Beliefnet

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.

A world that is bright enough to create these opportunities is surely bright enough to control those who might misuse them. All of these abuses could be eliminated by investing this life-and-death decision solely with the affected individual. Advance directives, signed when that person is in good health, should be honored. The decision-making power should reside with the individual, who alone is to be granted the legal right to determine how and when his or her life is to come to an end. That is how we will surround death with the dignity that this ancient friend deserves. I regard this choice as a right to be enshrined alongside "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" at the center of our value system, a basic human freedom that we must claim.

Above all, I affirm that the choice of death with dignity, whether by my own hand or with the assistance of my physician, is a moral and a more godly choice than passively enduring a life pointlessly devoid of hope or meaning. I believe this option is rooted in the Christian conviction that life is sacred. It is thus not life denying, but life affirming. It is because we honor life that we want to end it with our faculties still intact, our minds still competent, and our dignity still respected. Assisted suicide, as a conscious choice made amid the extremity of sickness, is the way that I, as a Christian, can pay homage to the Christ who stands at the center of that faith, whose purpose, says the Fourth Gospel, was to bring life and to bring it abundantly.

To accept the responsibility of making ultimate decisions about life; to celebrate the fact that I live in an age of remarkable ingenuity; to embrace the truth that death is not our enemy but the shadow that gives life its purpose; to claim the right to determine how and when I shall die; these are the opportunities that confront people in the 21st century. I embrace them as a Christian who deeply believes in the God who is the Source of Life, who makes all life holy.

I shall live as deeply as I can while I have the opportunity. I hope to end my life as gracefully as circumstances will allow. But in both my living and my dying, even if that dying is by my own choice or hand in the face of the end of meaning and dignity, I want to assert that my decisions are within the framework of what I call Christian ethics.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus