Jeri and Chuck Marple tell the Every Life Matters session at Holy Trinity Church April 12 of their experience of living with their daughter Mary who has cerebral palsy.


Jeri and Chuck Marple tell the Every Life Matters session at Holy Trinity Church April 12 of their experience of living with their daughter Mary who has cerebral palsy.

May 2, 2016

When Jeri and Chuck Marple's eighth child Mary was born at 22 weeks gestation, the choice of life or death was set before them.

Doctors said if Mary survived, she had a 90 per cent chance of having severe cerebral palsy. They suggested disconnecting Mary's lifeline and respirator because she would be a burden to them, and it was not fair to them or to society.

The Marples' choice of life for their daughter Mary set the stage for the fourth session of Every Life Matters, Archbishop Richard Smith's Easter series of conversations about physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, held April 12 at Holy Trinity Church in Spruce Grove/Stony Plain.

Chuck told the doctors to do what they could to save Mary's life. If God took her life, that was his will. But if Mary survived, she would be their responsibility, and they would give her all the love she needs.

Now 17, Mary is schooled at home. Her life has purpose, said Jeri. She cannot walk or talk but communicates in her own way - crying out when she does not like something. But most of the time, she has a big smile "that can melt the hardest of hearts."

She has taught her family unconditional love, how to be more patient and how to give themselves more fully.

"Until the Lord chooses to take her home, we have the privilege to live with a living saint," said Jeri.

Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician and panelist, said the Marples' story demonstrates how life-giving it is to care for people.

Voeuk emphasized the importance of caring for caregivers and families of those nearing end of life. Caregivers can face burnout, exhaustion, feelings of anger, guilt and the risk of depression.

Smith said standing in solidarity with a loved one who is suffering and dying while powerless to do anything about it can give rise to anguish as painful as physical torment.

During the evening event, titled I Don't Want to Suffer, Smith spoke about the mystery of suffering.

"I don't know how many times growing up when I was going through difficulties I'd hear my mom say, 'Offer it up, offer it up,'" the archbishop said. "Now I know what she was getting at."

Through his acts of healing in the Gospel, Jesus showed special love for the sick and people who suffered. Yet, he did not remove suffering from the human condition, said Smith. He took it entirely on himself in his agony at Calvary.


Aware of his impending physical suffering, Jesus poured himself into prayer to the Father, asking that the cup of suffering be taken away. Immediately after, Jesus was deserted by his friends, his disciples, and taken to the house of Caiaphas the high priest: totally bereft of companionship in the darkest hours in the blackest places, said Smith.

"I could tell you, it brings home the depth of Christ's suffering which reached its horrifying climax in his crucifixion."

Jesus entered into solidarity with us in our suffering through fear, loneliness, abandonment and pain.

Through all he endured, Jesus entrusted himself to the Father. Jesus offered his own suffering to the Father through his death on the cross, confident the Father would accept it for the salvation of the world. That is what the Father did when he raised Jesus from the dead.

The self-offering of Jesus on the cross teaches that when we offer our suffering through him to the Father, we can have confidence that God will accept and transform it into an instrument of good, said Smith.

"In many ways, the mystery of suffering remains just that - a mystery. But if in faith we offer it to God, it's never without meaning or without purpose," said Smith. "From Jesus, we also learn we're never alone in our suffering: God draws near."


The Father will always hear prayers offered through his Son and will respond with his answer raising us to life. It is the Lord who makes our suffering redemptive for the life of his children.

In response to a question about what right we have to interfere with another person's God-given freedom of choice, even if that choice is assisted suicide, Smith explained the meaning of God-given freedom.

We have freedom so we can freely respond to God's offer of covenant love, he said. God has chosen us first, and he invites us to choose him.


But often, when people speak of freedom, what they are actually talking about is licence, he said, defining licence as a false assumption that one should be free of all limits and constraints, in order to do what one wants.

By giving us the gift of freedom, God made clear freedom's purpose: It is freedom for God.

"Freedom in the Christian vision is liberty working within limits, to do what I must," said Smith.