Life and Death: Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Elderly holding hands

by Bonnie Finnerty, Education Director

On January 18, 2019, I eagerly accepted the position of Education Director at the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. My former career as a teacher coupled with my life-long advocacy of life issues led me to believe this was the job for which I had long been searching.  Part-time and close to home, I could still juggle the responsibilities of family life and volunteer work.  In addition, I was blessed to work with authentically kind, compassionate, and committed people with whom I felt an instant bond.

The overwhelming joy I felt at this new chapter in my life was tempered, however, just three days later, when we learned that my active 82 year-old mother had pancreatic cancer. Her doctor surmised that she might live until Easter. Suddenly, everything was re-prioritized.  How can I best spend these last precious months with my mom? How can I ease her pain? How can I help her and my dad, indeed all of our family, including her beloved 16 grandchildren prepare for her departure from this world?

As it turns out, my mom did not have a few months.  She had 18 days.  We were praying with her when she peacefully drew her last breath on February 8.  During her brief but intense illness, my mom endured excruciating pain, some from the cancer and some from the innumerable blood clots that riddled her entire body.  At times she called out in prayer, imploring God to take her, as her loved ones sat helplessly by, shedding tears as we stroked her face and held her hand.

When witnessing the slow but inevitable death of a loved one, there is a dark temptation to end their pain and hasten their journey home to God through doctor-prescribed suicide. But our family and its matriarch knew that was not our call.  While we sought the best palliative care for her, we knew there was a plan, a timetable, a moment long ago determined when she would transition into eternal life.  And as hard as her path was to get there, we could only love her on her way as best we could. During those 18 days, my mother gave us the ultimate pro-life witness: the peaceful surrender to life’s natural course, bravely bearing her suffering, giving US comfort with her courage, patience, and steadfast faith.

Such a testimony echoed a climactic moment 32 years earlier, when I returned home from college my freshman year to tell her I was pregnant. Seeing me crying in the kitchen, she became alarmed, thinking the very worst.  I could hardly speak the words, but when I did, she said, “Is that ALL?  I thought you were dying of cancer! A baby, we can deal with a baby!”  Having lost a 16 year-old daughter in a car accident many years earlier, my mother believed that the worst thing a parent can endure is the loss of a child.  My unexpected pregnancy was not an occasion for tears, but rather a chance to joyfully welcome new life.  Sadly, this lesson was reinforced all the more just a few weeks later when my brother and his wife lost their daughter, my mother’s first grandchild, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.   We grieved the loss of baby Ashley, while treasuring the life growing within my 18 year old body.

Is it any wonder that I now work for a pro-life organization, one whose mission is committed to promoting the dignity and value of human life from conception to natural death?  On my last outing with my mom, just days after learning of her terminal illness, I had the opportunity to show her where I would be working.  Pulling up in front of the office, I explained what I would be doing for the Federation.  She was happy for me, knowing that I was honored to do such important work with such good people. She didn’t mention it to me then, but I have since learned that my mother was a financial supporter of the PA Pro-Life Federation, dating back as early as 1990, when we were all still living in Scranton. She couldn’t have foreseen me working for the Federation, but now that I am, I feel sure she is blessing our good efforts from the other side.

Life Lessons in “Finding Dory”

DoryBy Maria Gallagher, Legislative Director

I think you could draw many life lessons from the Disney movie, “Finding Dory.”

The long-awaited sequel to the cinematic classic “Finding Nemo” tells the story of one brave fish’s quest to find her parents.

Dory suffers from short-term memory loss. But at the beginning of the movie, we see her loving parents are very supportive of her and celebrate her every accomplishment.

This brought to my mind a couple of key points. One is how too many in the medical community often discourage parents whose unborn children have been diagnosed with disabilities or difficult health problems.

It has been reported, for instance, that the abortion rate for a Down Syndrome diagnosis is 90 percent. Unfortunately, too many doctors fail to offer encouragement to parents who have been given a challenging prenatal diagnosis, focusing on the hardships rather than the blessings.

Abortion activists demand exceptions in abortion restrictions for “fetal anomalies,” which is a euphemism for disabilities or medical problems. But, just because someone is handicapped in some way, that does not make them any less human. In fact, caring for that individual, showing compassion to her, can actually make us, in a sense, more human.

