On Monday, November 3rd, 29 year old Brittany Maynard ended her own life by physician assisted suicide. In her final days and weeks she made a passionate plea for the cause of legalizing euthanasia. Her story is heart breaking. Seeing a beautiful young woman’s life cut short is truly a tragedy; sin’s horrible spawn, death, is indeed ugly. Brittany’s death is a microcosm of everyone’s experience of aging and the ultimate shut down of our bodies. Whatever the ailment may be, our bodies will ultimately fail us.
Brittany’s story is a harsh reminder of the broken world we occupy. As she spoke out, one of her statements really hit me: “I want to die on my own terms.” Her terms, not anyone else’s… not even God’s.
Brittany poignantly asked, “Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?”
While she asked this question rhetorically, there is an answer, and it is hard. From one perspective, no human could tell her she doesn’t have the right to end her life. But from another perspective, God not only has this right, but exercises it. In Psalm 139:16 David praises God for his numbering of our days. He says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Even days of sickness and suffering.
Brittany could not reconcile her suffering with the concept of a sovereign Creator. Euthanasia goes hand in hand with an atheistic, naturalistic world view. It makes sense: if we put dogs to sleep, why not humans? For the Christian the answer is clear: God gave us dominion over animals, but not over humanity. When God is not in the picture, there is no compelling moral basis for choosing life at its outset or conclusion. We will kill an unwanted life before it is born, and end our own when it suits us.
As we read in Ecclesiastes 3:2, there is “a time to be born, and a time to die.” The right to appoint our time of death belongs to our Creator, not to us.
When someone chooses suicide, in any form, they are saying to God, “You made a mistake. There is no purpose for my pain and suffering. I’m taking control. I will number my days.” This is no less than idolatry. It is the exaltation of self to the place of God. We want to number our days, rather than trust God to number them.
I think this is exactly why Jesus did so much physical healing in his ministry. He is the solution to brain cancer, autoimmune deficiancies, etc. because he is the answer for sin. Remember the scene in Capernaum where a paralytic’s friends lower him into a crowded house where Jesus was teaching? Jesus says to the crowd,
“Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:9-11). Jesus isn’t making little of the paralytic’s condition; the man has a bigger problem than paralysis, and he is about to do something about it.
I do not know Brittany’s pain. To my knowledge, I do not yet suffer from the disease that will end my life. I do know that phsyical suffering is temporary, and a reminder of our ultimate spiritual need. The key to enduring the unthinkable is to remember that its source is sin, and that God’s purposes go far beyond our suffering. To truly die with dignity is to die trusting God, not trying to replace him.