Saturday, 3 December 2016

Three years on Ali's message "continues to resonate"

Drawing attention to Ali on the third anniversary of her death,  the leading pro-life media site LifeSiteNews says that Ali's message "continues to resonate after her suffering and death."  


Disability, pro-life advocate's message continues to resonate after her suffering and death

By Lisa Bourne  

December 2, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Suffering has value, meaning and a purpose, and despite the world’s attitude that it should be avoided and eliminated, suffering is actually good news for Christians.

This is the message that pro-life and disability advocate Colin Harte shared on the third anniversary of the death of a beloved disability rights and pro-life advocate, who herself suffered greatly throughout her life.
Alison Davis was a UK woman born with spina bifida who later developed other conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She lived daily with extreme pain, and for many years she wanted to "end it all."
But instead she turned from being pro-abortion to pro-life. And she was someone who had tried to end her own life at one point but would go on to become a most powerful advocate against assisted suicide and euthanasia, for 30 years representing the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children’s (SPUC) disability rights group “No Less Human” in the UK.
Davis advocated that individuals with disabilities “deserve the same kind of help routinely given to those who do not have a physical condition but who feel suicidal.”
“She turned from being an atheist to being a Catholic,” Harte said, “and the most extraordinary Catholic at that. One who loved God and human beings intensely.”
Harte was Davis’ caregiver and constant companion from 1987 until her death. The two established a charity for children with disabilities in need of care and support in South India in 1995. He believes Davis will be recognized by the Church one day for her holiness and sanctity.
Davis passed away December 3, 2013, and those close to her believe she still has things to tell the world and the Church about suffering.
“Somebody who the world rejects I think is a paradox how she showed us the way to live,” Harte told LifeSiteNews. “She showed us the way to live, to love, have faith, and above all I think she is a witness in her life to the infinite value of every single human being.”
Davis gave witness to the fact that the child in the womb, no matter how profoundly disabled, how long they had to live, or how they were conceived, has an infinite value, he said, “That’s something that she taught. And through her witness to life at the end of life, she’s a witness to the value of suffering.”  
“She’s certainly somebody who, is the most extraordinary person I ever knew,” Harte continued.
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Executive Director Alex Schadenberg echoed Harte’s thoughts on Davis.
“She was an amazing woman,” Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews. “She was one of those people in life that you fall in love with.”
“She was a profound woman to say the least,” Schadenberg recalled. “Her message broke through. You might not always agree with what she said, yet she could speak to anyone and have a incredible effect.” 
“She was truly a fabulous woman. She's someone I miss,” he added. “She gave everyone around her great hope because she was always so kind.”
Davis had strayed from her faith in God while studying sociology in college, writing on this time in her life, “It was largely because I wanted to live a lifestyle I knew was incompatible with the Christian faith.”
She was married for 10 years, during which she “tried very hard to find happiness without God,” but the marriage failed.
While in college, Davis had strongly supported the “right to choose” abortion, but that changed after she read about the case of a baby girl named Louise, born in 1979 with the same disabilities as hers and who was deliberately starved and dehydrated to death at a UK hospital. The case, which received worldwide coverage, shocked her greatly, Davis’ obituary in the Catholic Herald stated after her death.
Two years later, she had written an op-ed published in the Guardian condemning the killing of disabled newborns, prompting SPUC to contact her with the argument that killing newborns with disabilities was tied to killing the unborn. Davis did not accept the contention at first, but eventually became pro-life and began working for “No Less Human” full time in 1983.