Also noteworthy is that a character who tries to help Dory–Hank the octopus–also has a disability, in that he has one tentacle missing. Yet, he proves very adept at moving himself–and the story–forward.

The other thought that crossed my mind was on the other side of the spectrum, the elderly. Someone who has been diagnosed with dementia is also deserving of our protection–especially from those who would have that individual succumb to euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Kudos to the creators of “Finding Dory” by celebrating true diversity–the diversity that comes from those who are differently-abled. May our children learn the movie’s life lessons and carry them on throughout their lives.

New PA Resources on the Threat of Assisted Suicide

This spring, two bills that could legalize doctor-prescribed suicide were introduced in the Pennsylvania House (HB943) and Senate (SB549).

Giving helpEuthanasia advocates are targeting Pennsylvania and about a dozen other states right now, trying to push their deadly agenda. They have already succeeded in five states.

Here are a few ways you can learn more about this growing threat:

  • The Pennsylvania Coalition to Stop Doctor-Prescribed Suicide now has a website. Visit for facts, issue papers, videos, and other resources. And follow the Coalition on Facebook and Twitter. The coalition is a diverse network of disability rights activists, medical professionals, and other groups who believe in compassionate care of people with disabilities and terminal illness, rather than the dangerous practice of doctor-prescribed suicide.
  • We have several fact sheets available: Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law: Safeguards Don’t Work, and Threat of Doctor-Prescribed Suicide in Pennsylvania. Read them online or request copies from our office.
  • Sign up for our twice-monthly Online Newsletter to receive regular updates about what’s happening in Pennsylvania and what you can do to help protect lives.

We are working hard to educate the public about the threat of doctor-prescribed suicide. Please help us by informing yourself and your friends.

Assisted Suicide Is Being Pushed Here in Pa. — Stay Informed

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are no longer distant threats to life. Doctor-prescribed suicide legislation is being discussed in Pennsylvania right now.

BizMatters12-14Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society, is pushing this deadly legislation across the country; and we in the pro-life community are joining voices with medical and disability rights groups to oppose doctor-prescribed suicide in Pennsylvania.

You may hear it euphemistically called death with dignity or aid in dying, but doctor-prescribed suicide is what it is. And it’s a recipe for abuse.

We know from Oregon, where doctor-prescribed suicide is legal, that safeguards don’t work. People who are older or disabled may be pressured into suicide, and others may be denied medical treatment. That’s what happened to Barbara Wagner. In 2008, her Oregon-run insurance plan denied coverage of her chemotherapy treatment. Instead, they offered to cover her assisted suicide.

Josie Byzek of Not Dead Yet Pennsylvania, a disability rights group against assisted suicide, says groups should be advocating for better health care and respect for people of all abilities – not suicide.

“One concern our community has is that people with disabilities, especially life-threatening disabilities, cannot uniformly receive quality health care,” Byzek says. “Therefore, how can these same health professionals, as a matter of policy, possibly make a judgment call about the person’s quality of life?”

To stay informed about this issue, check out recent Pennsylvania media coverage:

  • Central Pa. talk radio show Smart Talk aired a program with disability rights advocates from Not Dead Yet Pennsylvania and assisted suicide advocates. Listen here.
  • In Allentown, the TV show Business Matters interviewed our Executive Director Michael Ciccocioppo and Alan Holdsworth of Not Dead Yet, along with assisted suicide advocates. Watch it here.
  • Lancaster newspapers published two opinion columns for and against doctor-prescribed suicide. Our Legislative Director Maria Gallagher wrote the opposed column. Read it here.

Stuffing with a Side of Suicide

By Maria Gallagher, Legislative Director

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Trip to Grandma’s? A cooking marathon? A touch football game?

CupcakeLeave it to the hope-killers of the suicide movement to take one of the great things in life and turn it into a mope-fest.

The Hemlock Society — now deceptively called Compassion and Choices — wants you to spend Thanksgiving Day talking about assisted suicide with your family and friends.

I have a better idea. Spend the holiday enjoying life. Express your thanks for all of your many gifts. Treasure your loved ones and tell them how much you love them. Celebrate all that’s good in your life and in the lives of those you care about. Take a deep breath and, as you exhale, remember how good — no, make that great — life can be.

