USA – On November 1, Brittany Maynard took her own life using a lethal combination of drugs. Earlier this year, Maynard had been diagnosed with a stage-four glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Following the diagnosis, she and her husband moved to Oregon, one of five American states to have legalized physician-assisted suicide.
Maynard drew international headlines after launching a video campaign in early October outlining her decision to end her life. The video (produced by the pro-euthanasia group Compassion & Choices) was followed up by an opinion piece for CNN. “I am not suicidal,” Maynard wrote in the article. “I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”
Her comments sparked widespread debate over the subject of euthanasia. One of those responding a few days later was Maggie Karner, former director of Life and Health Ministries for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. And Karner’s response was not theoretical either; she too has been diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. “I wanted to hug Brittany and shed tears right along with her,” Karner writes in an article for The Federalist, “because I, too, know those fears.”
But while Karner suffers with the same cancer that Maynard did, she believes that ending one’s life is never the answer. “Many people who choose assisted-suicide have expressed that they are uncomfortable with the term,” Karner notes. But that’s what it is. “Maynard steadfastly refused to refer to her decision as an act of suicide, even though she will, quite literally, take her own life.”
“I want to die on my own terms,” Maynard wrote. But as Karner notes, “death is always out of our hands.”
Many have noted that euthanasia laws tend to put the most vulnerable—the elderly, the depressed, the physically or mentally handicapped—at greater risk. But in Maynard’s case, the issue seemed to be one of personal control. “I want to die on my own terms,” she wrote. But as Karner notes, “death is always out of our hands.” That’s why we need to put ourselves in the hands of the One who is in control. “As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me,” Karner explains. “The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life, and trying to grab that control myself.”
Dr. L. Block agrees. In an article on euthanasia and assisted suicide published in The Canadian Lutheran earlier this year, she writes:
“There is a great deal of fear around the idea of dying. Although we profess to offer “dignified death” to relieve others’ suffering, I think we are really more interested in providing insurance for our own. We are a society that worships the idea of control and choice. With great condescension, we will deign to be dead if we must, but we want to control how and when we die, and we absolutely do not want to suffer. Modern medicine prolongs lives more than ever before, but when it finally fails and the end is inevitable, we want to short-cut the process and control this too.
What does Christ teach about this? First, that all life is God’s, and that the office of taking a life, even our own, does not belong to us. Secondly, that suffering, too, is a gift from God. St. Paul suffered from “a thorn in his side,” which we presume meant physical pain, and God had His own reasons for this.
I do not in any way mean to minimize the suffering that people face, whether it is physical or emotional or mental or spiritual. I do not know whether I will face my suffering patiently when it is my lot; I can only pray that God will give me the strength to face it. God uses all things to our good, even when we cannot see how. We must not rob people of the opportunity to respond to Him. How tragic if we should snuff out the smouldering flame of a soul on the brink of reconciliation! And that goes for the suffering of those who are anguishing with their loved ones as well. God uses the valley of the shadow to drive us closer to Him.”
God uses all things to our good, even when we cannot see how…. He uses the valley of the shadow to drive us closer to Him.
For more information on euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the Christian response, read the whole article here: “Hands of Mercy.”
The subjects of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are currently under debate in Canada as well. This past summer Quebec passed a bill that will legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide (scheduled to take effect in 2015). And Lutherans are doing their part to educate Canadians on the dangers of this type of law. This year’s Annual Love Life Conference (sponsored by Lutherans for Life-Canada, Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Concordia University College of Alberta, and the Alberta-British Columbia District of Lutheran Church–Canada) focused on the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Its timing was tragically apropos. November 1, the date the conference was held, ended up being the same day Maynard took her own life.
“We encourage all Lutherans to educate themselves on the topic of assisted suicide,” said President Cliff Pyle of Lutherans for Life-Canada. “Ask your pastor, visit our website, and study God’s Word on these issues to better understand what to do in critical End of Life situations.” Readers may also want to view Lutherans for Life (America)’s website for more resources.