Helen Prejean

Blood on Our Hands: An Interview with Sister Helen Prejean


The latest issue of The Other Journal includes Shannon Presler’s interview with Sister Helen Prejean. Along the way, they discuss rejection, state executions, victims’ feelings, the ‘guilt in being middle class’, and embodying love. Here’s what Sister Prejean says about assisted suicide in the elderly:

‘Whenever life is at a vulnerable point, from the very beginning of life to the very end of life, we have to really watch when the state code of law allows the ending of human life, and we make it legal, because we need to build moats around the castle of life, especially with older people. Now, so many elderly people are put into homes and other places where very quickly the right to die can become the duty to die. There is just not the discernment, care, and presence that goes into that decision. There should be pain management but anyone in chronic pain, anyone who cries to die, it’s tempting to want to bring their death. The Roman soldiers used to break the legs of the people being crucified to hasten their deaths, not exactly a painless death.

Of course, with the management of pain you also have some qualifiers. You can have people strapped into wheelchairs, their heads bent over because they’re so drugged, they’re already in half-life, and then it becomes an easy, easy step to just take it all away. Just give them enough so that it finishes people off, simply because the person is old, or the person is sick—those stages where other people are in charge of those decisions, or where the dignity of the self has lost all agency.

Killing them destroys us. It deteriorates us as a society. We have to uphold the dignity of the human person. Pain management, especially with the drugs that are possible now, morphine and so forth, is possible in almost all instances. Things are always complex, but the bedrock is the dignity of human life. Once you put something into law that says “Well, you know, this person is asking to die, so here are our steps,” it can never codify all the possibilities and situations of human life; it never can. So once we codify certain conditions that allow for someone to take drugs that can kill them, at the patient’s request or at the family’s request, I think we have to be abhorrent of that’.

Read the entire interview here.