Her suicide attempts occurred in the years that followed the end of her marriage and she encountered other personal difficulties. It was then that she also began to seek peace through God.
A pilgrimage to Lourdes helped her to understand that she and the others there who were ill and suffering were very much loved by God in their suffering,
In 1987, she met Harte, who worked for SPUC and eventually became her caregiver for the rest of her life. Harte thought he’d be with her for a few months, as it didn’t seem she had longer than that to live, but Davis lived for another 24-plus years.
Christians are in danger of adopting the world’s attitude on suffering, Harte told LifeSiteNews. But even though it’s difficult, he said, suffering is something we should rejoice over, and this is the lesson that Davis’ life still brings.
“I think we’ve lost sight of the meaning of suffering, the purpose of suffering, and the great dignity of suffering,” Harte stated.
Davis experienced great physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual suffering, “And yet she could say as she did, that suffering with Christ was not merely a privilege, but the greatest privilege possible in this world.”
“The fact that she suffered so intensely could say it and believe it with the utmost sincerity and authenticity is a message we have to hear and try to understand and then incorporate into our lives,” he said.
“For Alison, the time that she heard about offering up suffering became for her a source of joy. It made sense to her sufferings,” Harte continued.
Schadenberg concurred here with Harte as well.
“She was in chronic pain all of the time and yet she was always a joy to be around,” he said. “That to me was an incredible gift to be around.”
“Instead of focusing on her pain or on her suffering,” Schadenberg stated, “she focused on others, and that gave her joy.”
Harte pointed out that so many think human life is just about experience, failing to understand the human person in terms of self-giving.
“But, fundamentally we are made to love,” he said, “made in the image of God who is love.”
Jesus Christ showed us this through his example, Harte said, coming to reveal the Father, and in doing so, leaving the image of himself on the cross — himself suffering.
“The world hates suffering,” Harte explained. “It hates it so much, it says, “If you suffer, you’re better off dead; if you suffer, let’s hasten death; let’s do anything we can to avoid suffering.”
“It hates suffering,” Harte continued, “and yet for the Christian, it’s good news.”
“Suffering’s not something that’s tangential to Christianity,” he told LifeSiteNews. “It’s at the heart of it, and it should be at the heart of lives.”
Davis once stated, “If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now.”
Although she made several serious attempts at suicide, she was saved by the intervention of friends, later changing her mind and recognizing the danger of euthanasia being legal and available to someone struggling as she did.
“I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life, though I wasn’t at the time,” Davis had said of the experience. “And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die.”
Her legacy remains as living example of how someone can suffer greatly, be regarded with rejection by society, and still exemplify human dignity, Christ’s love, and His desire for us to be with Him in this life and beyond.
“We are not made simply for the here and now, we are made for eternity and life with God,” Harte said, “and if we don’t take aboard the message of love, if we don’t live a life of love, if we don’t live the love that hurts, if we don’t suffer, then are we prepared for eternity with God?   

On the third anniversary.....

Ali and friends
I'm not sure if this photo needs an explanation.  For many of Ali's friends it won't be a surprise to see her surrounded by soft toys, especially bears.  Others may regard it as a strange choice of picture to display on the third anniversary of the death of someone who may in due course be regarded (as I believe she will be) as one of the great saints in the Catholic Church.

Yes, I could have shown a more 'sober' photo of Ali;  one which might seem more fitting for someone who in due course should be considered (in the view of many people including myself) for canonisation.  However, even though there is so much to be said about Ali that is sober and serious and solemn,  we can only understand her if we realise that she was not at all stuffy or 'grown up.'  In fact, she was extraordinarily child-like, and her child-likeness co-existed with the various serious things she thought and said and did.

Of course, Jesus Christ Himself said that we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become like little children (Matt 18:3).  So today it seems fitting, on the anniversary of the day on which she entered into eternal life, to remember Ali's simplicity and child-likeness and the joy she radiated by just being Ali.
Ali in El Salvador in 1994.  She was very happy to see the picture of Pooh Bear!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Ali's friendship with Penny Goater

Ali visiting Penny Goater - and her dog Holly - in 2003
Ali had a great gift for friendship, and gave her time and energy generously. I am happy to publish this piece by Penny Goater who was a close friend of Ali's for thirty years.


Ali and I first became aware of each other in 1983 when she spotted a letter of mine that was published in a Disability magazine. She wrote to me and introduced herself and her work for SPUC as the National Organiser of the Handicap Division, asking if I would be interested in knowing more about their campaigns. I wrote back saying yes, but explaining that I ran an animal welfare organisation for young people and couldn't devote much of my time to other campaigns. Ali loved animals and was interested in my work, so we kept writing and when she moved from Essex to Dorset (I live in Somerset) we were able to meet and our friendship grew from that point.