The best antidote to the physician-prescribed suicide scourge is an enthusiastic “yes” to life. It’s a hope-filled declaration that, despite the detours along our individual journeys, each of our lives have meaning and merit — from the moment of conception to the instant of natural death.

This Thanksgiving, whether you’re dining with masses or having an intimate dinner with only a few, raise your glass and toast to life. It’s the one great gift no one has a right to take away.

Assisted Suicide, Quick Fixes, and a Lesson from My Dad

Growing up, my dad always impressed upon us the importance of doing a job well.

He didn’t believe in quick fixes. When we worked with him, we were expected to finish the job right. If we made a mistake, he helped us repeat the task until it was correct.

OldwomanPerhaps the biggest test of this work ethic came when my father took on the huge task of building a home for us. I remember when my siblings and I helped him measure and lay the cinder block foundation. I was about 14 at the time, and I remember thinking he was being very fussy about measurements. He told us, if the foundation was even a fraction of an inch off, it would cause major problems as we built the rest of the house.

Throughout the building process, he strongly emphasized that we must not take short cuts or try to quick-fix a mistake we had made. He promised that he wouldn’t be angry if we made a mistake, but he would be upset if we tried to cover it up. And he was true to his word. If we made a mistake, he was patient with us. He took the time to teach us how to do it correctly, though it created more work for him.

Now as I look back, I realize how vitally important that lesson is to my work today. A recent episode of 60 Minutes reminded me of the newest quick fix being proposed in our society – legalized assisted suicide.

The show focused on the case of Barbara Mancini, a Schuylkill County woman who was arrested after allegedly helping her 93-year-old father, Joseph Yourshaw, commit suicide. Mancini later was exonerated due to the lack of evidence.

Still, Mancini told 60 Minutes that her father should have had the option to commit assisted suicide. She said her father was in pain, and he told people he wanted to die. Mancini now is working with the pro-euthanasia group Compassion and Choices to push for legalized assisted suicide.

But Dr. Ira Byock, who was interviewed later in the show, exposed assisted suicide as a quick-fix solution that ignores the real issue.

Byock, a Dartmouth College professor and a medical expert in end of life care, reviewed Yourshaw’s medical and hospice records and discovered that he was not receiving adequate care for his pain. Byock explained that almost all pain can be managed with modern medicine, but many health care providers aren’t trained well in pain management.

He also pointed out that the elderly and terminally ill are often made to feel that they are burdens on society, and Yourshaw felt he was being a burden, according to his medical records.

Byock emphasized that the solution for people like Yourshaw is not assisted suicide but better end-of-life care and the assurance that their lives still matter.

But making that solution a reality takes a lot of hard work. Our job as pro-lifers isn’t easy, just as my dad’s job wasn’t easy. It takes patience and perseverance to help an elderly or ill person through their day to day life. It takes hard work and dedication for health care professionals to learn the additional skills necessary to help relieve patients’ pain.

But without hard work, what do we get? The quick fixes of assisted suicide and abortion. They take away something valuable that we can never get back, no matter how hard we work — an individual person’s life.

Dobson’s First Novels Take Look at Future of Abortion, Euthanasia

Last year, Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson introduced his first series of novels: “Fatherless,” “Childless” and “Godless.”

photoThe novels take place several decades in the future when America is trying to recover from an economic collapse. Julia Davidson, an acclaimed journalist, is famous for her columns that celebrate the global drop in fertility and criticize marriage and motherhood. As Julia digs deeper into the modern views of life and family, she begins to uncover the consequences of the value shift.

America has become a nation where almost all babies are genetically screened and pre-selected before being implanted in the womb. “Accidental pregnancies” are aborted and the babies’ bodies sold for money. Women who have multiple children are labeled “breeders.”

The government portrays the elderly and disabled as burdens, financial drains on their families and their country. In an effort to bolster the economy, the government encourages the large elderly population to “transition” (assisted suicide).

The novels take a futuristic look at American society and individuals’ right to life — but not in a dystopian way. What I’ve enjoyed about the books so far is the way Dobson and co-author Kurt Bruner make the future world seem realistic. Most dystopian novels paint a frightening picture of a concept taken to its extreme. Dobson’s novels, on the other hand, take a more moderate approach that makes readers think, “This could actually happen.”

