Death with Dignity

Oregon is a unique state, which may be an understatement given its major city’s motto is, “Keep Portland Weird.” But not all weirdness may be a good thing. If you’ve watched the news during the past couple weeks you’ve heard about Brittany Maynard who recently moved to my state.

The 29-year-old has been diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma multiforme, which is considered the most lethal and quickly moving brain cancers. She suffers from seizures and debilitating headaches and while her initial prognosis was for a couple of years, doctors have revised her condition, giving her only months to live.

The Californian decided to come to Oregon which has the so-called Death with Dignity Act, allowing for doctor-assisted suicide – a “treatment” she could not get in her home state. Brittany plans to take her lethal cocktail November 1, a couple of days after her husband’s birthday.

Obviously such a high-profile case – Brittany has made the cover of People Magazine – reignites the debate of the ethics of assisted suicide. But that’s not really the tact I want to take in this blog. I’m going to share why I think we’re all supposed to go through whatever it is we’re going through as part of God’s plan for us and others.

First and foremost, I certainly do not judge Brittany for her decision. Only she knows what she is going through, and only she knows about her relationship with God should she have one. It is her free-will decision, one I wouldn’t take from her. As Pope Francis said recently, “Who am I to judge?”

That said, I want to share why I think it’s important we all go through our end of life process no matter how painful and awful it might be.

For 20 years my mom was pretty much bedridden due to Multiple Sclerosis. The disease destroyed her body and eventually her mind. She lived a rather miserable existence, alone in a nursing home with few visitors. I can only imagine the drudgery on the day-in and day-out pain and suffering she endured. In the end, she died during an operation to repair a ruptured bowel, freed at last from what I can only describe as misery.

As a young boy I remember praying to God and asking the obvious question: “Why? What did my mom ever do to deserve this?” As I grew older the question really didn’t change much, and I just would shake my head at not understanding God’s ways of doing things. But as I became deeper in my faith God was merciful to me and revealed a truth to me that I never had thought of before.

Growing up in various foster homes and other dysfunction, I remember distinctly two things. First, I could handle whatever was happening to me, because my mother was going through worse things. Second, no matter how rough things were I would make something of myself so I could rescue my mother from that nursing home and take care of her myself.

What God showed me later in life was that without my mother going through what she went through I would not have fought as hard as I did to make it out of my own situation. God used my mother to motivate me – God used all things for good for those who love him.

Certainly it sucked for my mom to be imprisoned in a hospital bed. But I know that if given the option and knowing that it was the motivation behind my success my mom would choose that bed again.

Of course, mom never knew what her condition meant to me. In fact, I had not seen my mother in a couple of years before she died and the last time I saw her she didn’t recognize me. But today – perfected in heaven – she knows full well all those details and I am positive considered her suffering in this world nothing compared to the glory she now enjoys, including knowing her son was in a sense saved by her tragedy.

If you’re not seeing the point, let me be blunt: We simply do not know how our lives will affect other people. We don’t know what lessons we may be teaching, or how powerful our journey may be used by God for His good purpose.

I don’t know anyone who wants to go through what Brittany is facing right now – all of us would prefer to die peacefully in our beds as we sleep. Yet some of the most powerful truths God has shown me have been through the suffering and death of others.

I pray for Brittany, because I think she’s missing something in her quest to die on her own terms. I don’t think she knows the God I know who would come to her in her suffering and do amazing things for her and her husband even in the shadow of death. By choosing to end her life and end her own personal suffering – which is quite understandable – Brittany will lose out on being fully reliant on her God, which is the very place God tells us He wants us to be and where He does his most powerful work.

Nobody can really make decisions for another person in this type of situation. It is very personal and goes to the very heart of what you believe. As a Christian I believe God knew my name before I was born; knew everything about me; everything I would ever do in my life; and knows how my life will end – He knew all this before He created me and He created me anyway! This tells me that my God loves me and whatever my fate, it is His plan and I am in good hands.

Join me in praying for Brittany; pray the God intervenes in her life powerfully through the Holy Spirit to show her how much He loves her. Pray also for her husband who is about to lose his young wife and that he, too, will know the love and comfort of Christ during this most difficult time.

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2 comments

  1. Amen, Tom!
    ‘As a Christian I believe God knew my name before I was born; knew everything about me; everything I would ever do in my life; and knows how my life will end – He knew all this before He created me and He created me anyway! This tells me that my God loves me and whatever my fate, it is His plan and I am in good hands.’

  2. oregonlaw · · Reply

    Tom,

    Thank you for having the courage to handle this delicate topic. What you’ve shared about your Mom, makes me think about about what my Dad went through. It still tears me up inside to think about the injustice of what he went through, in terms of painful physical conditions most of his life, and life-sucking catastrophes caused by the evil acts of those around him. Yet, he persevered and protected me through all of that. I literally would not even be here alive if it weren’t for him. Setting aside my own thoughts about whether I was worth such sacrifice and perseverance, Dad probably saw pretty clearly the effect that he (and God) were hoping to have on my life. But not everyone is so lucky and blessed to know the ripple effects of their everyday actions. I commend you for raising this topic, with all of the difficult questions it spawns, and discusses it in such a thoughtful, inspired manner.

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