Friday, October 17, 2014

Why I Would Die with Dignity

1. bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.
2. nobility or elevation of character; worthiness:
dignity of sentiments.
3. elevated rank, office, station, etc.
4. relative standing; rank.
5. a sign or token of respect

It's been a year and two days since I last posted. However, someone asked what my thoughts were on Brittany Maynard's decision on dying with dignity, so this is my response. I've also been feeling led to pick up blogging again, so I'm going to try to be more consistent and not wait a year ... Anyways, this is obviously a very controversial and sensitive subject matter, so I tried to be as gracious as I could be while relaying my honest thoughts.

Many people have heard of Brittany Maynard's case. If not you can read it here: To summarize, she has stage 4 cancer glioblastoma. She was informed that she only has 6 months to live, so she moved to Oregon to take advantage of the Death with Dignity Law. Essentially, she plans on ending her life on November 1st by a doctor's prescription.
People can debate all day whether abortion is right or wrong. The baby isn't born yet, so it's not a baby, right? That makes sense ...
People can also debate all day whether prescribed death is right or wrong. It's doctor prescribed and her personal choice, so it's fine to die on purpose, right? That makes sense ...
You're probably wondering about my title. Why would I die with dignity? Am I saying I'd actually take a drug to end my life?
The answer is yes.

But only if I wasn't a Christian.
Yes, yes, you can all breathe a sigh of relief because I'm not going to do that. I can't speak from experience, since I have never had cancer, but I don't think I would choose to die. Life is full of imperfections and chances to die. Some situations are just more obvious. For example, cancer. Unlike being in a car accident and dying, cancer allows people to say goodbye. Brittany alludes to this herself when she says, "Unless my condition improves dramatically, I will look to pass soon thereafter ... 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.’" Her poetic words sound nice, but her family will watch her drink her life away and end her life shortly. As hard as it is to watch a loved one go, she denies herself time with loved ones. In turn, she denies her loved ones important lessons that can be learned. More than that, she denies them precious moments in her last days. I've never had to go through chemo therapy, but I've experienced pain. Some of the most beautiful moments can burst through those dark times. It's incredible. You find out who is really there for you. You discover strength you didn't know existed. You find hope in the midst of tragedy. Although without hope in Christ, there isn't any real, lasting hope. I think that's what makes her story so heart wrenching.

Another important note to consider is that this is NOT a new argument. People have talked about euthanizing humans for literally centuries. (See here: I highly, highly, highly encourage you to click on that link and read about the history. It truly gives perspective on today's argument. You see, it's not just about Brittany Maynard, and I think people know that. The real issue is whether it's okay to die when a doctor says, "Your life will be over in 6 months, so here, take this if you so please?" Isn't that just suicide with a doctor's note? Nevertheless, I think the following historical passage sheds some light and perspective:

"When the 1940s dawned, many in the euthanasia movement believed it was only a matter of time before euthanasia became legal in the United States ... But euthanasia advocates were in for a surprise ... World War II broke out, and as Hitler's war machine Marched eastward across Europe ... news of Nazi atrocities against mental patients and handicapped children filtered back to America ... As word spread in the late 1940s, the euthanasia movement found itself increasingly on the defensive, scrambling to deny that the form of euthanasia it supported was the same as Nazi murder."
Furthermore, Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst at the Berkeley-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund states, "When you combine assisted suicide with a profit-driven health system, that’s a deadly mix." You see, in the United States, we let things like abortion happen because it is the norm. Most people now won't even deny that a fetus is actually a living being. However, we let it happen. Similarly, most people don't deny that Brittany Maynard is ending her own life. However, we let it happen because ... Well, it's her life and her decision. I don't deny that, but we have to take a step back and examine what she's choosing. We don't like to call it suicide, but suicide by definition is "the action of killing oneself intentionally." We already allow babies to die. Will we let Brittany prescribe her own death?

While I don't know where her heart is, her actions determine how she feels. What's the point of all that suffering? Why not take this pill and cut the casualties? This may seem slightly off topic, but in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, the main character with cancer, Hazel, says that. "I'm a grenade and at some point I'm going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?” This is perfectly normal. Anyone who knows they are dying and will be in pain can say that. But ... Aren't we all going to die and be in pain at some point in our lives?
If you're a Christian like me, imagine you're not. This life is all you have. Nothing matters in the end because you go to your grave and take everything you've ever had with you. The good, the bad, the great, and the terrible. Puppies, cuddles, vacations, coffee in the morning, walks with loved ones, rain, surfing, birds outside your window, cancer ... Everything ends. It means nothing at all. There is no purpose to life, and as a result, no purpose in death. It's logical.

Even Solomon (whom most scholars believe wrote it) in the Bible says, "I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless -- like chasing the wind" (Ecc. 1:14). A lot of people don't like Ecclesiastes because it's depressing. In a way, it is. The book reiterates that life is "meaningless" over and over. No matter what happens, it doesn't mater. So yes, that's kind of just a little bit depressing. But the preacher/teacher who writes says the only true, lasting happiness is found in God. Everything else is futile.

