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"Something greater at work"


Elizabeth Scalia has written a meditation on the meaning of death, life, and love .

Elizabeth grounds her meditation in her family's experience of a beloved brother's dying. She questions proposals to promote assisted dying for the terminally ill, and asks whether "in suffering and death, something greater might be at work than our limited, earthbound sensibilities can comprehend". Her essay is trenchant and tender. It reminded me of Cecily Saunders. Perhaps you know the story -

Cicely Saunders nursed wounded soldiers during World War II. Among the men she helped was David Tasma, a young Pole who was dying in great pain.

As they grew close, David admitted that he wanted to make peace with the God of his fathers, but he found it difficult to achieve any tranquillity in the hospital. Focused on treating those who would survive, the hospital shunted the dying about, often without proper pain relief. Cecily felt she must find a way to help him. She was falling in love with him - but was helpless even to relieve his pain.

David died in the hospital. He left Cicely all he had - £500 - so she could continue her education. Inspired, she became a doctor, and tried to learn everything she could about end-of-life care. Then, singlehandedly, she launched a campaign to build the world's first modern hospice, St Christopher's, in London.

Despite apathy and hostility, Cecily succeeded. She built St Christopher's with light and airy wards, welcomed people of all religious faiths, or none, improved pain relief, and cared for the dying and their families.

St Christopher's became a model for the modern hospice, a place where people love, where something greater is at work.