The right to choose? Life or Dignity?

I just read my news feed on Facebook and happened on a poignant and touching post.  In it one cancer sufferer writes to another, this young woman has chosen to take her own life before her brain cancer robs her of all dignity and her suffering becomes unbearable This is the response from another terminally ill person imploring her not to take her own life.  She writes from a christian viewpoint.  it is a widely held point of view that suicide is ‘wrong” even sinful.  For centuries those who “chose” suicide were condemned to be buried on unconsecrated ground, their families shunned, it was a secret that was not even talked about in families.  I know a thing or two about secrets and most secrets do not bring wholeness, they bring shame, separation and indeed desperation. I also have experienced suicide  I have experienced death as well, in many different forms.  I have never journeyed in a close way someone with a terminal illness, something that is profoundly difficult.

I am opposed to suicide in principle but….. like all things in this world it is never black and white.  From a christian point of view there are few examples of people who commit suicide,

  • Abimelech (Judges 9:54) – to avoid the shame of death at the hands of a woman
  • Samson (Judges 16:28-31) – to defeat those who imprisoned him
  • Saul (1Samuel 31:1-4) – to avoid the dishonor of being captured after he was wounded
  • Saul’s armor-bearer (1Samuel 31:5) – to atone for killing a king
  • Ahitophel (2Samuel 17:23) – in despair over deception being perpetrated around him
  • Zimri (1Kings 16:18) – to avoid capture by the army
  • And of of course Judas Iscariot.

Some of these people are lionized and lauded not only for their lives but heir deaths also, most notably Samson.  History is studded with people whom have made decisions that they know will cost them their lives, often for heroic reasons, we call them Martyrs, Saints, Heroes, people of faith and strength.  So what I conclude from that is that people can take their own life by an act of will if it means that others suffering will be alleviated or prevented.  Yet the “Church” sees suicide  (or euthanasia) as evil, a sin, a lack of faith.  I wonder if this is based on the belief that death is the ultimate thing to be avoided?  Where does that sit with “death where is your sting”? There are people in the church who every day make decisions that will inevitably shorten their life span!  They smoke, drink, eat too much, do dangerous things, we don’t (and shouldn’t judge them).  We say that God chooses our time to go in his world.  Tell that to someone who has lost a child, friend, partner because of an act of violence, a vehicle crash or any other unexpected thing. duck and run at the same time!

So back to suicide, This will always be with us, like everything else in this world, it is broken and imperfect.  Cancer is a terrible thing and from what I have heard and seen to sit and watch someone die well the experience is different for everyone.  Everyday Doctors ponder the injunction of at first do no harm, this is not the case in this matter, doing harm is not about administering a pill that will produce death, it can be allowing people to continue to live in a state that has nothing in it for anyone.  Doing no harm is about switching off life support for people who will never recover, or if they did will never function in a way that is for whatever acceptable. Doing no harm is choosing between giving the elderly antibiotics or surgery or giving hem painkillers for their condition.

I hear the screeching now, slippery slope you say, where will it end?  I agree with this in many ways however our world is full of slippery slopes.  Every purchase we make is potentially a slippery slope, buy local, or imported, label or house brand, new TV or the old one will do.  It’s not the same you say, I say it’s a slippery slope.

I admire the love and care that it takes for one terminally ill person to write to another, but please don’t couch it in terms of right or wrong, please don’t link it to Christianity, and please don’t talk about selfishness.  Yes it is a road you are walking and have experience of but your road is your road, it is a road less traveled and it is a road worth talking about, the conversation is worth having.

The immutable in my life is Faith, Hope and Charity (Love) of these Love is the greatest but they re interlinked and never isolated, without faith there is no hope, with out hope there is no love, and without love there can not be faith or hope.

Every time I am tempted to judge I pray that I may be reminded of faith, hope and love,I pray that you are too.

In Faith, Love and Hope,



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