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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.