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Brittany Lauren Maynard was an American woman with terminal brain cancer who decided that she would end her own life "when the time seemed right."

Brittany Maynard and the Death With Dignity Dilemma

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By Eric Blauer

Brittany Maynard and the issue of assisted suicide have been front burner news and now that she has ended her life the debates are getting more intense. There are arguments going on in our country about the sinfulness of suicide, the validity of Death with Dignity, the eternal consequences of such acts and the cultural impact of supporting such laws. These are very delicate, but important matters because the dignity of life and the character of God are often at stake in these debates.

 

Terminal brain cancer is a brutal hell. I don’t believe in a God who takes pleasure in such manifestation of horrid suffering. Jesus healed people everywhere he went, he showed us that he hates sickness and disease by working to end suffering, not perpetuate it.

 

I don’t believe someone is saved by perfect choices, especially when facing terminal issues. A soldier is choosing to face certain death in many moments of war. I don’t see that as suicide. I don’t see DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) an act of suicide either. I believe that if mercy, love and grace are needed in the eternal, they will triumph over judgments made in the most fragile and desperate moments of one’s life. Laying a burden of guilt and condemnation on a grieving family by adding theological pronouncements of people’s eternal destinies is a terrible expression of care and concern. God doesn’t get glory by adding to hell to hell.

 

I think we are hurting more than helping when we try to speak about the mysteries of death and eternity in the most raw and fragile moments of suffering. Pontificating doctrine and crusading  into people’s broken souls with heavy-handed moralizing is a sure way to drive people away from the God. I think it’s vicious to tell someone who is contemplating the end of life through a horrific consuming beast like brain cancer, that their hell is nothing compared to what God has waiting for them once they close their eyes and enter eternity!

 

I believe Hell is real, but choose to speak of it as humbly as the Apostle’s Creed does:
“From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

 

The brevity given to such a matter is an expression of belief in the goodness and triumph of God more than the success of evil, suffering and the devil. It’s an act of humility to peer into the future and say less, than more. It’s not a betrayal of the seriousness of one’s eternal life to admit that we see through a glass darkly when trying to grasp the nature of everything involved in that final judgment. We are told to prepare people for eternity with God, through Christ, but the means to repentance is the kindness of God, not the terror.

 

Yes, it is loving to tell someone that their house is on fire and that if they don’t take the ladder hoisted up to the second story window, they will burn to death. But to then tell them that their father is the one who set the house on fire is confusing to say the least!
Pronouncing that Brittany Maynard is in hell after committing herself to the death that was happening, is an act of omnipotence that we cannot do. We should engage in apologetics against the view of a God of pre-determinism, fate and destiny. It’s especially needed in a culture that sees such presentations of God by Christians as more like a vengeful Zeus than the redemptive Jesus.

 

When people suffer they develop ways of processing and explaining pain. Some surrender everything to its “Gods will, fate, eternal purpose” etc. Some are crushed by the weight of unexplainable horror. Some find the Holy Spirt present in counsel and comfort and even healing sometimes.  Everyone has to find a path of understanding about evil, suffering and tragedy be it sacred or secular.

 

I choose Christ and the unexplained mystery of his life that showed what this world can be better now and what it will fully look like when he returns. Until then I’m stuck between the cross and resurrection struggling to cultivate the long dawning light that never seems to come as quickly or fully as I long for it to arrive. Until then I stand with all who are broken, confused, stumbling and failing to get it “all right” in a very confusing world. This world is full of beauty and horror, a fact that Jesus never denied, but he gave his life seeking to show another world is dawning. I believe in that light, it’s here, even though so many things threaten to extinguish it.

 

I trust in a God that knows what suffering and death tastes like. It’s a cup he himself wanted to turn away. If Jesus didn’t want to die, I’m sure he’s going to be most merciful to a young woman who was consumed by brain cancer.

 

Finally, I think it might be good to listen to Maynard and let her speak for herself too: If you haven’t watched, here is the link to her last video:

About Eric Blauer

I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.

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12 comments

  1. Eric, I have a ton of respect for your compassion to the suffering and service to the poor, in your neighborhood especially, and this article is a clear extension of that. Your testimony at the Coffee Talk especially was inspirational for me, and made me realize how much more I can do to see people’s humanity. The only thing I’m curious about is where the Resurrection of Jesus following his submission to the will of the Father–his profound and humiliating suffering and death on the Cross–falls in this discussion about suicide. The reason I ask is because Jesus, while He didn’t want to die that way, still didn’t seek out an alternative method of death and trusted the Father, so I wanted to know your thoughts.