We shared a great deal in common as disabled women of a similar age and background. But we were also interested in the differences between us - for example, Ali travelled extensively and I rarely did so I loved hearing about all her adventures and seeing her photos. It's always difficult to put a friendship into words because friendship is a feeling and a coming together of 'like minds'. When we did differ, any discussion we had was always open-minded and respectful and this strengthened our friendship, broadened our views and we learnt a great deal from each other.

We both experienced some difficult personal challenges during the time we knew each other but we also had lots of fun together! Ali had a brilliant sense of humour and laughter was a key element in all our get-togethers. Even in dark times there was always something to lift the spirits, and Ali would often have a witty or funny anecdote at the ready. I really miss her sense of fun and her joy in the simple pleasures of life.

When I was seriously ill at various stages of our friendship, Ali was always there for me. She was one of only two people I asked to see after I had major surgery in 1994; even though she wasn't well herself she undertook a long, uncomfortable car journey to be at my side in the hospital, giving me great comfort at a very difficult time.

I  am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Ali shortly before she died.   I didn't want to tire her or make things difficult but that visit gave me the opportunity to sit quietly by her bed, hold her hand and thank her for our very precious friendship during the 30 years we knew each other; we reminisced a little and shared some silent, reflective time.

Ali had an enormous capacity for love and gave her time to others freely and generously, even when she was exhausted or in pain. All of us who knew Ali well have our own special memories of time spent with her, of phone calls shared, of letters and emails written, and these help us to keep her close. She lived her life to the full and contributed greatly to the lives of others. Ali was unique and exceptional; I miss her greatly and think of her every day. I am so grateful that she wrote to me in 1983 and that our friendship blossomed. I feel truly blessed to have known her.

Penny Goater

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter Sunday 1991 - Ali received into the Church

Easter Sunday 1991 - Ali on the day she was received into the Catholic Church
25 years ago, on the morning of Easter Sunday (31 March) 1991, Ali was received into the Catholic Church at St John Payne Church, Greenstead, Colchester. At that Mass she made her first Communion and was confirmed a Catholic.

Before being received into the Church Ali was invited to give a 'testimony', which is reproduced below.   She had longed to be a Catholic for what seemed like an eternity, but there had been difficulties that appeared to be insurmountable.  When Ali says that her journey of faith had been "long and tortuous" she was not exaggerating.  It seemed to her  to be a miracle when the obstacles suddenly disappeared during Lent 1991, and when Fr John McGrath, then parish priest at St John Payne Church in Colchester, arranged for her to be received into the Church on Easter Sunday. 

Ali always spoke highly of Fr McGrath's kindness and patience when, from the mid-1980s, she sought him out when she had queries about the faith.  Having received her into the Church it was fitting that he conducted the rite of committal at her burial in Dorset on 13 December 2013.

