On April 15, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon killing three people and injuring 264. This latest in terrorist attacks struck fear into the entire nation, especially the Boston area, for four days until one of the suspected bombers was killed in a shoot-out and the other was arrested. The arrested suspect, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, was severely injured. He was rushed to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center where he was placed in an Intensive Care Unit down the hall from some of the bombing victims. He was cared for by medical professionals who had cared for some of the victims.
What are we to do when someone who has committed such horrible crimes needs help? This was the ethical dilemma facing these doctors and nurses. They are professionally obligated to treat the man, regardless of what he did. According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, some of the nurses went against their instincts and tried to treat him with a cold professionalism. They thought maybe that was more appropriate in this instance. Some of them kept in mind that he has to live to answer for his crimes and to tell authorities what he knew. All of them asked to be unidentified because they were afraid of public backlash.
This is one of those times when Jesus’ commandment to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-35) is put to the test. We know that the person in front of us likely committed great evil, how are we to treat him?
Our faith gives us pretty clear guidelines. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
1933 … The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy.
These medical professionals were given a solemn duty on the evening of April 19th. They treated the person of Dzokhar Tsarnaev knowing full well what he may have done. We are supposed to separate the person from the deed. The deed may be evil, but the person always has dignity. As St. John Chrysostom writes:
What is it that is about to be created, that enjoys such honor? It is man—that great and wonderful living creature, more precious in the eyes of God than all other creatures! For him the heavens and the earth, the sea and all the rest of creation exist. God attached so much importance to his salvation that he did not spare his own Son for the sake of man. Nor does he ever cease to work, trying every possible means, until he has raised man up to himself and made him sit at his right hand.
And as St. Catherine of Siena agrees:
What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.
The trauma nurses at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center should be proud of their work. They knew first hand what pain the bombings had caused, yet they still went in to work to treat the suspected bomber. They did the near impossible; They followed Jesus’ commandment of love.