    • Matthew,
      I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers to such a complex mystery and I want to be careful when fiddling about with so many people’s deepest wounds, hopes and fears. But at the core of my understanding of God’s character is the belief that the whole of my life is in His providence and that extends into the eternals. My life is a life of faith. I have faith that as God “brought Christ back from the dead”, so I will be brought back as well, whatever that fully means. My faith isn’t in my deserving of that resurrection but in His power and grace. I am not trusting in my ability to find my way to Him in death, but in His ability to bring me to himself. That process has been proven over and over in life and I place my faith in that same witness in my death.

      Colossians 2:12 “You were buried with Him beneath the waters of the ceremonial washing called baptism and then were raised up with Him by faith in the resurrection power of God, who brought Him back from the dead.”

      My submission to His will is my faith identification in Christ’s complete submission, not my poor reflection or attempts to do the same. I fail miserably to play out perfect obedience, but that is ok, because it’s not my performance that saves me, it was His, and I am now ‘in Him’. As He rose, so will I, it’s a promise that swallows up how I die, how I lived and how much I understood, all of which fall way below the glory of God.

      My point in reflecting on Jesus’s own struggle with death, is one of ridiculous comparison. IF Jesus contemplated taking a pass, is it any wonder that many will never rise to such sublime heights of obedience? All fall short in my observation.

      Then add the whole mental and physiological positions of someone in the throes of an organic brain deterioration and all the chemical imbalances of such a state of life and how does one ever expect a perfectly reasonable action out of someone at that place?

      I believe God will be merciful with the worst and best chapters of the book of my life. The last one in the story isn’t…the last one. Thank God.

      • Eric, that’s an excellent answer, thank you! I had a hard time reckoning with the suicide of a great friend from my undergraduate years at Carroll College recently–a counselor who, to me, appeared to be one of the most joy-filled people I knew there, but as it turns out was mired in a nasty battle with depression for much of his life. It’s so difficult to know how to deal with something like that, and the easy way out is to just call it wrong and leave it at that or call it right and leave it at that. But it was the priest who married my wife and I, the chaplain at Carroll, who had the best explanation and way to deal with a suicide like that one (paraphrasing) — Entrust their soul to the mercy of God, and pray for them and those affected by it. The hardest part about it is that it’s not warm and fuzzy and it doesn’t fill all the needed cracks, because death is still death. But it’s the trusting in the Lord, the “submission to His will” like you mentioned, that allows us to understand it.

        • Pain is a deep cauldron that sifts and sorts so much of our theology, or our grasp of it at least. It’s the flesh for our own experience of the Word. Hard understand why God chooses this method but he does.

          • I ran across this quote by St. Augustine the other day that I think speaks to it, “Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.”

          • I love Augie, he’s one of my patron saints if I am allowed one. There’s a side to this whole conversation that I didn’t delve into because I was really addressing the claim that some folks were making about her going to hell.

            I stand in opposition to the flip side of the Death With Dignity issue, as someone who stands for life in as many reasonable ways as possible. That is the issue of sanctification in suffering. I think the Catholics often stand head and shoulders above the crowd in championing the Dignity of Death.

            There is an obsession with demonizing the natural cycle of life.

            This side of the issue includes abortion, euthanasia, poor elder care, ageism and our youthfulness idolatry that fuels so much self-hate and self-harm in our culture.

            We are a culture that has secularized death and have very little ritual that reflects the idea of it’s sacredness. Not that I think watching a cancer victim puke fences is holy or that I celebrate watching a child internally hemorrhage as an act of faith. I don’t call that blessed, death is both an enemy and a doorway. It takes the wisdom of sages and saints to help us dance with it, fight it and see God in and through it. Walking one another through the teeth of it takes a community of pastorally sensitive care. Our culture sucks at leading us through these seasons and it often deceives us in whole subject too. That’s why I think the church is so important in these matters.

          • Sheesh, I just about starting fist pumping through that whole reply! That’s really good stuff, and I absolutely agree with you on all of it. It’s definitely true that the secularization of death brings some weird practices out of it when all the reverence for the body is removed.

            I listened to a podcast from these 2 Colorado priests the other day on cremation, and they mentioned the ashes scene at the ocean from the Big Lebowski, where all the ashes blow into the guy’s face — they said, “Any time we try to make something more sacred than what the Church actually gives us, it’s always a failure.”

            (Here’s that podcast, by the way) https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ashes-to-ashes/id412678859?i=321327928&mt=2

  2. I’m not Christian and I’ve been really surprised by some of the things I’ve seen people post on this topic in Jesus’ name. Some people have said some truly horrific things about Brittany and suicide in general. So I really appreciate this post and a further discussion on it. Thanks.

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