One life lost, all lives diminished: Brittany Maynard and assisted suicide
Brittany Maynard was the perfect story for the so-called “death with dignity” movement: Young, intelligent and facing a debilitating and extraordinarily painful death from brain cancer. And on November 2, with the support of loved ones, she chose to end her life, as she said it, “on her own terms.”
But her decision was misguided and it was wrong, for all of us. Let me explain.
First, let’s clear up the euphemisms that are involved with the death with dignity movement. “Ending your own life” is called suicide. That’s what it is.
And the phrase “on your own terms”? It’s a concept signifying nothing—it’s an illusion. If we were in control, we’d choose not to contract a fatal illness in the first place.
Second, “ending one’s own life” affects others—and not just those close to the self-appointed victim, but all of us.
The impulse to avoid suffering and spare loved ones the pain of watching is understandable. But it assumes that nothing good can come from pain and suffering. And that just isn’t true.
I lost my grandfather earlier this year. It was hard to watch this once strong, independent dairy farmer literally wither away. The last month of his life he couldn’t get out of bed. It was hard for us, and especially for his wife, and for him.
And he lived longer than we thought. Shortly before Pop died, I asked my pastor why hadn’t God taken him sooner.
“Because,” he said, “your grandmother needs to fulfill the vows she made before God six decades ago. And your grandfather needed to be reminded he is mortal before he meets God.”
Those wise words are a stark contrast to our attempts to avoid suffering at all costs. Yet it is precisely through suffering that we learn life’s most important lessons. In fact, it was through suffering, not in spite of it, that Christ brought eternal life.
Now many people ask, as a young person I know did, “Why should we Christians, who oppose assisted suicide, impose our beliefs on Brittany or on anyone?”
It’s a heart-felt question, but it assumes that we all act in a vacuum. Who gets to decide which lives aren’t worth living, even if it’s our own? In the long run, this is about protecting all human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable among us. The so-called “right to die,” quickly devolves into the duty to die.
We talked about this on BreakPoint a few weeks ago. What started in Europe as a movement to allow the terminally ill to end their suffering has evolved into the practice of eliminating lives deemed not worth living. Dr. Peter Saunders of the Care not Killing Alliance says that “In the Netherlands … dementia patients are euthanized, mobile euthanasia clinics operate and the ‘Groningen protocol’ allows euthanasia for disabled babies. In Belgium, organs are harvested from euthanasia patients and 32 percent of all euthanasia deaths are ‘without consent.’”
And just last week, a British mom received the court’s permission to euthanize her own autistic daughter.
This is why so many organizations that represent people with disability are emphatically opposed to physician-assisted suicide. As Joni Eareckson Tada wrote in the Wall Street Journal, society’s goal should be to help “disabled people live independent lives with dignity,” not to encourage them—or as we see in Europe, force them—to die.
In this unbearably individualistic culture of ours, we have to constantly remind ourselves of what the Christian poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
But don’t just take it from me. On BreakPoint This Week, I interviewed Kara Tippetts, the brave Christian mother of four who has stage 4 cancer. I want you to hear what she has to say about her inevitable death and the beauty of life, even in the midst of her own tremendous suffering, so please come to BreakPoint.org and click on “BreakPoint This Week” to tune in.
Reprinted with permission from BreakPoint.