Discussing
What we lose by choosing death with dignity

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior
October 20, 2014

The impulse against life and toward suicide - even when undertaken to ease suffering - robs us of the greatest gift we can offer another: ourselves.

[email protected]
October 20, 2014

Lovely.

Chris Hunt
October 20, 2014

This is a great perspective. The idea that we owe it to others to live, or die trying to live, is truly profound. I also really appreciate Karen's conclusion: as image bearers of God it is natural to cling to life and entirely unnatural to try to end it. At first it might seem like a mercy to let one who suffers end his or her life, but there is more to it: we have to leave room for God, because only He knows what will happen. We only think we know what will happen; and we don't know what will happen until it has happened...even if we thought it would happen.

TimF
October 20, 2014

I don't know the answer for those who face the types of decisions faced in this post. But I do know, as KSP says, "Literature shines light upon the mysteries of our humanity, and in so doing, shows how much more mystery lurks." Literature is one of God's gifts for us to work through some of life's most difficult times.

JKana
October 20, 2014

This post so beautifully states many of the things I've been thinking about ever since my wife and I watched The Fault in Our Stars this past week. One of the themes that I really felt that work explores is this concept that "we are not our own." Others depend on us; we're made to be in relationship, both with God and with one another, which means we don't have the final say in certain complex choices like this one.

It also makes me think about how Paul said the same thing, in a slightly different context, in 1 Cor 6:19-20. There, we're reminded that we are "bought with a price," namely, the price of Jesus' blood. Which complicates the picture even further: Is it possible that the choice to "die trying" is an act of worship for the One who suffered in our place to deliver us from the same?

Danzur
October 20, 2014

I struggle with this.

I have seen my grandmother lie in a hospital bed unable to move and respond in any way.

I saw my aunt decrease to a skeleton with skin cuddled up in bed suffering from Alzheimer's.

I have seen my mother struggle with Alzheimer's for over 16 years. The last 15 months of her life she couldn't speak, eat food or even lift her hand to scratch her nose when it was itchy.

I saw my friend's mother turn into skeleton's with skin on asking and pleading to God to take away her pain and let her die.

Being an only child who doesn't have children or a husband, if anything happened to me I would be without anyone to take care of me.

The health care system does not have the ability to take good care of their dying patients. Instead, they are learned disabled. Taught to use a diaper instead of a toilet. Restrained to a wheel chair instead if being encouraged to keep their strength and mobility. They stick you in your room facing your bed or a corner to live the last of your days.

Not everyone has someone willing to take care of them and not many have the finances to hire in home care.

We put our pets down when they are suffering but we can't put down our humans.

Ksp
October 21, 2014

Thank you, Paul.

Ksp
October 21, 2014

Thank you for the affirming words, Chris.

Ksp
October 21, 2014

Amen, Tim!

Ksp
October 21, 2014

Excellent insights, JKana. Thank you.

Ksp
October 21, 2014

Danzur, you offer really important questions to this discussion. Thank you. You point to why community is so very important, both in our living and our dying. I have a spouse but no children, so I confess, I share your fears. I sometimes think about how, in some ways, the way we live today will (in part, not entirely) determine who is taking care of our most intimate needs at the end of life. As a culture, we don't live as though that question matters. And it does, it really does.

Taylor
October 23, 2014

I say never judge until you walk in someone's shoes. I worked in nursing for 15 years and saw young and old in extreme pain and cognitive decline. With our representatives in congress now making it more and more difficult to get the most simple of pain medications without jumping through hoops. It is shameful that people must chose pain while waiting to die because of new pharmacy rules.

Taylor

Ksp
October 23, 2014

Taylor, I agree there is much that needs to be fixed in our health care system. I hope my post did not sound judgmental. I really meant it when I wrote that such a situation is incomprehensible for most of us.