He gives pro-lifers a picture of what our nation could look like if it continues to denying certain people a right to life. But his novels also bring hope that, through the work of pro-lifers, we can change people’s hearts and minds and restore a culture of life in our nation.

I recently finished the first two novels in the series. “Godless,” the third and final book, was released this summer, and it’s on my reading list. Put it on yours, too.

The Overpopulation Debate and Solutions to the World’s Problems

The other day I listened to a debate about overpopulation with Steven Mosher from the pro-life Population Research Institute and Robert Walker of the pro-abortion Population Institute.

GlobeWomanYou can watch it here. It’s about an hour long, but it’s worth listening to if you have time. Steven Mosher is a very knowledgeable and persuasive debater.

When I used to hear the word “overpopulation,” it always made me think of disappearing rainforests, endangered species, global warming, and poverty. Since I began working in pro-life, though, I’ve realized the scary implications of the overpopulation theory.

How do we stop overpopulation? We get rid of people (abortion, euthanasia). And how do we make it seem ok to get rid of people? By making some people appear less valuable than others (the preborn, the elderly and the disabled).

The heart of the issue really seems to come back to the value of human life. I’m not saying those other issues aren’t important. We need to take care of our planet and the plants and animals that live here.

But, as Steven Mosher argues, people have found innovative ways to solve these challenges, and will continue to do so – without killing other people.

Mosher summed it up very well in his response to Walker: “You see the problem as people. I see the problem as poverty.”

Abortion and euthanasia are the same way. There are better solutions to the world’s problems than killing innocent people. Our world doesn’t need more abortions, more euthanasia, or fewer people. Our world needs more people who will listen, care and treat others with the respect they deserve.

We’re Back from Our Pro-Life Town Hall Meetings

Well, we’re back. Our Executive Director Michael Ciccocioppo and I hit the road last week for our annual pro-life town hall meetings.

It was an exhausting week with two speaking stops per day and hundreds of miles in the car, but it also was an encouraging week that I’ll never forget.


Our Town Hall meeting in Gettysburg

Everywhere we stopped, people were anxious to learn the truth about what’s happening in our nation.

The purpose of our town hall meetings is to bring pro-life education to people in their own communities. This year, we talked about the pro-life gains in Pennsylvania, notorious abortionists in our state, the abortion and medical rationing components of Obamacare, a Millennial’s perspective on abortion, and effective methods for defending our pro-life beliefs.

We go out to teach and inspire, but we always come back having learned and been inspired ourselves.

This year, I came back reminded about just how unique and beautiful every individual is. I saw hundreds of people at our meetings. I talked with them, shook hands with them. And I marveled at how different and beautiful every single person is. One of a kind. Unique. Unlike any other on the earth in all of history.

And I was reminded of what being pro-life really means – recognizing each individual as a unique treasure and protecting that treasure from harm.

Check back soon for photos from the tour.

Learn the Latest Pro-Life News and Information at Our Spring Town Hall Tour

This winter seemed as though it would never end, but the signs of spring are finally appearing. I love the warmth and hope that spring holds. It reminds me that good things are ahead.

D mb close

Micaiah Bilger during our 2013 Town Hall Tour

I feel the same way during our annual Pro-Life Town Hall Tour, which is coming up April 28 to May 6.

It’s a time when we travel across the state and connect with pro-lifers, sharing the latest information about pro-life issues and ideas for restoring a culture of life in our state.

This year, we’ll be talking about the effects of Obamacare on abortion and euthanasia, notorious abortionists in our state, pro-life progress in Pennsylvania, tools for communicating the pro-life message, and more.

I really enjoy the time I spend talking with people before and after the meetings. I always feel so hopeful after hearing about what pro-lifers are doing in their towns to support and encourage families to choose life.

Please join me and our Executive Director Michael Ciccocioppo to learn, connect, and be inspired for life. Join us in:

Gettysburg – Noon to 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 28
West Chester – 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 28
Danville – Noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 29
Lewistown – 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 29
Clarion – 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 30
New Castle – Noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1
Latrobe – 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 1
Huntingdon – Noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 2
Mechanicsburg – 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 6

For details, contact us at or 717-541-0034.