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Quadriplegic Priest Challenges a Pro-Euthanasia Film (Part 1)

Interview With Father Luis de Moya

PAMPLONA, Spain, SEPT. 13, 2004 (Zenit) - A quadriplegic priest, Father Luis de Moya, had the opportunity to visit Ramón Sampedro a year and a half before the latter, also a quadriplegic, took his own life in 1998.

That encounter inspired "Out at Sea," a pro-euthanasia movie that was presented at the Venice Film Festival.

The movie by Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar ridicules "the intervention and words of a priest, who is also a quadriplegic, pigeonholing him in ever exacting theoretical schemes of Catholic morality," Vatican Radio said last weekend.

In this interview with us, Father de Moya recalls the meeting he had with Sampedro. The physician-priest has been in charge of several chaplaincies at the University of Navarre.

Part 2 of this interview appears Tuesday.

Q: There are critics who have pointed out the caricatured, cruel, anti-Catholic and historically false character of the scene in the film in which Ramón Sampedro is visited by a priest who is also a quadriplegic, whose words and intervention are ridiculed. Did you know Sampedro personally? Could you recount your meeting with him?

Father de Moya: If that truly comical situation -- which unleashes unanimous laughter in the hall -- in which a supposed Jesuit priest shouts in the most unreasonable way possible, trying to convince a quadriplegic of his error -- was an invention of Amenábar, it could be regarded as reasonable in a film like so many others, which neither pretend to be historical nor, much less so, recall a well-known event, as is this case, which affects in the first person thousands of individuals of the country.

It is not scientifically impossible, of course, that Ramón Sampedro should be visited by a quadriplegic Jesuit in a van accompanied by some youths, and that the tenor of what happened was so ridiculous as depicted in the film.

In my opinion, however, it is a falsehood, and how I wish I were mistaken for the good of Alejandro Amenábar. I say this because I, who am not a Jesuit, but belong to Opus Dei -- and Ramón Sampedro was well aware of this -- did visit him with other persons, transported in my van, and, like the Jesuit, I was also unable to go up to the patient's room.

As for the rest, what really happened is an anecdote recounted and published by me on numerous occasions, especially as a result of Ramón Sampedro's death.

Q: What made you visit Sampedro?

Father de Moya: When I had the opportunity to go to Galicia, we had already known one another for years, although always in an indirect way, through the media, by post or at most in a telephone conversation.

In any case, we both had quite a precise understanding of our respective points of view on life and about the meaning of life in our particular situation.

My visit was meant to be, and in fact was, of absolute cordiality. We spoke on the telephone early in the morning, specifying details of our meeting, in a tone that was more than kind on his part, and I ventured to make the visit still doubting if I would succeed in entering his room.

I was taking advantage of a free morning in Santiago. In the afternoon I had to give my talk to the congress, "The Value of Suffering," the reason for my trip.

Q: Ramón Sampedro was bedridden for 29 years. He did not use a wheelchair or leave his room, unlike other quadriplegics. From your experience, also a quadriplegic because of an accident, is a reaction of this sort usual? Can this state of mind be overcome? What supports do you think are necessary to do so?

Father de Moya: The case of Sampedro, who refused to use a chair, is really unusual as people know very well who are involved in the world of substantial injuries. Especially unusual, moreover, given the level of the injury -- a very manageable quadriplegic -- which he had after the accident.

Ramón had sustained substantial damage at the C-7 level, as he himself confirmed to me by word. Suffice it to say that with that injury he could have, if he had wished to, drive a car, as many others do.

I don't think Ramón Sampedro was lacking in human support. He received exquisite care from his family, especially from Manuela, his sister-in-law. And I said this to her in a letter, admiring the healthy look of the patient after so many years of disability.

But the decision on life is always the individual's and, not infrequently, apart from influences, supports or incentives. But was Ramón Sampedro then a normally balanced person? He said he was. Some specialists, however, doubt it.

Q: As portrayed in the film, Ramón Sampedro considered his life unworthy of being lived. What is your opinion in this respect?

Father de Moya: Undoubtedly -- I think I have the experience to say this after our repeated meetings -- he thought too much about what he had lost. Obviously, it is not mobility that is the most noble and grandiose thing a person has. What characterizes us as men is not lost with impaired mobility.

The negative consequences of being a quadriplegic do not at all diminish the individual's humanity nor are the ideals for the person's fulfillment lost after the fatal accident.

I was so aware of being the same as always that, although I was very conscious of my new limitations and my permanent need for help, I did not feel at all impaired in planning objectives, which I would exact from myself in the course of time, to incorporate new learning that would be useful to me subsequently.

This way of proceeding, as I presupposed before embarking on it, continues to make me happy every day.

Q: You are a Catholic priest. Why is the Church in favor of life, even in "desperate" conditions?

Father de Moya: In the light of faith, therefore, for any coherent Catholic, we are children of God. The certainty of our divine filiation persuades us that we will never be in an impossible situation. What is more, any moment or circumstance of our life can and must be an occasion to love God and, therefore, of real personal greatness and joy.

Of course, I am speaking of consistency, that is, of a life of faith -- of a daily conduct which manifests that, in practice, God is first and most important according to the criteria of the Catholic Church.

Q: And, what role does personal freedom play here? Isn't one free to decide on the end of one's own life or of helping others to die for "humane" reasons?

Father de Moya: It is quite evident to me that this is not the case. If one wishes to, one can end one's life at any moment or, in the case you pose, induce others to put an end to their days. However, it is not equally reasonable to choose that option over that of respecting one's own life until its natural end.

It would not be reasonable either to force things to maintain life in an artificial and precarious way at the cost of using disproportionate means. Human life is destined, in time, to come to an end.

However, given that our life is a reality that transcends us -- none of us has decided to live, or to live as persons -- in its own grandeur and mystery, life is presented to us in a natural way as a reality that merits the greatest respect. Who am I to put an end to a life? In any case, so that there would be no doubt, we were told: "You shall not kill."

For "humane" reasons I help someone to die, I must help someone to die, but not kill to avoid pain. Pain is something that is inevitably part of our life. Therefore, to help to die implies to accompany, to console, to use the appropriate tranquilizers, although at times, without intending it, they might anticipate the moment of death and, above all, to stimulate hope with the convinced certainty of a better life hereafter.

[Tuesday: Bracing for legalized euthanasia]

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Keywords

quadriplegic, euthanasia, morality, Catholic, Bishop

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