Dying with Dignity?
In the last few days, the photo of a twenty-nine-year-old woman has been cropping up on social media feeds and websites around the world. The smiling woman is described as “brave,” among other positive descriptions. She has now also been on most of the national television networks. Why? Because she is planning to commit suicide on November 1st.
Brittany Maynard was diagnosed with a brain tumor that is incurable and given just months to live. Without a doubt, we can all agree that this is a tragedy: a young, recently-married woman given the news that she will, without a doubt, die of cancer in the very near future. But what Christians cannot agree to is committing suicide, whether assisted by a doctor or not. God’s commandment is quite clear: “You Shall Not Murder” (Exodus 20:13). Suicide, the murder of oneself, is included in that command.
Brittany Maynard wants to “die with dignity.” But there is nothing dignified about suicide. There is nothing brave about suicide. Should she continue on her current path, she will be adding another tragedy to an already tragic situation. She will die in willful, unrepentant sin, condemning herself before God. That cannot be called dignified.
Truly Dying with Dignity
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
As I read about this woman’s plans, I was reminded immediately of a member in a congregation I served as pastor. This woman was also diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given only months to live. By the time she was diagnosed, the tumor was already causing problems with movement and coordination. And she knew exactly what was in store for her because a close relative had died of the same type of cancer. She knew she would lose coordination, her ability to speak and to see. And eventually, the cancer would kill her. But she chose to die with true dignity, allowing the disease to run its course, trusting that her doctors and family would help her with her pain and suffering. More importantly, she trusted that God would remain with her during her last days.
During one of the last weeks of her life, I visited her and her husband in the hospice. She was in a wheelchair and had lost most of her ability to speak. I had the privilege of bringing her and her husband the Lord’s Supper. It would turn out to be the last time she would be able to receive it. After our brief service, I stayed to visit and began talking with her husband. It became quite clear that this woman wanted to say something. She made some noises and her whole body tensed with the effort. We waited patiently, wondering if she was thirsty, hungry, or maybe tired. Suddenly, the words burst out very plainly: “I love Jesus!” And then she was calm again. She had just received the forgiveness of her sins in the Lord’s Supper. Her Savior came to her with his own body and blood, reassuring her that she was his child. And she wanted there to be no doubt that she believed this. She died just a few weeks later. During that time, she was able to say a few more things to her family. But, the last words I heard her say? “I love Jesus.”
And Jesus loved her. He loved her with a love so great that He was willing to lay down His life to save her, forgiving her sins and promising her eternal life. By God’s grace, she was brought to faith and clung to that faith to the very end. When the Lord decided it was time to call her home, her earthly life ended and her eternal life with her Savior began. She died with dignity and also gave a powerful witness to the Gospel in her departure.
For the next few weeks, I urge all Christians to pray for Brittany Maynard. Pray that she turns from her path, recognizing that her planned suicide is a sin. Pray that the Gospel—the Good News that Jesus lived a perfect life in her place and died to pay for all her sins—is heard by her and faith is created.