Does Brittany Maynard’s decision to die with dignity in Oregon really mean anything to you? How can a young woman diagnosed with brain cancer on the other side of the country affect your life where you live and breathe today? Should we care? Do you?
The “death with dignity” debate has brought to the forefront disparate groups of people on both sides of the issue. On one hand, there are those who see her decision to “die on her own terms” as brave, even heroic as a gesture. They would advocate the administration of drugs underwritten by government funds to “hasten the end” of a suffering person (insert “Alzheimer’s patient,” “baby with birth defect,” or “person averse to suffering”). After all, no one has to suffer if they don’t want to, right?
On the other hand are those represented by the Vatican’s statement that Brittany’s actions were an “absurdity.” But can we write her situation off and dismiss her as an anomaly, or are other people waiting to walk in her footsteps? And after all, brain cancer is a horrific illness. I watched my own father die with it. “So what do we say to these things,” as Paul eloquently asked the Romans. How do we respond to a situation that falls somewhere between absurd and logical?
Let me be personal. Was there a value in my father’s dying? I watched day by day, sometimes up close and sometimes at a distance as the man I knew and loved gradually slipped away in confusion, and perhaps in pain. We really couldn’t tell, because my Dad was the kind of guy that wouldn’t have admitted it had he felt it. I watched the loving sacrifice of his wife, my Mom, as she walked with him through the toughest miles of their marriage. She would sit for hours holding his head on her lap in the nursing home where he spent his last weeks on earth. She would slip headphones on him so he could listen to tapes of Bill Gaither’s Homecoming and block out the cries and chaos of that place. Would my Mom trade those last days with my Dad? Would she wish them to be hastened along by a “merciful” intervention from a doctor who has rejected the Hippocratic Oath? She never said. But I think not. Because love doesn’t walk away in the midst of the fire.
“What can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” Absolutely nothing. So what do we say to those who are standing in the midst of the fiery trial of suffering with an invasion of cancer or the robbery of Alzheimer’s? Do we tell them to walk away? That God doesn’t believe in His Creation suffering? That pain has no purpose and no place in His plan? “No, in all these things we are super conquerers” through Jesus Christ. But the conquerer doesn’t leave until the battle has ended. Deserters are never given medals. Neither do they know the joy of conquest. The overcomer doesn’t walk away from the fight. And neither should we.