Ali's Testimony on Being Received into the Catholic Church.
My journey of faith has been long and tortuous, and it is certainly by grace rather than personal effort that it has reached this point of being received into the Church. 
I grew up in a loving Christian family.  My parents, who are here supporting me as ever, are members of the United Reformed Church.  After school I went to University and got married.  As I grew in confidence, my gaze was set increasingly strongly in the direction away from God.  I believed all things were possible for me by my own efforts, and that by striving for 'success' I could 'overcome my disability.'  There was no room for spirituality in my world then.  I rejected Christianity, which had become completely irrelevant to me, and declared myself an atheist.  I believed that the power to change my world lay with me - it was up to me what happened.  It certainly did change, but usually for the worse. 
The turning point came through trauma.  My husband left me suddenly and totally unexpectedly.  At the time of my greatest brokenness I became aware in a very special personal way of Mary the mother of Jesus.  She has been with me ever since guiding and healing me. 
Fr McGrath suggested I join the parish group going to Lourdes in 1987, and with some trepidation I agreed to go.  It is perhaps a measure of my distance from God that I had to ask him how to pray, although while we were there I discovered that the answer was simply to love God and speak of my love to Him. 
Fr McGrath recently reminded me of this, and he also commented that I had begun my 'spiritual journey' from nothing.  I think he was just being kind because in fact I started from less than nothing. Nothing would have been a blank page, a total uncertainty and a preparedness to consider all possibilities seriously.  That, however, was not my position, since I had been certain that there was no God, and that I was entirely in control of my own destiny.  So I had to be drawn back from less than nothing - a negative - to nothing (willingness to consider even the possibility of the existence of God) to beilef in the truths deposited in the Church. 
An important step for me was changing my mind on abortion - a move I made while still an atheist. I realised the necessity of protecting the weakest human beings, whatever the personal cost, but it took me a long time to work through that, and realise that if life was of infinite value, there must be an infinite being to imbue it with that value! 
In Lourdes I learned the importance of loving myself - not for what I could do or what I had achieved, but because I was the creation of a loving God.  Having discovered this and realised that I was after all loveable just as I am, it came as rather a shock to find out that even within the Church there is much misunderstanding of disability.  I became so upset by constant questions about what was 'wrong' with me, and by insensitive comments like "you are in the way" (wherever I sat!) that I temporarily ran away even from the Church, and felt that there was no place for me within it.  It has taken me a long time to recognise the answers to this:  that what is 'wrong' with me is the same as what is wrong with every human being - sin;  and that while I  am sometimes in the way, in the sense that concerns about my temporal body (which happens to be disabled) sometimes get in the way of my soul recognising the God who made it, if I am physically "in the way" in a Church it is a fault in architecture and not a fault in me! 
From the despair of separation from God and the feeling that I have nothing to offer Him I have come almost full-circle.  I certain have "no thing" to offer, but that is not the same of "nothing."  What I have to offer God are my deficiencies, my weaknesses and my fears, and I ask him to fill my deficits with His grace.  In this I have come to recognise the advantages a disability like mine offers:  it is obvious, it cannot be ignored, and it is an opportunity to share in the sufferings of the crucified Christ.  Through it I learn to use my weaknesses as a measure of the great love of God - the more we are forgiven the more we marvel at God's mercy, and the weaker we are the more aware of the strength of His love for us. 
St Paul tells us that God's power is made perfect in weakness, that God's grace is sufficient for us, and that "when I am weak, then I am strong."  Maybe I have to run to God on my desires and not on my two feet, but it is the same God who has come to meet me just the same, and He who my soul strives to reflect. 
I have seen through the eyes of Mary our mother, the love of God;  through confession I have been washed clean by His mercy;  and I can now offer my "no thing" to God blindly - with my eyes closed in prayer the better to see Him.  I know he will fill me up and compensate for my weaknesses with His strength, and I know that His Church is the place where, in the Eucharist,  I can encounter at last the real presence of my saviour. 
Easter Sunday,  31 March 1991

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

First Confession

Ali at the Carmelite Priory, Oxford, March 1991

It is nearly 25 years since Ali was received into the Catholic Church, on Easter Sunday, 31 March, 1991.

The good priest who received her into the Church, Fr John McGrath, recommended that she make an eight day retreat beforehand, so we made our way to the Carmelite Priory, Boars Hill, on the outskirts of Oxford, for eight days, from Sunday 17th to Monday 25th March.  

During the retreat Ali made her First Confession - 25 years ago today on 22 March. She prepared conscientiously for the Confession, recalling all she had done during the 36 years of her life up to that point.   Afterwards she exhibited much joy and gratitude, knowing that her sins had been fully forgiven.  

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A letter in The Guardian

 It was on this day 35 years ago  - 2 March 1981 -  that Ali, then 26,  had a letter published in The Guardian newspaper, which led to her life taking a direction totally different from what she had expected.

The letter expressed Ali's objection to the practice, that had been reported widely, of sedating and starving to death new-born disabled babies.

