From “Why I help addicts shoot up: A Christian defence of harm reduction” by Meera Bai at Christian Week.
Something about seeing people at their lowest and most desperate, half-clothed from turning tricks for drugs while hating themselves for it, opens into a profound level of intimacy. I am blessed to enter the darkest place of people whose sins are far more public than those of the rest of us. Constant humiliation makes the people I work with especially vulnerable, and vulnerable in almost every way: to violence, to exploitation, to false hope and finally to despair. When allowed into these dark places, it is my privilege, and that of all InSite staff, to communicate worth and love instead of judgment and scorn…
.. Clean supplies, safe rooms, friendly staff supervision during injection and compassionate nursing care help injection drug users to learn how to value their bodies, and thus themselves, even as our society generally tells them they are worse than useless. The choice to stop using drugs is a decision that many addicts cannot even imagine making, but InSite provides reachable steps toward a healthier life, offering participants a chance at redemption of both body and soul.
Despite the overwhelming evidence in support of Insite, however, it is currently having to fight before the Supreme Court of Canada for the right to stay open. The Harper government—one supported by many otherwise compassionate Christians—has been seeking to shut down this initiative, pressing its case at tremendous expense despite losing in lower courts.
Why are they doing so? It is part of their policy to turn away from harm reduction and put more money instead into policing and prisons. Better, it seems, to spend much more money locking up addicts or filling up waiting rooms in the ER, than making their difficult lives a little easier, a little safer, a little more graced by care.
The potential loss of this pioneering charitable work, the first supervised injection site in North America, should alarm Christians. Participating in God’s redemption of Canada requires a multi-pronged approach, one that must include the basic principle of harm reduction. Do we wish all addicts were off drugs and healthily contributing to society? Of course we do. But wishing don’t make it so. And in the real world—the only world there is and the world Christ calls us to love—sometimes the best we can do, at least immediately, is make things less bad—and in the case of InSite, much less bad..
.. Near the end of my shift, I watch in horror as a regular participant stabs wildly into his neck with a needle. He has been trying desperately to inject into his neck in order to find his jugular vein. When I intervene, he consents to letting me try to find him one in his arm. Midway through, however, he changes his mind and grabs my arm. “Don’t!” he says. “I’m not worth it.”
I look him in the eye. “Yes, you are.”
He glares at me…and holds out his arm. I tie the tourniquet wordlessly and find him a much safer vein. He injects himself, and then gruffly thanks me, tears welling up in eyes that refuse to meet mine.
This is grace, manifest in care of desperate persons, flesh and spirit. This is harm reduction. And I do it because it is simply the Christian thing to do.