So, in this sense, life to Brittany probably looks like Ecclesiastes without God: bleak, futureless, meaningless, and filled with pain. I get it. I would want to die with dignity, too. If I was Brittany, I would be afraid of the pain. I'd be afraid of the long days in the hospitals. I'd be afraid of sleepless nights. I'd be afraid of looking at someone very close to me and thinking, "I'm leaving you behind." I'd be afraid to look at them and think how much harder it is on them than it is on me. I'd be afraid of leaving my family and friends to suffer. I'd be afraid of adding bills upon bills to maybe get better and then have my family go into debt, even though I know they would think it's worth it. I'd be afraid of entering the unknown. I'd be afraid of meeting fellow cancer patients who might die before me. I'd be afraid of chemo therapy. I'd be afraid of being too exhausted to see people. I'd be afraid to be treated differently. I'd be afraid to be too weak to enjoy life. I'd be afraid of living, but not really "living." I'd be afraid.
If I had a life without Christ, I would want to die with dignity. After all, dignity is dying with self-respect. But as I test my beliefs with Brittany's decision, I just can't agree. My life is defined by Christ's death and resurrection, not my own life. Again, I've never had cancer. But if I had it, I know it would be for His glory. True, the words "glory" and "cancer" seem like polar opposites. But I think Kara, who actually has been battling cancer for 2 years, would agree with me. The grisly horns of life break open the most beautiful of moments. Nobody wants to suffer, but the most growth can happen in those times. If you want to read Kara's response to Brittany, see here:
In many ways, we are unaware of what God has in store for His loved ones. We are promised life will be harder by choosing Christ, but we'd choose it again in a heartbeat because we are so in love with Him. At least, we hope so when the trials come our way. God has so much happening beyond our individual lives. As John Piper says, "God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them." Cancer is a trial, and in Kara's case, maybe she sees Brittany's situation as one of the ways God is using her in this life. Cancer is a horrible. I would never wish it on my worst enemy. However, I think God has shown His power in the lives -- and deaths -- of those with cancer. Also, I want to make a point that I'm not discounting our individual lives. I mean, Christ died on a cross for us so we don't have to. Even if I was the only person He had to die for, He'd do it a thousand times just because He loves me. Why wouldn't I account for that as a believer in Christ?
I wish Kara and Brittany didn't have to suffer. Suffering sucks. (That's my eloquence as a 21 year old showing.) Unlike Kara, Brittany is choosing to skip suffering and just die. I'm not deeming Kara as better and mightier and holier, but maybe that she sees a bigger picture because she is a believing woman.

As Hazel says, Brittany might believe she's a grenade, waiting to explode, so she wants to cut the casualties. But is that what Brittany's family wants? Are they just respecting Brittany's decision? If I were her, would my family want that? Would I want that? What would I be teaching people who look up to me? At best, doctors believe Brittany only has 6 months to live. But why not allow that time for family and friends to celebrate her life with her here a little longer? Why not allow herself to be loved in a way she's never been loved before?Where is the room for miracles?

In many ways, I'm probably overstepping my boundaries since I've never had a terminal illness. But I like to think that I would give my family and friends time to cope. Whether or not I'm sick, I want God to take me in His timing. Whether that's tomorrow or 70 years from now. Of course I don't want to miss out on things. Like Brittany, I'd love to have kids someday. But if that isn't His plan, so be it. Can't I have dignity dying in His time? I just wish Brittany had this assurance.

I guess the point of this is to just ... PRAY.

In the end, we can argue about if it's right or wrong, but it is ultimately Brittany's decision. I pray God can reveal Himself to her and that she would be willing to recognize His grace. Miracles can and do happen, and when they don't, at least she can say she gave it a good fight. At least she has assurance. At best, at least she had 6 months to love and be loved in an unfathomable way.
Cancer in itself isn't a bad guy, according to John Green's book, but it's simply just trying to live. Sometimes, cancer wins, even if it's always cheating the host. I think when we don't give life a proper chance, we cut short God's plan for us. He makes everything beautiful in His timing (Ecc. 3:11). Will we cut short His eternal plan for us? I know as a Christian, most of this won't make sense to those who don't believe. I get that. I'm okay with that. I also know my words may come across insensitive since I've never had a disease that I know is terminal and filled with excruciating pain. I know that and I can only imagine what that's like. But I do think we need to ask ourselves, regardless of religion, whether Brittany truly is dying with dignity: Am I dying with self-respect? Am I worthy or noble of character to choose my own death? Furthermore, if you're a Christian, does this elevate my status? Am I showing people Christ is truly first in my life, above my own? Is this a sign or token of respect, as the definition of dignity states, to others or to Christ?

I'll leave this hefty, long, and winding thoughts with the following verses (and references). Just ponder the reality of Brittany's situation and really wrestle with it. As Christians, we can cling to the words of Jesus:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

"I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him" (Ecc. 3:10-14).

"There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace" (Ecc. 3:1-8).
Dictionary Definition: "dignity." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 17 Oct. 2014. <>.

Google Definition of "suicide":

History of Euthanasia:

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