One of the most heart-breaking stories in the news is the story about Brittany Maynard, a young woman with an inoperable brain tumor. She and her husband moved to Oregon where she can avail herself with the state’s ‘Death with Dignity’ law and her plan is to take a lethal dose of medication on November 1st. She has only months to live and her plan is to end her life in this world before she and her family have to endure the final stages of the disease.
Her choice and the publicity around the choices have resulted in significant conversation and controversy. Many applaud her courage and many are horrified at her decision. She is only 29 years old and has been married for a year.
I hate this story. I say that I hate this story not because I hate Brittany Maynard, I just hate the fact that a young woman is dying of a brain tumor at such a young age and has been faced with horrible choices. Choice one is to end her life quickly and painlessly and very soon, or to die in a horrible fashion pretty soon. Choice number one and choice number two are both terrible options.
The story, obviously, has raised many questions.
She has been applauded by many people. The idea of death with dignity is popular and it allows physicians to prescribe medication that will provide a lethal dose to a person should that person choose to take it or not. People have the ability to have a final day with loved ones, take the dose, and die effortlessly before the final months of agony. The argument, of course, is that we do this with beloved pets and it makes sense that we be able to provide this option for people we love.
On the other hand others will say that we cannot take on the role of playing God. We can only die, the argument says, when it is our time and God is the only one who can choose that time.
I, personally, wrestle with these ‘life’ issues. I wrestle with abortion. I wrestle with death with dignity. I think capital punishment is appalling. I was educated in a Roman Catholic seminary in the 1970’s and that was the era of the ‘seamless garment’ view of life issues. In that theory of Christian ethics, abortion, death with dignity, and capital punishment were all wrong. Many so-called ‘pro-life’ people now are against abortion and death with dignity, but are fine with capital punishment. I cannot call people pro-life unless they embrace the seamless garment premise. Being for some and not others and calling one’s self pro-life strikes me as hypocritical.
If someone says, to me, “Hey, but look at your, you WRESTLE with two of the issues but come down clearly on one, doesn’t that make YOU a hypocrite too?” The answer is yes, of course. I wrestle and no matter how hard I try, I’m stuck.
There is one thing that really disturbs me, however. Recently, wrote a column that ultimately condemned Brittany Maynard and her choice. Ms. Tada not only disagrees with Ms. Maynard, but says that God has been removed from the process and that Ms. Maynard is ultimately condemning herself to hell. Ms. Tada recently wrote:
“I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God. The journey Brittany — for that matter, all of us — will undertake on the other side of death is the most important venture on which we will ever embark… Unfortunately, three countries and five states have now determined that individuals can make these choices for themselves. This is what happens when God is removed: The moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel.”
My initial instinct is that Ms. Tada and I have a theological disagreement on the removal of God. I don’t believe God is ever really removed from situations. God is present. Period. How people listen to God is often different but to say God is removed is, to me, very presumptuous.
But worse than this, Ms. Tada seems to assert that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell.
Joni Eareckson Tada is a person I have to respect on many levels. She broke her neck in a horrible diving accident when she was young and has spent her life in a wheelchair with no use of her arms and legs. She is a survivor of breast cancer. Her concern about death with dignity is genuine and she is not speaking from the perspective of a person who has not made difficult choices in her own life. She is not talking from the perspective of a person who, herself, has not suffered. While I disagree with many of her theological perspectives, she’s a person I do respect and admire.
There is a line, however, that she crossed that she has no right to cross. She determined that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell. To avoid some suffering in this world, Ms. Tada believes that Ms. Maynard is assigning herself eternal suffering in the next. She sees herself as warning Ms. Maynard that this is something she ought not do. Her words, while harsh, are actually loving----but they are not words he has a right to use.
We people seem to have determined that we have a right to judge others and to state where people are heading when our lives in this world have come to an end. We seem to be missing a critical factor in our formula of judgment: God.
What strikes me is that when people like Brittany Maynard are forced with two horrible choices and makes one, God is present in her life. We may see God or we may not see God, but God is present.
We can debate anything we want but let’s take God’s judgment out of the equation. As for Brittany Maynard, my heart breaks. In my view of God, the first heart that broke was God’s heart and that when her journey in this world comes to an end, my faith is that her journey will continue with God.
And God, last I checked, doesn’t need our input as to who walks with God in Heaven.