The letter said:

Sir, - I refer to your article Deformed Babies Allowed to Die, Doctors Admit (February 25). 
I am 26 years old and was born with Spina Bifida. As far as my own case is concerned, I am fairly severely handicapped and confined to a wheelchair, so I am not sure a similar case would now be selected to live. Nevertheless I feel that my life has been worthwhile and enjoyable, and that I have achieved a measure of success. I have travelled widely with my husband, and  been to university and gained a degree. I certainly would not agree with the findings of the nameless and rather nebulous surveys that you quote as saying that most Spina Bifida teenagers would rather not have lived. 
Not unnaturally, I suppose, I feel very strongly that "not striving officiously to keep (Spina Bifida) babies alive" amounts to killing them.  I think this would be ethically dubious even if one agreed that doctors could intelligently predict every person's potential in life at the time of their birth. Apart from the obvious humanitarian implications, is it not rather presumptuous to suppose that life on earth, as lived by "normal" human beings is now at its apex? If every form of life that deviated in any way from "normal" had been systematically destroyed since the beginning of time, presumably life itself would still be confined to the sea.  
I believe the practice has been going on for some years now, though it does seem slightly ironic that in this International Year of Disabled People it would appear to be quite permissible and indeed legal for members of what is arguably this society's most esteemed profession to starve handicapped babies to death because they do not conform to some physical ideal. 
I wonder what the reaction would have been if it had been recommended in the International Year of the Child that babies in poor countries should be deliberately starved to death by doctors because in their opinion their quality of life could not be as good as that of a child born into a richer society? My personal opinion is that the only life one can and should judge and assess the value of is one's own.  
Yours faithfully
(Mrs) Alison Davis
After the letter was published Ali received nearly 100 letters responding to what she had said. Several of them were from pro-lifers who made the point that the fatal discrimination against disabled babies was an extension of the mentality that promoted screening for disability followed by abortion, so that disabled unborn children would never even get to see the light of day.

At that time Ali was pro-abortion and did not have a good opinion of pro-lifers.  Nevertheless, she was intellectually honest and considered the arguments presented to her.  She spent time checking out material in the university library and found the pro-life arguments irrefutable.  Within a couple of years she was working for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Inevitably, one's thoughts develop as one gets older.  While continuing to hold the view that nobody has the right to judge negatively the value of anybody else's life,  Ali subsequently did not hold the view, indicated in the letter, that the value of one's life is subjective.  She held that life is precious - indeed of infinite value - even if at times one may not actually recognise that is the case. In later years she would never say that the 'worthwhileness' of her life - or of anyone's life - lay in any achievements or successes she may have enjoyed;  such things were, she believed, incidental given the intrinsic value of each human life.

About ten years after the letter was published Ali and I were at a pro-life meeting and a woman, who was unknown to Ali, approached her.  She took a folded up piece of paper out of her purse, and showed it to Ali.  It was the letter Ali had had published in The Guardian.  The woman said it had made a deep impression on her and she had cut it out and  kept it in her purse since then.

Friday, 8 January 2016

A happy birthday in India

8 January 2006: Ali's last birthday celebrations in India.
Pictured with Sk. Nagoorsheda who has Down's Syndrome.
Recalling - naturally - Ali's birthday today, it is easy to remember many of the birthdays celebrated with her over the years.

Between 2001 and 2006 Ali spent two weeks in India each January.  She was normally there for her birthday on 8 January.  If we went to India later in the month she had a birthday celebration there anyway.

Although she also went to India in 2007, Ali's last birthday celebrations there were ten years ago, in January 2006. On the day of her birthday a new home, named after the charity she founded - the Enable Home for Disabled Children - was opened in Ongole, Andhra Pradesh, with joyful festivities. At that time there was no indication that all that Ali had worked so tirelessly to develop would disintegrate just a few months later because of the corruption of a few people in India who betrayed the trust that had been put in them.  What happened was heartbreaking for Ali.

While Ali appreciated the celebrations that were put on in her honour, she was happiest of all just being with the children.  They called her 'Mummy Alison' and she loved them as intensely as any mother would love her children.  Being with 'her' children made those birthday celebrations between 10 and 15 years ago so special for Ali.

Returning for Ali's birthday on 8 January 2006.
 College students Ali had been supporting since 1995.
8 January 2006:  Ali's 51st birthday.
With some of her children at the newly opened Enable Home in Ongole.