I have been asked to opine on “The Second Mile” about a subject that has reached national and international attention. The subject surrounds euthanasia – “death with dignity.” Having recently lost my sister (of natural causes) and a friend (of brain cancer), and have, in my life, experienced the consequence of regretful decisions, I offer my perspective to my on-line audience.
You have, by now, heard the story of Brittany Maynard, who learned on New Year’s Day 2014 that she had brain cancer. She had been married for just over a year and was given six months to live in April of this year. Facing the dire prognosis, she decided to move from California to Oregon, where she could choose euthanasia, an option supporters call “death with dignity.” She has filled a prescription she can take to end her life. After her husband’s birthday on October 26, unless her condition improves dramatically, she says “I will look to pass soon thereafter.”
I cried as I heard Brittany’s story advocating this “death with dignity”. Naturally, the media has helped her story go viral. Opposing sides (pro and con) are now debating the subject. While I have never personally faced a terminal diagnosis, I have known many who have, each one choosing to face death in God’s time, the Giver of Life, rather than dictating the time of their own death.
While I am not a theologian, nor a medical expert, I have opinions in both areas. I believe we are each made in the image of God, and as long as we have the potential to relate, we retain this “image.” I believe God gives us life, numbers our days, and appoints our time to die. We can choose to die naturally and are able to choose medical treatments that enhance our quality of life during our time on this earth.
Observing many who are in hospice care, I’ve observed the work God does in the lives of the one who is nearing departure from this earth and the work God does in those surrounding the patient. There is a peace that passes all understanding, almost “supernatural peace,” that becomes apparent, often healing broken relationships while sparking a renewed relationship with a Heavenly Father who wants a relationship with us.
I have great respect for the medical community. However, while medical experts offer predictions when death will occur, no one can predict the potential of the human spirit nor anticipate medical breakthroughs that appear “just around the corner.” If we base all our decisions on the wisdom of the world without relying on guidance from the Giver of Life, we are lost before we ever begin. We hear countless stories where people live well beyond life expectancy somehow “miraculously.”
They say it takes one to know one. Kara Tippetts is dying of breast cancer that has metastasized. She and her family are church planters and had just moved to Colorado Springs when she was first diagnosed. In a letter to Brittany Maynard, Kara writes, “Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.”
As Kara stated so eloquently to Brittany, doctors who prescribe medications which cause death violate their Hippocratic oath to “first, do no harm.” In her letter she tells Brittany, “That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters—but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed.” She goes on to say: “Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying. Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.”
Brittany says, “When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, ‘I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever’s next.” Kara wants Brittany to know “whatever’s next” for those who trust in Jesus: “He overcame the death you and I are facing in our cancer. He longs to know you, to shepherd you in your dying, and to give you life abundant—eternal life.” It’s a question we all must ask, as we are all dying.
Here’s what I know – we each will face death someday. God loves us and wants a relationship with us. He loves us enough not to demand that we love Him, but gives us the free will choice to “choose” to have that relationship. I know there are choices we make in life where there is no turning back. This is one of them. I have witnessed the blessings that come in the final hours and the incredible courage of those patients that are passed on to family, friends and caretakers, giving them hope to push on. I know that tiny miracles do come to the dying and those surrounding the dying. As a Christian, I give my control over to God daily and trust that He, as my Creator, knows what’s best for me. I pray that when my time comes I will be remembered as having “fought the good fight and finished the race.”
“… for in the image of God has God made mankind.” (Genesis 9:6)
“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (Job 14:5)
“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)