Category Archives: Death

Capital Punishment and the Christian Faith

So Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sentenced to death for the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and for killing a police officer. After reading, “Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call For Reckoning” I’m convinced that there is no real tension between the Christian faith and the death penalty. Having a little discussion on facebook with one of my friends, Keith Pavilschek I made mention of what Gilbert Meilaender said:

“Evidently Christian sensibilities about forgiveness do not actually require forgiveness, since something called “punishment” is still permitted.”

Apparently some Christians (and yes, I’ve seen them in the media) believe that forgiveness requires no death penalty. But for some reason, it would require punishment. Hmmmm…thinking there is a contradiction there when forgiveness is your bottomline. Keith pointed out that,

“if the death penalty is ‘state sanctioned murder’ as some abolitionists insist, is imprisonment ‘state sanctioned kidnapping’?

and I pointed out

“And how about the ’emotional abuse’ one ‘suffers’ when one is stuck in a prison for the rest of their days”

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More On Assisted Suicide: Another Eschatological Paradigm?

One of the problems I’ve had with “dying with dignity” is this question of autonomy. But first let me say that I really don’t like the terminology. When someone asks someone else to assist in their death they ask no small thing. It is to actually KILL ANOTHER. HUMAN. BEING. for, in most cases to end their suffering. Now, if we are willing to assist someone to kill themselves, then it seems that this claim (to kill them for the reason of ending their suffering) has such a powerful sway or ENOUGH sway over us such that the question should be asked about restricting such a killing to those who are competent fully autonomous determinative agents. Surely there are people who suffer greatly but are not competent enough to request someone to kill them. But there are some who don’t suffer greatly, and ARE competent ENOUGH to request help but whose pain is not that great. In other words, there is the problem of the measurement of pain as well as the problem of the expansion of candidates such that folks who were once thought not “worthy” of such assistance are now suitable for it (which is actually what is presently before the courts and what the debate is coming down to).

This really should concern us as a society. As autonomous individuals we seek not only to define our own destinies through the killing of ourselves, when and how (an unbiblical eschatology but an eschatology nonetheless) by the way) but we seek to to be little messiahs in defining the destinies of others.


The Problem Of Autonomy With Regard To Assisted Suicide

I want to talk a little bit more about assisted suicide as we approach the date of Brittany Maynard’s self appointed time of death.

As I stated, whether you are a Christian or not your life is not your own. It’s God’s. What that means is that when we use the terminology of “right to die” or “right to life” what we are doing i starting right out of the gate with the view of independence in our sights without acknowledging our dependence on God–“**I** have a right…”

Some Christians say that you can’t impose your Christianity on unbelievers. But to start off saying that God is the author of our lives we automatically think that this Christian view (of life and death) applies to unbelievers. Christians of all people should recognize that this belief makes claims on not only our community but on unbelievers as well. It’s only a logical conclusion that if God is God he is God to unbelievers as well. They stand in relation to the God of the Universe. He is Creator. They are his creation. So the question becomes such that if this view is not reflected in law and policy, then the independence one will be which, though I may not be forced to commit suicide or assist in someone else’s immoral behaviour, I am still affected by this and so is society as a whole because we are affected by the atmosphere that law and public policy creates in similar ways that families are affected as much by the suicide of a love one. That is, Christian theology has begun to recognize that as image bearers of God we are not only social creatures as God is–who exists as triune but this is reflected in our very being in relation to others. In other words, that our lives are not our own is reflected when one commits suicide they “take a part” of others with them. And so this happens to the wider community in how that burden bears down upon as (think about what you think or feel when someone commits suicide).

If such is the case that my life is not my own and is God’s, (and this is where our messianic tendencies come in) then the lives of others are not mine either. Which is to say that I have no control over THEIR destinies. I am not the Lord of their life OR their death and they cannot make me such (by asking for my help). Which is to say that I should not participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Our messianic tendencies come into play when we attend to one of two extremes:

A. When we continue to fight death even as it is at our door and it is useless to do so.
B. Assisting death such as to hasten it. That is, that it is our AIM to hasten it.
Our only response, should be to “care for the dying” of which neither A nor B is. Actually A and B a form of abandonment.

Why should care be our greatest concern? Because care recognizes our finiteness as humans in the face of excruciating pain and suffering (not only for the one dying but for the community as a whole. Going to one or another of those two extremes is to always give something that is other or less than care.

Interestingly, as I was thinking about the writing of this post today I thought about both the health and wealth gospel crowd and the advocates of assisted as being two sides of the same coin–the avoidance/relief from pain. The assisted suicide crowd wouldn’t ever admit that but I ask myself how one side (the AS folk) are any different in this respect from the health and wealth group.

Rgardless, does this mean that we should refuse treatment? Well, if I want to avoid “A” above I would say, “No.” I will talk about that soon enough. In my next post though, I want to discuss another reason why I think the argument from autonomy is skewed.


