Death With Dignity

NTNH-F1It’s hard to imagine anyone slicing America’s consciousness like Brittany Maynard. Barely 29 years old, one can ‘Google’ Maynard’s photos: the wedding, boating and rock climbing. It’s hard to picture this young, vibrant woman as ‘terminal.’ Yet Ms. Maynard voluntarily ended her life, effectively choosing a ‘death with dignity,’

Those against the ‘death with dignity movement’ argue only God can decide when death occurs. However, being a former medic, if one seeks medical care throughout life, one directly or indirectly makes choices about life itself. In effect, God does not actually make all the choices, we all do. If one drives too fast, drinks too much, smokes too much, eats too much or fails to receive proper vaccinations, then one impacts how soon the Angel of Death arrives. To see God working through respirators, kidney dialysis and heart-lung machines and assorted other devices trivializes both life and God.

In a Religion News article, Joni Eareckson Tada penned the following:

If I could spend a few moments with Brittany before she swallows that prescription she has already filled, I would tell her how I have felt the love of Jesus strengthen and comfort me through my own cancer, chronic pain and quadriplegia. I would tell her that the saddest thing of all would be for her to wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a grim, joyless existence not only without life, but without God.

Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life called Maynard’s actions “wicked.”

We do not judge the individuals but the act itself is to be condemned. This woman did this thinking she could die with dignity. But this is where the error lies: to commit suicide is not a good thing, it is a wicked thing because it is saying no both to one’s own life and to everything which signifies respect for our mission in this world and towards those closest to us.

God is probably not as repulsed as the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club (see West Wing: Midterms). Once Maynard became accepting of her life’s end, physical death became irrelevant. She accepted her own death as though it had occurred, and so fear of the actual moment when her heart stops ceased to exist.

Having walked the corridors of many hospitals, when terminally ill patients accept death without fear, they become free. They move onward in peace.

Still, the anti-death with dignity movement rarely understands the personal psyche of the decision. Their belief is etched in a foundational training that God and Christ’s faith is wonderful. From a Biblical perspective, writers really glossed over death. Genesis 5:4 quotes, “… Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” The Bible doesn’t articulate the quality of Adam’s last 100 years. What if Adam drooled from his mouth, got up at all times of the night, exposed himself to anyone around and couldn’t urinate on his own?

Another example? Genesis 5:8. ‘… Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died.” Did Seth really just live 912 years and then just die? What if Biblical writers neglected to mention Seth had diabetes; had to have any limbs amputated, needed help bathing, couldn’t see anything for the last ten years, couldn’t remember loved ones, couldn’t dress or had to eat mashed food because he lost all his teeth? What would we say then?

God does not expect us to be perfect. Diseases attack both mentally and physically. Caring for a loved one with terminal disease is extremely difficult, with caregivers burdened by doubt and guilt; stressed and struggling to balance compassion against hopelessness. God provides few if any perfect answers. All we can do is to do our best to provide the best quality of life we can.

As a Buddhist, I judge neither Maynard nor others, for most fail to grasp that ‘everyone’ dies eventually – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, ourselves. We impulsively string our loved to technology all the while believe this is God’s will. Extending life in such a manner flies in the face of reality, yet we often feel we must.

I do not fear death, neither do I seek it either. But I’ll welcome it when it comes. Death is as important as life, it validates all that we do during our life times, without an end, the journey is without significance.



Categories: Faith & Doubt, Life Lessons, Religion

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