Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell and a woman religious walk with others toward the National Museum of African American History and Culture during a peaceful protest June 8, 2020, following the death of George Floyd. Pope Francis’ new encyclical "Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship," speaks against "narrow and violent racism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different." CNS photo/Bob Roller

Cathy Majtenyi: Fratelli Tutti sounds alarm on dignity

By 
  • October 18, 2020

The timing of the photo op couldn’t have been better. A defiant, COVID- sick Donald Trump popping out of hospital to wave to his supporters from a vehicle, putting the driver and security detail in extreme danger, illustrated so perfectly one of Pope Francis’s key concepts in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti , On Fraternity and Social Friendship.

Paragraph 197 in Chapter 5 of Fratelli Tutti could very well be the caption of that photo op: “Politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin…. The real, and potentially painful, questions will be, ‘How much love did I put into my work?’ ‘What did I do for the progress of our people?’ ‘What mark did I leave on the life of society?’ ”

Hard questions indeed, for politician and citizen alike.

At the core of Pope Francis’s encyclical is the concept of the “dignity of each human person” and how long-running economic, political and social inequalities and injustices have threatened or destroyed that dignity on the individual, group, national and international levels.

The pandemic has brought many of these injustices and inequalities to the fore.

Take how we deal with the sick and elderly. COVID-19 had trained a harsh spotlight on the deplorable conditions in many long-term care facilities, causing great outrage in society. Governments responded to that shock and anger, providing increased resources to facilities and caregivers to address serious systemic problems.

Meanwhile, there’s Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying), which was re-introduced in Parliament on Oct. 5. The Liberal government is vowing to pass the bill by mid-December.

Bill C-7 makes it easier for Canadians to receive doctor-assisted suicide in several important ways, including: it would no longer be required that death be “reasonably foreseeable”; there would be a two-tiered system — where natural death is foreseeable and not foreseeable — to determine eligibility; removal of the 10-day reflection period for foreseeable death; and removal of the requirement that a person be able to consent at the time of the ending of their lives.

It’s ironic that we as a society would go ahead with such legislation when COVID-19 has awakened in us a great determination to protect the lives of the sick and elderly. Our entire society mobilized its resources to ensure the health and comfort of individuals at risk of dying of COVID, showing that we hold in high value the lives of the frail, ill and elderly.

Why can’t we always have a similar mobilization of concern, awareness and mobilization of resources — such as palliative care — to preserve the lives of the gravely ill and dying?

As Pope Francis says in Paragraph 18: “Ultimately, persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.”

Another area that COVID has exposed is inequalities and systemic discrimination experienced by Black Canadians and others of colour and Indigenous peoples.

A City of Toronto report released Sept. 17 found that an overwhelming majority of people diagnosed, and hospitalized with, COVID-19 in Toronto identify as belonging to a racialized group.

Clues as to why this is so emerge if we look at the wider context. In its survey of 35,000 Canadians released Sept. 17, Statistics Canada found that Black and Asian respondents were more than twice as likely to report that they had experienced discrimination in their everyday lives compared to their white counterparts.

This discrimination shows up as significant income gaps between racialized and non-racialized employees, high unemployment and an over-representation in frontline, low-paying and precarious employment, poor health outcomes, poverty, among other ills.

The situation is similar with Indigenous peoples. Alarming statistics of the dismal conditions under which these communities live arise from profound systemic discrimination and abuse, that, to our shame, have been documented repeatedly by the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others.

“Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting,” says Pope Francis in Paragraph 97.

Let us put into action Fratelli Tutti’s principles and exhortations to uphold human dignity at all levels, and reform structures and practices that perpetuate inequalities and injustices.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research communications at an Ontario university.)

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