Deb Koster
October 25, 2014

As a nurse and within my family I have journeyed with many through the end of their lives. It is a privilege to come alongside and ease the pain of another, it is how God calls us to live. Denying family the opportunity to make the journey with us robs them of an opportunity to extend the love of Christ.
I am grateful for all of the ways that the hospice movement has improved the process of dying by involving families and managing pain more effectively. Thanks for speaking to this difficult issue and helping us see how we grow through challenge and struggle.

Steve
October 27, 2014

Thanks for the great piece, Karen.

I struggle with the idea of death. I'm a healthy 30-something, but for the past year, my devotional/prayer theme has been "Preparing to die." I've found that when people get the terminal diagnosis, their perspective changes. They focus on family, friends, their relationship with God, etc. I've tried to go through this past year with the mind-set that it's my last-- because who knows? It could be!

The one thing that's changed for me in this year is that when my time comes, I don't think I'll "rage, rage against the dying of the light" anymore. Death here isn't the end, as so many in the world believe; it's just the beginning. Well, in a sense, I suppose it IS the end for Christians-- the end of life in a sinful and painful world. And while I'm not going to facilitate my end just to get to heaven sooner, I also don't ever want to fight tooth and nail to survive in a terribly depleted and hopeless state caused by a horrible disease. I don't want to cling and claw to a broken existence when such a great one awaits. I love my life here, don't get me wrong-- my wife, my kids, my work, my church, my friends, my hobbies, TV shows, movies and music-- and it hurts to think about how my death would cause pain to my family and friends. But I also know that me living in a sinful world, in pain, causes God pain as well, and I can't wait to be made whole.

I'm trying to live my life like I'm not going to see my loved ones in six months. So I am now more open with my faith so that they'll know where I'm going after I die, but also in the hope that they'll one day meet me in heaven. My goal is to someday no longer fear death at all. I admit, I've still got a ways to go, but I'm closer now than I was nine months ago.

I don't know where Brittany Maynard stands with God, but my prayer from now until November 1 is that she knows Jesus as her personal savior, so that whatever happens, whenever she exits this life she'll be welcomed into the next life by Him. Dying is such a personal thing, and I'm not going to judge her for making this decision-- because no matter how many people are by your physical body when you die, you still pass alone.

Tim Hendrickson
November 4, 2014

Your last sentence is interesting--especially for a Christian so invested in literature--in that it conflates self with a body. Are you really suggesting that we do not offer "the gift of ourselves" to others after we have physically died? I know a few dead authors whom I force to share themselves with my students every semester.

Sjd
November 11, 2014

Thank you for this article. I just wrote an essay on the Death with Dignity act and could not put into words how I feel about it. Your writing hits the nail on the head. As a nursing assistant I have met many people and had to watch them die. Even though I did not know them well I feel blessed to have known them for the short time I did. Some really had an impact on me such as "Millie" who told me that she loved me but, didn't know why...she didn't even know me she said (she was a resident for only a short time). She also said that God loved me. This woman was only days from death when she spoke these words to me. You never know how your life can impact that of another. I still thank God for sending that woman and so many others into my life. I am truly blessed to have known Millie and she was a blessing to me even at her worst.

