Opinion: we need to be a more caring Church

 The question of the need for more palliative care has been raised recently in the context of the debate around Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying Bill. Labour MP Jim Dobbins already brought forward a bill that would lead to increased palliative care. However, the Church needs to address the wider question of the provision of care generally. As people live longer, more and more will require care support in old age. Much of that care is provided voluntarily by the friends and family of elderly person. But increasing numbers of elderly people do end up in care homes. Some choose to do so, accepting the bill for the facilities and services provided in exchange for the relief of not having to provide such things for themselves. Others go in because they cannot cope anymore. Finally, there are those who need specialist care because they suffer from conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's. Beyond the elderly there are other groups of people who also need special care provision due to disabilities. One of the worrying developments over recent years has been the state's negation of its responsibility - at local and national level - to provide care, handing the task over to the private sector. There are many good homes in the private sector but there is something not quite right in an equation that mixes the need to provide the best care with the demand to raise profits for shareholders. A consequence is that the staff who work in such institutions are paid the minimum wage or just above. They certainly deserve more for what is highly skilled and valuable work. Caring is an important task in our society As anyone who has elderly or not so elderly relatives in care homes will be aware, they are incredibly vulnerable. The abuse that can occur has been evidenced in recent TV documentaries. . An issue brought up in the euthanasia debate has been the danger that once on the statute book that death would become a default option for those believed to not be of any further use to society. No matter what the law might say, once euthanasia were permitted economic criteria would come into play in deciding whether a life was worth living or not. Already, we see many elderly people being treated as second class citizens when they go into hospital. The care is not all it might be. In my own case my mother went into her local hospital six years ago to have her eyes examined. She was diagnosed with glaucoma but not put on medication. Only now has another consultant explained that she should have been on the drops for the last six years. Now she is nearly blind. There is an increasing feeling when dealing with hospitals that they are becoming increasingly inhabited by bureaucrats who are in the wrong job. Maybe they should be giving out train times or taking bookings. The essence of such a caring profession must be a real concern for the human being. This is something not lacking among medical staff but what of the growing number of managers and bureaucrats in the NHS? Looking forward 20 or 30 years is depressing for anyone now in their 40s. No doubt by then, all care and much of the health service will be in the hands of profit seeking private companies. Health insurance will probably have become the priority in the UK that it is already in the US. A person will need cover to get treated, so the idea of treatment based on need regardless of financial standing will be a long distant memory. Care will be available only if the person can afford to pay for it. The recent call from the Church to oppose euthanasia and support greater provision of palliative care is an encouraging start. However, if this truly is a pro-life Church then the whole agenda of care needs to be taken on in a far more holistic form. At parish level, we need to become more aware of our elderly, what their requirements are and how the community can serve them. They must not be patronised but valued and supported. The lack of any real support for my parents has been an enduring irritation regarding their local church. Aside of taking the sacrament to my father at the care home each week there has been no other type of support. As my mother struggles to deal with her failing sight, she receives far more help from her non-believing neighbours than any member of the local Catholic community. This cannot be an exceptional case. To be church means being community and to do that requires much more than simply delivering the sacraments once a week. The Church could also engage more fully in the whole area of care provision. In recent years some religious orders have been forced to withdraw from care work because of a falling number of vocations. But there are increasing numbers of vacant church buildings becoming available that could be handed over to the caring professions. Why do we not step into the void and start to provide some real care support based on the dignity of the human person? At a campaigning level, the Church should make sure that care issues are kept at the forefront of the pro-life vision. There must be active campaigning for proper care provision and real recognition of the need of sanctity of life for all. This provision must be for care recipients and their carers. There is much that can and needs to be done over the coming years if this is not to become a more selfish inward looking society based totally on the laws of the jungle. As a pro-life church our vision has to be one of a society based on care and respect for every human person.