By now you’ve likely read an article or saw a news story about Brittany Maynard- a 29 year old US woman who has terminal brain cancer. Brittany has made a decision to end her life on November 1st through a doctor’s assisted death. (You can read her op-ed piece from CNN here.)
Since reading the story I’ve been thinking through what it means. Some people call Brittany courageous for her choice to “die with dignity” while others are calling this suicide. I met with some guys from church this afternoon and we discussed the story over lunch- discussing this story in light of our faith and the scriptures. I wanted to share some things that I’ve been thinking about the story.
In the article Brittany writes,
“I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”
This is, perhaps, where I have strong feelings about this. Because- who really gets to die on their own terms? My terms would be to die in my sleep after a very long and healthy life. But I don’t get to choose my terms. Neither did my high school friend who was killed by another motorist on the road earlier this year. Neither does the child caught in the cross-fire of gang violence. People die everyday of cancer and other illnesses, but not on their own terms. People are killed tragically because of the choices for others- but not on their own terms.
From a Biblical perspective, God has created us and has numbered our days.
“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14:5
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16
From my own personal belief, if God has created us for a determined amount of days- then my life has purpose during the days ordained for me. I am uncomfortable with the concept of dying on our own terms and taking death into my own hands rather than my Creator’s hand. I also believe there is great dignity in facing life (and death) with joy and vitality. Learning that we are dying does not mean that we have to stop living.
There has been another story in the news that contrasts with the story of Brittany Maynard- it’s the story of Baby Shane and his parents, Dan Haley and Jenna Gassew. After learning, during pregnancy, that Baby Shane had a rare condition called anencephaly where Shane would be born without parts of the his skull and brain. Shane’s life expectancy was a a few hours to a few days. Baby Shane’s parents made a decision to live life- even in the face of death by making a Bucket List of things to do together with Baby Shane. Again, facing our death does not mean we have to stop living.