TheCountess
August 7, 2015

To 'voice' one's own 'opinion' is so un-scritpure, it defies God. The 'Walk in the Lord' is filled with un-answered questions and that is why we 'lean' upon the Lord and not 'unto our own understanding. We 'follow' Christ and we obey. We learn (scripture's knowledge) by the 'guidance' of the Spirit, but only if we obey and follow. And since God's ways and thoughts are not ours, much of what will be lived out in our lives will be 'foreign' to us.
"Thou shalt not 'Murder' is a Commandment cast in stone. And for those who either think or have come to believe it is acceptable to commit suicide before that commandment, then Hell awaits. God will not be mocked. It is God that dictates edicts. And the truly 'born-again' knows what is right and what is wrong and lives out this life in fear. God is not a soft, white, fluffy entity of love and joy and kindness towards Sin. It took sinlessness to die in trade of all who deserve eternal Hell. A price that is either understood, appreciated, valued and subjected to, or it is not. God will not allow one degree of faithlessness (sin) to enter into His Kingdom. And the Church is so far fallen, It does not understand even the simplest of things anymore. This should never be a contented with subject if one truly is saved. The Spirit now guides and condemnation works as 'director'.
Our 'conscience' now looking to God for the answers, the direction, and the end result. Make no mistake, the author of confusion is satan, not God nor His Word. The Church today is in Total confusion. It has stepped aside from 'burying the word' that it might not sin against God. Instead It surpasses 'What thus sayeth the Lord', with 'vain imagination' of foolishness that It cannot discern right from wrong, let alone remain 'faithful and true' to God's Word. Out of seemingly benevolent thinking, people have fallen into the trap of humanism. 'Self' preservation, instead of 'sacrificial' service. Question that needs to be understood: What does satan do? Seeks whom he may devour. Question: What is satan's main objective? To be God - to take His place. Question: How does he do this? Through the Church by blindness.
Question: Who's side are you on?

Bill Wald
March 12, 2016

I don't want to live as a brain-dead zombie in a hospital bed. Neither do I want medical doctors encouraged to kill humans or cooperate in any kind of homicide. I propose a corps (pun intended) of certified but non-MDs to kill those who request the service.

I have told all my kids that if no longer have the ability to kill myself, put something in my IV. Don't tell anyone, just do it.

Shanti Roy
April 15, 2016

We are talking about whether it is fair to put the terminally ill to death, people who now face severe pain and mental decline. But some people are born this way, without the cancer of course. A few years back the autism community kept close watch of any updates about a well known member who had to fight for her right to live. She's still alive to this day. She has severe non-verbal autism and a host of medical problems but is still going strong. The doctors however thought because of her conditions she didn't deserve to live. It makes me think about how we value who should live at all. And this whole right to die thing makes me think what society really thinks about mental disability. I watched my dad regress during his brain tumor, and it was frustrating having to take care of him, but I think if we showed him more understanding and learned best how to fulfill his needs it would have been better for all of us.

I've been in the situation where I wanted to die from having constant and severe seizures and later when I developed depression. In fact a mood disorder makes the serious depressive thoughts happen at least 3 time a week, but I've read quite a number of devotionals that have made me see things another way, about allowing suffering (stress) to happen and about handing the reigns of control over to God.

As Christians we do not have control over whether we live or die (or important decisions), even with my mental and physical issues and I've welcomed death than rather continue the struggle - know I know that's taking some control away from God. So, to me it's not about deciding against death with dignity to allow other people to take care of you, but to remain obedient to God. I don't really tend to think about people that often because I'm autistic and it's a struggle to keep them in mind. I doubt they could even take care of me anyway because they fail to work with me to minimize my mental health issues from flaring up.

And please, watch the ableist language here. 'Brain dead zombie' - really sensitive to people with intellectual disabilities. My dad was in a hospital bed and he still had thoughts of his own. Just because someone seems 'brain dead' on the outside doesn't mean they're like that on the inside.

Angela
October 22, 2016

what if God had a plan to heal one who already took action in assisted suicide? our heavenly father has a plan for midst suffering. no matter how hard this period in life is,suicide is not the answer. and anything that happens God always has a purpose for it. also, suicide is one of the unforgivable sins. corinthians 6:19-20 says "or do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit within you, whom you have from God? you ar not your own for you were bought with a price. so glorify God in your body!!!

Bill Wald
October 23, 2016

If God has a plan and if the human is able to defeat God's plan, then in this instance, the human was more powerful than God.

Anonymous
November 29, 2017

For all these modern-day Pharisees claiming suicide is an unforgivable sin...

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." -- Matthew 7:1-5

"Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." -- Matthew 12:31

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