One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen was called, “How to Die in Oregon,” which came out in 2011 and chronicled three people’s deaths – on film (two of which we heard audio but they did not film the actual act).
It was heart-rending, understandably. These were the last moments of life for people. They were surrounded by friends, and/or or family. They didn’t want to be a burden anymore. They didn’t want to suffer anymore.
I read this quote from the LA Times which furthers the point that death is often chosen not out of physical but mental pain. Here is the article (written by a M.D. who works with palliative care patients).
In the 1990s, proponents in Oregon campaigned to legalize physician-assisted suicide in cases of unrelievable physical suffering. Oregon Health Authority research, however, shows that more than 75% of those who took that option didn’t cite pain as a concern. Their issues were emotional or existential: feeling a burden to family, loss of autonomy or inability to do things they enjoy.
THAT is a problem in society, a problem in our families and a problem in ourselves. Our inability to face the hard things does not make the easy way good or right. It means we need more than what we’ve currently got to deal with the hard things.
Two out of the three people in the documentary said – after they had drank the Gatorade-mixed-with-little-white-pills – “It’s so easy,” as if in surprise. Their vision – and their life – faded. The loss of their life wasn’t any easier on those who loved them. Their friends and family still lost their mother/father/friend. But instead of their presence, there was just emptiness, there was just … absence. The story ended sooner, it didn’t end better.
We are inextricably linked to those who die. It is never impersonal.
Doctors and their patients are made of the same stuff, and if we’re legalizing some humans to kill other humans, we are ultimately making murder ok by calling it something else. And murder affects us. It changes our society. Just ask soldiers.
War is never a neutral act, wherever it takes place. In a hospital room or on a battle field, in an interrogation room or in the middle east, just because we can’t see the harm done doesn’t make it unseen, unfelt, undone.
Attempted suicide was once illegal. If you survived your suicide attempt, you’d get thrown in jail. The idea is – you don’t have the right to take anyone’s life, not even your own. There was an idea that your life belonged to the community, because you were a child/mother/sister/friend/coworker/neighbour/citizen. There was an idea that you belonged… here…because you were one of us, and we wanted you. Obviously, we came to realize that the mental anguish someone is going through who is willing to try to take their own life is EXACERBATED by prison. We realized that a person shouldn’t go to jail, instead, we should try to help them. Punishment sent a message that what they did was wrong, but rehabilitation sent a more powerful one: why it was wrong.
We – as a society – cannot sustain ourselves if our suffering turns us against each other rather than towards each other. Whether we’re killing ourselves, or getting someone to assist, we are hurting all those around us more than if we were to just keep on. Our lack, as a society, in our support for the elderly, the sick, and the dying – and for those that love and care for the elderly, the sick, and the dying, is not something that we can solve on our own.
There is something greater than compassion, which can be used as the motivation to kill “out of compassion.” Above compassion is love. Love is patient. Sitting, waiting, suffering-alongside. Love always breeds life, never death. Love is self-less, pours itself out for the other, at the ultimate cost.
Jesus knew selflessness. He gave himself to us, his death for our life.
And that life is not some merely physical life, but life with him. Not life happily ever after. Not life wealthy, and prosperous. He didn’t die so that we wouldn’t suffer. Instead our wealth would be in Him, our happiness would be in Him, and our suffering would be redeemed in Him. When this limited, pain-filled life, where death seems to be the end, leaves us sorrowful, in HIM we can see something different. We can see resurrection, in Him. In this life, in this world, we will have suffering, but take heart, he says, for I have overcome the world. Our God is here, with us, emmanuel, every. single. deeply-pain-filled moment, every glimmer of hope and every dashed one, he is greater than our deepest lows and loves us longer than we can live. He loves us and brings us through death to something more after it. You may not have what it takes to face death – your own, or the death of those you love – but he has faced death, and offers a hopeful word. He has defeated that darkness, that absence, with his eternal presence. He is with you, and he is with those you love, loving more than you can, and carrying us safely to where we need to go. Carrying us to that distant shore where all that is sad will become untrue.
Thanks be to God.