A Wise and Tender Heart – Jean Vanier’s letter to Parliamentary Committee on Palliative Care

There is an all Party Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care engaged in consultations across Canada.  They are preparing policy recommendations on palliative care, suicide prevention, elder abuse and disability issues related to health care.

Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche – communities of people around the world that commit to sharing their lives with individuals with developmental disabilities.  Vanier has become a national inspiration.  The Globe and Mail declared him Canada's Nation Builder in 2008.  Maclean's acclaimed him as, "a Canadian who inspires the world." His Massey lecture and best selling book, Becoming Human nurtured national conversations.  This included a website on Belonging which L'Arche, L'Agora (Jacques Dufresne editor L'Encyclopédie de L'Agora, one of the most popular French speaking websites in the world) and PLAN Institute co-sponsor. 

In October he sent a letter to the above noted Parliamentary Committee.  Here are two excerpts:

For the past 46 years I have lived with people intellectual disabilities. These beautiful men and women have much to teach us about vulnerability, about caring, and about the ways of the heart. As individuals and as a population, they have a lived history of suffering, of being rejected and hidden away; away from the mainstream, away from power, away from belonging. Their obvious physical impairments, their openness of heart and their cry of need for relationship have gently invited me to reflect on my own impairments, fear of openness and need for relationship. They have been my teachers in the school of the wise and tender heart.

The vulnerable people whom your committee is called to reflect about caring for, are often in a precarious state, mentally or physically or both. They are often in anguish. The old, those living with illness and perhaps near death, those in depression and with a sense of despair, those living with disabilities; these are all people living in a most fragile state. The danger in our culture of productivity and achievement is that we easily dismiss and ignore as unproductive the gifts and
the beauty of our most vulnerable members, and we do so at our own peril, dehumanizing ourselves.

You can read the full text of his letter in the latest edition of L'Arche's excellent magazine, A Human Future.

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