Assisted Suicide: A Christian Choice and a New Freedom
It's time for Christianity to grapple with the ethical issues that face us at the end of life.
Death is not divine punishment endured because we are fallen people. Death is a natural part of life's cycle. It must, therefore, be embraced as something good--a friend, not an enemy. Can any of us really imagine life without death being a part of it? Far from being evil, death is simply that shadow which gives life its passion, its depth, its sense of urgency. Death walks with us from the moment we are born. It pressures life. It is that reality which makes life's experiences unrepeatable. Childhood lasts but a limited time. It should be neither rushed nor restrained. The same is true for our adolescence, adulthood, and every other identifiable stage of our lives. There is only one journey through the middle years, the aging process, and into old age itself. Each stage must be grasped with vigor.
Life is meant to be lived. We are to scale its heights, plumb its depths, and taste its sweetness. Death rings the bell on all procrastination. It cannot, therefore, be our enemy, something we strive to defeat. It is our friend, something we must learn to accept as an ultimate source of life's meaning. When modern medicine pushes death back in order to expand the length and quality of our existence, it is not defeating our enemy, it is revealing our holiness.
But a perilous boundary becomes visible in this new consciousness when the efforts of medical science cease expanding the length and quality of life, and begin postponing death's inevitability. With that subtle and poorly defined moment comes, a new arena is entered where both a new Christian belief system and a new ethic about final things needs to be born.
Do we honor the God of life by extending the length of our days when the quality of our life has dissipated? Is a breathing cadaver a witness to the God of life? Should powerful narcotics be used to lessen our pain and thus to extend our days even if they rob us of the relationships which give life its meaning?
If I have a medically-confirmed incurable disease, and can bear the pain of that sickness only by being placed into a kind of twilight zone, where I neither recognize the sweet smile of my wife nor respond to the touch of her hand, do I not have the ethical right to end my life with medical assistance? Can dedicated Christians step into this process and say we have now reached the point in human development where we have not just the right, but the moral obligation, to share life-and-death decisions with God? Do we not serve our deepest convictions if we decide to end our life at the moment in which its sacredness becomes compromised?
I am one Christian who wants to say not just one 'yes' to these questions, but Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! I want to do it not in the guilt of yesterday's value system that proclaimed that only God could properly make these decisions. I want to do it, rather, as a modern Christian, asserting that human skill has brought about a new maturity in which we are both called to and equipped for the awesome task of being co-creators with God of the gift of life. As such we must also be responsible with God for guaranteeing the goodness of our deaths.
I am not put off by the slippery slope arguments that are so often used by religious forces and that resort to fearmongering when they cannot embrace the new realities. I do not believe that this stance will lead to state-ordered executions of the elderly, or to health maintenance organizations curtailing medical payments until a quick death is achieved. I do not believe that greedy potential heirs will use this power to hasten the receipt of their inheritances. These are, in my mind, nothing but the smokescreens of negativity, designed to play on the fear present when childlike dependency is threatened and when mature human decisions are mandated.