Editor’s note: This weekend, we learned that Brittany Maynard ended her life. The following article was written last week, prior to Brittany’s death. Please join me today in praying for the repose of Brittany’s soul and for the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. On October 26, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample issued a Pastoral Statement on Assisted Suicide. Please take time to read it and keep all those suffering and dying, and their loved ones, in your prayers. Lisa
It was a few weeks ago when I first learned of the case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, moved to Oregon with her husband in order to utilize the “death with dignity” option in ending her own life.
The news was so disturbing to me that I had trouble sleeping that night, and then tried to avoid the information all together. Cases like these are so hard to digest, and they tend to hit us at the core of our human emotion. Given the news that I only had months to live, and then would die painfully, I cannot imagine how I would react. Going through the entire grieving and acceptance process and still trying to savor the last days of my life with the ones I love? Considering all of this, I would say that from Brittany’s video, she is doing a stellar job of it.
Yet, lurking far beneath all of these human emotions are the ethical issues that we would rather not be convicted by. “Death-with-dignity,” as positive and merciful as it sounds, remains a rather nice way of saying “euthanasia.” Euthanasia, which is the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease, challenges that unavoidable question of “killing.” In fact, Brittany has begun advocating for increased end-of-life options nationwide.
According to many religious groups, Euthanasia is considered morally and ethically wrong and opposed to God. This angers many who are moved by the stories like Brittany’s, and consider the Church to be a stumbling block on the path of progressive liberties and an end to unnecessary suffering.
This is understandable. I mean who likes suffering? Who welcomes it with open arms? Who wants to die this way?
Yet, we are not animals. There is a great distinction. There can be absolutely no greater cause or purpose gained by the suffering of an animal, and therefore it is merciful to end its life when painfully coming to an end. For man however, there is “salvific meaning” in suffering.
Perhaps this sounds unfathomable, revelatory, or even a bit egotistical to you. I assure you that Christians are not gluttons for punishment, desiring persons to ecstatically hang on to each suffering moment of their life. In fact, the Catholic Church teaches that it is permissible to discontinue “over-zealous” medical procedures and approves the use of painkillers “to alleviate the suffering of the dying.”
Christians do however, seek more in suffering. If you open your New Testament, it is dripping with proclamations such as St. Paul’s “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”
Pope John Paul II helps us to unpack and understand the great “salvific meaning of suffering,” which St. Paul rejoices, in his Apostolic Letter; The Christian Meaning of Suffering. JPII links suffering to a mystical transcendence, in which man is destined to go beyond himself. I can personally attest to that mystery in my own life, in giving birth, which has often been hailed as a spiritual experience. The fact is that “Redemption was accomplished through the Cross of Christ, that is, through his suffering.” Christ conquered suffering by love. Through our own participation in suffering Christ brings us to the cross, overcomes our fears, and helps us to embrace faith.
Suffering is a mystery that is inseparable from the human experience. It must be used in “rebuilding goodness” through the recognition of divine mercy, the call to repentance, and strengthening of relationships with others and with God. Brittany herself speaks of this final desire to strengthen her relationships with those she loves and to take every opportunity to say the things she wants to say to them.
I can understand the desire for a terminally ill person and their loved ones to want to end their life without suffering. It is basic to the human condition that we avoid pain. Suffering is truly supernatural and its meaning can only be found in Christ.
Domine, quo Vadis?
When I think of avoiding suffering and death, I am reminded of the story of the death of St. Peter. Upon fleeing Rome and his imminent martyrdom, Peter meets Christ, who is walking toward the city. Peter asks him, “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?) To this Christ answers, “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi” (I am going to Rome to be crucified again.) This vision shows Peter that his martyrdom is part of God’s plan for him, and that Peter cannot run from it and force Christ again to take his place on the cross. St. Peter returned to the city, requesting to be crucified upside-down, finding himself unworthy of the same crucifixion as Christ.
Copyright 2014 Kimberly Cook