A while back I received this Q&A from someone. Since this past Sunday was Sanctity of Human Life Day, I thought I would take the time to try to respond to this thought provoking question.
“Something in the NEWS right now is of the lady that will end her life on November 1 because of her terminal brain tumor. She is and will be in constant pain until her death. What does the Bible state about ending your life when she knows it will come sooner rather than later especially since they haven’t given her long to live? Also she is 29 years old and she doesn’t want to endure the pain also because to her she will be no good here on earth. Would love your thoughts on this and what the bible says about it.”
The woman mentioned in the question above was 29 year-old Brittany Maynard, who ended her life November 1, 2014 at her Portland, Oregon home by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates prescribed to her by her doctor, which is legal under Oregon state law. Brittany and her husband moved to Oregon in order to have access to that state’s legal suicide assistance law.
Certainly no one would downplay the pain and suffering that Brittany was going to have to endure. Doctors had given Brittany just six-months to live when she was diagnosed with a likely stage 4 glioblastoma. In an interview published in People Magazine in October Brittany stated: “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”
Did you catch that? It is “less terrifying.” In other words, fear, fear of pain and suffering was the motivation for Brittany’s decision to end her life. The question then must be asked: Should fear hold that kind of power over our lives? Does fear have the right to determine the value of my life, and at what point it is not worth living? The truth is that fear drove Brittany to conclude that a healthy life is worth trying to hold on to, but an unhealthy life is not.
Right to die advocates hold Brittany up as a model of courage, because she chose to end her life on her terms. While I mean no disrespect, I think just the opposite is true. I think it was Brittany’s fear of pain and suffering that motivated her decision to not fight for every second of life.
Again, I mean no disrespect to Brittany, but if you want a model of courage to hold up to the world might I make another suggestion? Louis Zamperini, the subject of the best selling book and the motion picture ‘Unbroken,’ should have his picture beside the word “courage” in the dictionary. An Olympic athlete as a teenager, Louis was a bombardier on a B-24 that crashed in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. He spent 46 grueling days floating in a life raft, enduring starvation and dehydration before finally making landfall in the Marshall Islands, only to be immediately captured by the Japanese and interned in a prisoner of war camp for more than two years.
Because the Japanese knew that Zamperini was an American Olympian, the commander of the camp seemed determined to inflict as much pain, suffering, and humiliation on Louis as possible. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie you know that if pain and suffering are the factors for determining whether a life is worth living, then Zamperini should have taken his own life multiple times along the way. Instead, Louis’ love of life, the value he placed on life, enabled him to endure more pain and suffering than most of us can even imagine. And it caused him to triumph, not only over his Japanese nemesis, but also over the vey pain and suffering that had been designed to break his will to live.
While pain and suffering are certainly nothing to be trivialized, it should be remembered that they are part of the human experience. The sin curse brought pain and suffering into our world, and pain and suffering will be here until the end.
Throughout human history mankind has worked to eliminate pain and suffering, wherever possible, for the betterment of life for all. To advocate eliminating pain and suffering by eliminating life itself flies in the face of what we have always considered most precious, the opportunity to live.
Of course, the argument that is heralded by those who favor the right to end life is the same argument that is shouted from the highest rooftops of our postmodern culture, where the rights of the individual take precedence over all else. In Brittany Maynard’s case it would sound like this: “It was Brittany’s life! She is the one who should have the right to determine how and when her life should end.”
At least part of the problem with that argument is that it ignores its affect on a society or culture as a whole. When every person’s personal privilege, and their valuing of life, takes precedence over societal standards that have been established for the good of that society, the result must almost certainly end in chaos.
More importantly, Brittany’s man-centric philosophy denies God’s authority over all of His creation.
Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 100:3)
God has a plan for each of our lives. It will not be a life free from all pain and suffering. But it is a life worth living. It is a life worth fighting for. And for those who belong to Christ, in His timing, the best is yet to come.