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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dying with Dignity

death daisyA young woman of 29, Brittany Maynard, recently announced that she was going to end her own life after finding out she had terminal brain cancer (see here). Her reasoning? She wants to decide when it is time for her to go and avoid potentially excruciating pain. Her story is very moving and is unarguably tragic. Christians who have tried to speak graciously into this situation have come under fire for being so judgmental of her decision (see here for a kind response). So why are Christians so hung up on euthanasia? Are they just mean and critical? Please take the time to understand why. It is because the assumptions behind physician assisted suicide contradict a biblical worldview.

Assumption #1: “I am completely in charge of my life”
I am the sole person who can decide whether my life is worth living. When my life quality has become too difficult to bear, I can decide to end my life. Since I am dying anyway, why should I prolong the suffering?

The Christian's Problem with Assumption #1
The reality is, I am not in charge of my life. I am a creature. I had no role to play in my own conception. My time and existence were appointed by someone else. God gives me abilities to decide and control my life to a certain extent, but there are always variables that I cannot control. The giver and taker of life is, according to the Bible, God [1]. The time of my death is therefore in his hands. Life quality is a very subjective thing. Who is the judge of what life is worth living? The Christian’s pro-life argument against abortion is the same for euthanasia. Life is sacred and not to be tampered with. When humans make themselves the judge of whether or not a life is worth living, they often quickly start applying their own standards to it. Is this life productive? Independent? Pretty? Strong? Slippery slope arguments are never the best ones, but there have been horrible cases of systematic euthanasia programs such as Hitler’s based on the concept of Lebensunwertes Leben (life not worthy of life) which eliminated elderly, physically and mentally disabled persons. This ease of “getting rid” of people with bad life qualities paved the way for the Holocaust. No one wants to go there again. Taking life is playing God and it is a dangerous thing to do!

Assumption #2: “Suffering is to be avoided at all cost”

The Christian's Problem with Assumption #2
Of course no one wants to suffer. Are Christian gluttons for punishment? Are we saying that there should be no relief for pain? No pain killers for pulling teeth? No! Jesus went around alleviating people’s suffering and healing them. C.S. Lewis wrote, "Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul."  Suffering can be a means God uses in a person’s life to deepen faith, relationships and eternal perspective. Suffering, in a biblical worldview, is not our worst enemy [2]. The illusion of complete autonomy from God, however, is. This illusion allows us to pretend we can be God. That is a much more bitter pill that kills our souls in the end. If suffering is to be avoided at all cost, we might as well all put an end to our lives today because we are all dying and will all experience pain in our lives. That is a given.

None of this diminishes Brittany’s heart-wrenching situation and acute pain but one must put this discussion on an ethical level. Ethics is built on the notion that there is right and wrong that is not just subjective. The Christian looks to God for the definition of what is right, not circumstances or subjectivity. The hope of the Christian is that there is more to this life than the here and now. There is the hope of finding meaning and beauty even in the midst of suffering and there is the hope of eternal life without pain and suffering in the world to come because Jesus threw heaven’s gates wide open through his pain, death and victory over death. The belief that God creates life and triumphs over death is why Christians stand against abortion and suicide even though such solutions might seem like the easier way out of a horrible and desperate situation. There is no situation too dark for God to enter. That is why Christians place their faith and hope in Jesus. And this hope is given to all who will believe.

[1] 1 Sam 2:6, Job 1:21

[2] Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 5:10 , James 1:2-4, Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 4:12-19