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.