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Life valuable even when painful
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Newark, N.J. -- The salutatorian of the Bayonne High class of 1917 was cause for celebration this past week. "If you can be a saint in Newark, New Jersey ..." my cab driver memorably said as I explained to him the reason for the police, media and crowds. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was being beatified at a morning Mass, in recognition of her saintly life lived on the streets of the Garden State, only a few decades before Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Chris Christie.
During her brief life, Demjanovich cared for her ailing parents, taught school and became a Sister of Charity, having long felt called to religious life. She was only 26 when she died, from complications following the removal of her tonsils. But she had spiritual wisdom far beyond her years.
I thought of Miriam Teresa's short life when I read about Brittany Maynard. If you haven't seen her heartbreaking video, she is a 29-year-old diagnosed with brain cancer. Her diagnosis is grim, and death is pending. She and her husband have moved to Oregon so that she can speed the process along and end her life Nov. 1. That's her right in the Beaver State.
But how can that be right? What does it say about a society when assisted suicide becomes legal? What does it say about us that we seem to value choice over life?
Back in Newark, just days after the celebration of Demjanovich's short life, Fr. Benedict Groeschel was being laid to rest back at Newark's Sacred Heart Cathedral.
In a book about death and the afterlife, Groeschel wrote: "Every thinking person knows that in the midst of terrible tragedy, anyone can be brought to a moment of wishing that life would end. This life on earth can have moments of exquisite beauty, of great satisfaction, but it can also be a 'valley of tears.'"
Maynard faces that valley.  
"The most common personal problem of sane people is anxiety and fear," Groeschel wrote, reflecting on his four decades as a psychologist. "We live as if the world were static, yet it changes constantly ... we pretend that is it not in the nature of all life to be born, to grow, to decline and eventually perish."
We're becoming a society whose institutions opt to prolong this denial of decrepitude, to cope with it by denying the loving, human aspects of decline and death. We claim it is merciful to cut life short, ignoring the unexpected sources of hope and healing that life's end can bring.
Those who advocate for legal euthanasia and assisted suicide have adopted the word "dignity." It is a travesty of the word. Ours is a culture that has surrendered the inalienable right to life to circumstantial choice. We should be champions of human dignity, ensuring that no one is made to feel her life is no longer worth living.
Kathryn Jean Lopez can be contacted at