Is Assisted Suicide Merciful?

                                                                                      2018-05-11 11.10.09

The year after my sister passed away from breast cancer, my life aligned alongside a woman named Vanessa diagnosed with brain cancer. Walking with Vanessa seemed surreal at times, like a scratched record repeating the same sad phrase over and over. I often wondered why God placed my life on repeat, witnessing the same victories…the same defeats…the same end. Vanessa, like Tricia, lost her faculties one by one, the ability to see, eat, speak, walk, or swallow. Vanessa passed away on August 20, 2018. She was only 34 years old.

            Both women surrendered not only their lives but placed their deaths under God’s authority. I mention these women to establish I do not write this article from a place of ignorance. I’ve gripped gray limp hands and guarded the rise and fall of rattling chests. Not only have I had a backstage pass to cancer’s performance, but I’ve also been dragged to the stage with my own breast cancer diagnosis.

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            The first time I’d heard of Brittany Maynard, I was sitting by my sister in her living room. Tricia had just been put on hospice when in 2014 Maynard became the poster child for Assisted Suicide. We watched her being interviewed on national news. Tricia hit the button on her pain pump while listening to a tearful Brittany explain what she’d envisioned a natural death to entail. She stated she wanted control over her passing, instead of allowing cancer to dictate her end. I swung between heartbreak for Brittany’s condition, sadness for the pain my sister was in, and alarm for the new self-controlled agenda being proposed….legalizing suicide.

            Even in the intense pain Tricia felt, she didn’t like the idea. She pointed to the television. “That’s wrong. She’s giving up. She’s taking her life out of God’s hands,” she said.

            Brittany drove with her family to Oregon where assisted suicide was legal, and on November 1, 2014 took pills to end her life. My sister died soon after on December 19th. Through Brittany, assisted suicide was renamed “Death with Dignity” which sanitized the image of someone dead on the floor next to an empty pill bottle. We must never underestimate the enemy’s ability to apply white-wash.

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In order to understand Assisted Suicide goes against God’s plan, we must first identify the roots feeding it. Fear. One of the main roots of sin is fear because fear is in opposition of faith. Death with Dignity sprouted from fear. The motivations behind the movement are fear of suffering, fear of becoming a burden, and fear of appearances in a natural death.

            Whenever a believer begins to fear, we are stepping out of an alignment of faith and hence not following Christ. Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15 English Standard Version) Our Father cares and He has given us the right to call out to Him in our times of trouble including physical illness. Although, He does not give us the right to do with our bodies as we see fit. It is our Father who establishes life within us. Life is a gift. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalms 139:13-14 (ESV)

            Job, who is one of our Biblical examples of remaining faithful throughout suffering wrote: “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:5, New Living Translation)

            The message of the gospel is life. Jesus Christ died to give us life. Therefore, Christians are entrusted to be life-protectors, and this should not be viewed as merciless or judgmental. Our faith in God’s sovereignty gives Him the authority over our bodies, lives, and deaths, making Him the decider of our days.

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            Although Death with Dignity sounds merciful it’s not without its own horrors. Through the lens of recent cultural shifts, we can foresee the societal pressure of this movement for those facing terminal illness and advanced years. Theywould be pressured to succumb to assisted suicide or face the scrutiny of being a selfish burden to their loved ones. In time, the culture will no longer see them as viable members of society— only leeches to it.

             Furthermore, the movement claims the dying have no value. The truth is while caring for two dying women, they’ve injected my life with a renewed faith, perseverance, and compassion. We’d jeopardize losing everything the dying could teach us regarding how to live. Vanessa could vouch for this, for it was Tricia’s death and testimony that pointed Vanessa to Jesus Christ.

Can you imagine a hopeless world where patients lose their life to pills instead of keeping their hearts beating for a miracle?

            Before Vanessa died, I asked her if there was anything she wanted people to know. She gathered her thoughts and closed her eyes to form the words from her stubborn lips, “The doctors told me I had two months to live… four months ago,” she said. “They don’t know, only God knows and everyday counts.” She opened her eyes. “I want them to know everyday counts.” How can everyday count to someone who’s lying paralyzed, losing her ability to speak, eat, and see? I admit when she told me this, I didn’t see the power in her statement until after she passed.

            I cannot close without mentioning the death of Jesus Christ. He was shamed, beaten, rejected, stripped naked, and hung on a cross to die. He died without dignity and in extreme pain and agony so we may have an eternal home with Him.

            “Then Jesus told His disciples, if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV) Are you willing to follow Christ even if it means dying without dignity?

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            A month before she passed, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and sobbed. I couldn’t save either of them. She ran her fingers through my hair. “I will see your sister soon,” she said smiling. I’ve spent over six years watching two incredible women die with courage and integrity. In the end, they were a shell of their former selves, but they were never more beautiful; and I know without a doubt, they stood humbly before their Lord and each heard the words, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.”

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Before cancer my sister and her daughter Peyton. 

Join the conversation. What are your thoughts on Assisted Suicide? Please feel free to comment below.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

The Right to Life

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalms 34:18.

