longevity, it is important to recognise the presence of growing numbers of older people as a blessing for society …” so that in the light of the fourth commandment to honour your father and mother, “the provision of care for the elderly should be considered not so much an act of generosity as the repayment of a debt of gratitude”, which brings a reward and promises a blessing for the whole of society (Deut 5:16).

In this Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist Christ our Lord gives Himself to us “wholly and entirely” under the frail signs of bread and wine. Let us pray for those “eyes of faith” always to recognise His Real Presence here in the Mass, this Blessed Sacrament so we may never lose sight of Him in the frailest and most vulnerable of his brothers and sisters. Amen."
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