I feel both privileged and happy to be taking the chair on this occasion. I think that it is, a very great occasion indeed. A remarkable occasion and one that is full of joy. It’s an occasion when we are celebrating in a most useful way, the work of Dame Cicely Saunders, who has contributed so much to the development of a most important spiritual and practical charity. We feel grateful to her of course, today. We also feel grateful to Your Royal Highness for being here. That is a sign of the importance you attach to this event, and it is an attitude towards the importance of this event which we all share. We feel grateful to the Templeton Foundation, and to Mr. John Templeton who is the genius of that foundation.
It is surely right that we should give to the development of an international understanding of religion and of the opportunities and influences of religion, the same significance and accord which is given to so many ordinary and material occasions. This great prize shows that we value the development of progress in religion in a way that the cause of peace has been valued by the Nobel Prize. And it is, therefore, not merely a gesture of support, but a profound and valuable international statement backed with very substantial funds. Funds which have been put to immensely good use by the very distinguished succession of prize winners.
So first of all, of course, we want to express, all of us, our sense of gratitude to the Templeton Foundation. But it is really Dame Cicely Saunders’ work we are here to celebrate today. It is the importance of the prizewinner that we want to give all our attention to. I said that it was a particularly happy occasion. I think that it is happy because there is always a great joy when one can see a personal achievement which is at the same time, wholly good in its effect. Not mixed in any way with secondary effects, but simply a great thing, and a good thing together.
What Dame Cicely has done, can, I think, be scarcely overrated. It must be true that the two great experiences of human life, which we all experience ourselves, and we all experience through others and through our family, are the experiences of birth and of death. These are, obviously, experiences of great significance in purely material and practical terms. Experiences which require organization, charitable work, good work and the best available scientific medicine. But at the same time they are profound spiritual experiences. They are the bounds of life at either end. And there can be none of us, I think, who have not been spiritually affected or changed, by our contact with one or other, or both of those experiences at some time in our lives.
Now what has been true, and is ceasing to be true, is that we faced with obvious joy, the experience of birth. We recognised in religion through baptism, the joy of a child being born into the world. But, at the same time, our culture was suppressing death. It was putting death aside as something which had nothing of value to say to us, and only fear and distress as a message to human life. So that the dying were put on one side, put into a kind of Coventry, not told what their state was, not thought of more than they had to be for practical purposes. And while birth was understood to be of profound importance, our culture was moving towards the view that the less attention that was given to dying — and almost, one might say, the less care, the better society would be able to go on. It has been Dame Cicely’s work to bring a revolution to that attitude, particularly in the medical profession. A revolution which has given dignity back to death. It has been work, at the same time, which has brought together, two essential things. It has not been, as so often happens, a rejection of the best available scientific methods in the name of some spiritual reality. It has not been, as happens only too often, a rejection of spiritual reality in the name of scientific methods. It has been a bringing together, I believe, profoundly important to the modern consciousness, of all that is best in scientific medicine, with a profound understanding of the spiritual nature of death itself and of the effect of death not only on the person who is dying, but on the family which is around them.
I do not see that one could have in life, a greater, a more important, a more valuable or a more holy achievement than that. I think it is indeed, a wonderful thing, so that at this meeting, where we are celebrating this great prize being given to Dame Cicely, I feel we can all take great joy. The victory of the grave she has countermanded. What a wonderful thing that is to have done.