Brittany Maynard ended her life on November 1, by swallowing pills legally prescribed by a doctor. The pills guaranteed Brittany a death with dignity. The first time I saw her on an interview, I rushed to judgement. Who was she to decide to take her life and encourage others to do so as well? It was a cowardly decision. The desire to hold on to one’s dignity was to hold on to their pride.
I have since changed my mind for my sister chose a death without dignity. Her breast cancer has spread up her spine, neck, and all over her abdomen. It is hard under the skin like a rubber armor. The cancer has entered her kidneys, lungs, bones, female parts, liver, and brain. She has lost the use of her limbs, bowels, speech, and for the most part her thoughts. She grunts and moans, and uses uncontrolled hand gestures to tell you what she wants. Sometimes a word or sentence is forced out and her voice sounds like a 90 year old woman. She has no body fat. Her bottom is sunk in, as well as her cheeks and eye sockets. Her skeletal face cast a gray and yellow complexion. One of her eyes seems to bulge in a peculiar way through her half opened lids. She talks to people you can’t see, in a muffled tone you can’t understand.
When I came to see her recently, she yelled, “I can’t believe!” (you are here). I wanted to shout it back, for I shared the same sentiment, I couldn’t believe this was my sister. She leaned in when everyone left the room and laid her head on my shoulder, “I’m so sad,” she said. I wiped a tear from my cheek. “Me too sister… Me too.”
Today, my heart is so heavy I feel the weight of it in my fingers. She wouldn’t want anyone to see her this way. She worries her loved ones will think less of her.
Kim Williams-Standridge (KK) and I stayed with her over night, to give Thomas her husband a night off. She fought me when I tried to change her diaper, and said, “I hate this.” I hugged her, “I know you do, but I am so happy you are letting me help you, it makes me feel good.” Then, as if for me, she released her grip on her diaper. She apologized several times to KK and I, and we were struck by how she still worried about others more than herself.
If I close the story here, you will never see beyond the darkness into the light. Look past the shell of a girl dying in her lazy boy chair.
There are four close girlfriends from her church, in the midst of work, families and Christmas, who give of themselves tirelessly to meet any need. A friend who’s like a sister, puts aside her own broken heart only to pour it out into Tricia’s care. A cousin who buried two of her own children, finds joy each morning nurturing her sick cousin.
There are the stories from nurses who tell how Tricia has inspired them, for she had an unexplainable joy in the midst of a terrible disease. The shock her hospice nurses expressed when she came out of a coma fifteen minutes before her son came home from bootcamp.
I have witnessed a mother who saturates her daughter’s shirt with her tears, as she pleads with the Lord “please take her home.” Morning and night, a father leans his forehead against his daughter’s, as he fervently prays for God’s healing in whatever way it may come. There’s a brother, who still tries to make his sister laugh as he massages her head or moves her legs before work, but as he walks out the door his smile fades and he wipes his cheek.
I have witnessed the strength of a little girl. who sacrifices sleep to help her Dad change and care for her Momma all night, and still goes to school the next morning. Each afternoon she bounds through the door, “I’m home Momma. I love you,” she says, climbing on her lap. Some days there is only a grunt, but when Tricia says, “I love you too!” Peyton beams. “Did you hear that Tammy? Momma said she loves me. I haven’t heard that in a long time.”
There are burly sons who sit beside their Momma, and become gentle lambs as they hold her hand and speak softly to her, their eyes fill with tears.
There is a husband who honors his promise to love her in sickness and in health. Through his own brokenness, he meets her needs day in and out. Each time, Tricia hears his voice, she grunts and throws her arms in the air. He kisses her mouth and cheeks, and tells her, “You are so beautiful. How did you ever want to be with me?” Tricia smiles.
There is a sister who promises, “I love you. I’ll be back soon.” While Tricia throws her arms into the air. “Wait!” she says.
She hugs me tight. “I love you too!” She forces out of her slack mouth.
She wants all of us to know how much she loves us.
I’ve never been so proud. I tell her repeatedly, “I’m so proud of you.” It is like witnessing a miracle. I am a writer, (with all humbleness), but with that comes the responsibility of observation. I have seen the unconditional love of God through a death with no dignity.
In the case of Brittany, I don’t rush to judge her anymore, because a death with no dignity is painful, sorrowful, and slow, but it is also spiritual, humble, miraculous and loving. It takes courage and faith to endure it. My sister has given me this incredible gift, through her I have felt the most intense sorrow and agony, as well as joy and love. Instead of discrimination, I feel sorry for Brittany and her family now, for not allowing God to decide when it’s her time to go. I firmly believe there will be rewards in heaven awaiting my sister for humbling herself before the throne, and allowing God to decide her fate. She kept her heart beating for the possibility of a miracle, and I tell you there have been many… a smile, a word, a hug and kiss, a brush of her hand against a babies toes, hurting women who find joy in nurturing, nurses who feel inspired, a husband who still loves…
A death without dignity allows others to share God’s love, show compassion, and bring light into a dark world. It invites God to lean in close to those who are hurting, and feel His presence.
Tricia will finish this life and in the next stand before the throne without shame. God will tell her, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, for you gave much…you gave all.

II. Timothy 4:3-6
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me- the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”