Assisted Suicide: The Ultimate Solution From An Ultimate Philosophy

We first heard about Brittany Maynard this past month when she first drew national attention to talk about having help to kill herself because of an incurable brain tumor. I’m SURE that was the precursor to the event in which her life will be taken with the help of a doctor and with her husband and family by her side. It seemed to me to be at the time a “gauging of the winds” to see what public sentiment is going to be like.

Interestingly, many modern issues like this have to do with “freedom from” some restraint or another. Some authority or another. We see it with sexuality and in this case we see it with regard to the ultimate act–the ending of one’s life. Surprisingly, many Christians have bought into the highly autonomous individualistic culture which is what (assisted) suicide is the ULTIMATE result of.

I know I will probably hear sentiments in which people will say I’m being heartless. I mean, speaking on some philosophical level about “highly autonomous individuals” seems pretty cold and callous compared to the pain of dying and losing love ones. But it is my hope to expand on why this is really not the case (that talking about highly autonomous individuals is not the really cold and callous) because assisted suicide is not only about the person who is facing it, but also about the wider community. It is not only about those of us who are faced with the question of dying “taking control” of our destinies, but also about our own messianic tendencies to alleviate others of pain and suffering. And if we are called to love God and our fellow human beings, then love will be expanded to include both the individual and the community.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with those who want to kill themselves–the idea being that we should not accept pain and suffering as good. But this means we should care for those who are suffering (what the Christian tradition has usually been about). On the other hand, we must never pretend that we can eliminate suffering completely from human existence or that it has no point or purpose in our lives. An “any and every means possible” to achieve a certain good end is not always justifiable. We human beings, ESPECIALLY in this area of medicine, need to remind ourselves that we are not saviors. Could it not also be the case that many Christians have bought into a radical individualism such that it has a veneer of Christianity to it but is anything but? In other words, it has the robe of Christ on it, but underneath is the devil? A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Part of the teaching of the incarnation is not only that Christ dwells along side of us and identifies with us in our pain and suffering but that WE do the same with others. That, in itself, should say something about our persistent need to eliminate pain and suffering as our highest priority or ultimate goal. In the incarnation we can see that there can be a purpose to our pain and suffering. In thinking that we should eliminate pain and suffering in this final act, we essentially are saying that pain and suffering and the negative destructive powers of the universe are ultimately victorious in our lives. And this is a different eschatological vision then that of the Bible.


God As Author And Sustainer With Regard to Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide

My facebook friend Brent White has an excellent post on one of the biggest news stories of the week, the story of Brittnay Maynard. You can read his post here.

In the the first paragraph White says this:

Given the tone of this article, which was reprinted in USA Today and received much sympathetic approval on social media, I find myself strangely unmoved by this 29-year-old cancer patient’s decision to end her life later this month. Whatever else her decision may be, it is deeply unchristian. It denies the fact that God gives us each moment of life as a gift. It also denies that God could have any purpose for permitting someone to suffer—what Tim Keller rightly calls God’s “causal relationship with suffering.”

I want to add to his point about “God giving us each moment of our lives.” Most of the time words or something to that effect come off sounding cliche. We’ve heard it a million times, “God is the giver of life,” “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And though that doesn’t sound too satisfying or comforting when watching a love one die–ESPECIALLY when watching someone close to us pass from this life into eternity–for it can be very insensitive when used that way, there is still a truth to this that we may have forgotten. That truth is this: That God is the AUTHOR AND SUSTAINER of life.

I want to explain the implications of this by quoting from Gilbert Meilaender’s book, Bioethics: A Primer For Christians

Christians have held that suicide is morally wrong because they have seen in it a contradiction of our nature as creatures, an unwillingness to receive life moment by moment from the hand of God without ever regarding it as simply “our” possession. We might think of ourselves as characters in a story of which God is the author. Dorothy L. Sayers ingeniously developed this analogy of artistic creation in The Mind of the Maker. Of the “work” produced by the artist Sayers writes:

For the satisfaction of its will to life it depends utterly upon the sustained and perpetually renewed will to creation of its maker. The work can live and grow on the sole condition of the maker’s untiring energy; to satisfy its will to die, he has only to stop working. In him it lives and moves and has its being, and it may say to him with literal truth, “Thou art my life, if thou withdraw, I die.” If the unselfconscious creature could be moved to worship, its thanks and praise would be due, not so much for any incidents of its structure, but primarily for its being and identity.

Characters in a story do, of course, have a real, if limited, freedom, and a good author will not simply compel them to do what is contrary to the nature he himself has given them. But at the same time characters do not determine the plot of their life’s story, and it is a contradiction of their very being if they attempt to bring the story to its conclusion. We are dependent beings, and to think otherwise to make independence our project, however sincerely is to live a lie, to fly in the face of reality.

This SHOULD have some impact or influence on us in guiding or steering us in end of life decisions.