[This is a two-part post. Scroll down for “I Stand with Brittany Maynard,” which you’ll find highlighted in red, and please take the time to view the embedded video.]

 

Christians Flog the Dying

Unless you’ve been on a media fast for the past several weeks, you’ve heard of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year old woman who has opted to end her life through Medically Assisted Suicide rather than let terminal brain cancer dictate the way she enters death. To be honest, it’s the response of some Christians to Brittany’s decision that has offended me the most in the ongoing debate—believers who have used spiritual platitudes in defense of their condemnation and risked soiling God’s name in the process.
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Father Medeiros, undoubtedly with good intentions, published an open letter to Brittany several days ago, telling her that she is starring in a play God wrote for her and that her lines are “already written in the script you have received from God, the great Director.” Her cancer comes from him, he said. So does her unbearable suffering. The priest told Brittany that choosing to abbreviate her suffering “is certainly not on the script that you have received from God” and that the best thing she can do is “give glory to God” until her natural death.
Because that’s the way God rolls, right? He afflicts us with excruciating pain so we can give him glory. All suffering is from God. (You’ve heard those statements thrown around too casually.) He gives Brittany glioblastoma multiforme, he rips the limbs off solders in combat and sends children to be sold into the sex trade…and all so they can give him glory. Isn’t this the horrible, logical conclusion people might reach because of poorly articulated exhortations about life in a broken world and a God who redeems pain?
Redeems. Not inflicts. We’re not careful enough with that distinction.
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Semantics matter. Word choice is crucial. This priest’s poorly expressed compassion sends the message that God gave Brittany cancer and now expects her to blithely recite a pre-written script despite her anguish, trauma and pain because that’s the kind of God He is. As long as He’s glorified, Brittany’s cancer and agonizing death are okay.
I cringe and seethe at the borderline blasphemy.
Until we rein in our spiritual platitudes, we will continue to inadvertently state to the suffering and dying that God chose the horrors they’re enduring just for them. Custom-made torture from the Almighty that they mustn’t question or resent. Tell that to the limbless soldier, the child prostitute and the dying cancer patient. Oh wait—we’ve already done that to Brittany Maynard.
That’s not my God. My God didn’t give Brittany the disease that is snuffing the life out of her and ripping her away from her husband and parents. Sin did that to her. Sin broke our world and our bodies. I’ve seen too many of God’s people blasting the dying with demands and accusations while exhorting them to be thankful for the pain and stop complaining.
Whether the person suffering is a believer or not, such “encouragement” will do more to tarnish God’s image and distance the dying from him than to draw anyone nearer to his love, mercy, grace and salvation.
Semantics matter. All the time. And in the context of God’s role in suffering and death, they can have eternal repercussions.

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I stand with Brittany Maynard

I respect the decision she’s made.
And I believe in the sanctity of life.
I understand the slippery-slope concerns too. I really do. But having stared down the barrel of cancer a couple times, I also understand how it feels to visualize a long and agonizing end.
“Medically assisted suicide.” I wish the law allowing Brittany to end her life were titled differently. Suicide is too broad a term. “Medically Assisted Abbreviation of Suffering” would be more accurate terminology. Because, you see, the law allowing Brittany to choose a gentle, medicated death is not designed for just anyone looking for an easy out. Only those who are terminally ill are eligible for the controversial aid. Its purpose is to shorten an unbearable and inevitable dying process.
This isn’t about someone who doesn’t like being alive anymore and opts to end it. This isn’t about mental illness. This isn’t about lack of courage or a zest-for-life deficit.
This is about a fast-approaching, excruciating and protracted death-by-inoperable-tumor.
It’s about Brittany Maynard’s full understanding that her end will be traumatic, prolonged and unfathomably painful for those who walk through it with her.

Please take the time to watch the video below—a more recent and much more intimate and “human” statement than the over-produced first video you might have seen online.


Brittany’s use of Medically Assisted Abbreviation of Suffering has escalated into a vitriolic national debate. I’ve been dismayed by the commentators who have added insults and accusations to the horror Brittany and her family are already living.
Do I agree with what she’s chosen? That’s not the point of this post.
But do I consider it suicide? No. What Brittany is facing isn’t suicide. It’s homicide. Glioblastoma Multiforme is killing her.
Her death sentence has already been pronounced. GBM is a fierce and ruthless disease that kills in a horrific way. All medical options have been exhausted for Brittany. Her symptoms have already worsened to the point of debilitating seizures, temporary loss of speech and memory, and crippling pain.
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In my opinion, Brittany isn’t choosing death. Death has already chosen, found and broken her. What she is choosing is the amount of control she will give cancer over the remaining days of her beautiful, meaningful and love-filled life. Agree or disagree, she is choosing a law that does not allow just anyone who wants out to get out. It is a narrowly-worded Plan B that will allow her to determine the context of an inevitable and already-begun demise.
Brittany Maynard is choosing a less maiming end than the one her cancer is inflicting on her. It’s the same impulse that made POWs die at their own hands rather than endure the extended torture their captors planned for their execution. We hear those war stories and stand in awe of their courage. Not so with Brittany.
It’s a choice we make for our pets when the vet tells us their increasing suffering is terminal. We call it an act of compassion and mercy. Brittany has made the same decision for herself, but we call it selfish and weak.
Compassion
This case isn’t about a person not liking being ill. It isn’t about a 29-year old being too weak to power through. It isn’t about a family having too little faith to believe in healing. Brittany Maynard is dying. She dies a little more with every hour and every seizure and every trip to see beauty in the midst of unimaginable pain.
Agree or disagree, can we take a break from our righteous indignation and consider this awful situation from Brittany’s point of view?
Compassion and perspective. You’ll find they might change our semantics, if not our views.

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Comments

Comments(14)

  1. We were just discussing this in our house church tonight. We couldn’t see any difference between Brittany’s decision and that of countless others who have living wills that designate no extraordinary measures to be used in keeping them alive. Both decisions are made for the same basic reason. I stand with Brittany (and with you).

  2. Thank, Michele. I appreciate your perspective on this.

  3. I always enjoy reading your thoughts – and contemplating. As I read it, tv news reported she’s decided to postpone – interesting coincidence.

  4. Michele! THANK YOU. Both posts. Wow.

  5. Bravo Michele! Again, you pull no punches on a topic that needs to confront the Christian community, not resort to the usual glib, pandering statements that do not address the problems and their nuances. Life is sacred. God’s grace helps us negotiate our very difficult, individual journeys.

    • domanne

    • 8 years ago

    In this and many, many other situations, the believing community continues to use platitude upon platitude. We have based too much on what we have heard from others whom we trust or rely upon. We MUST stay in the Word ourselves and measure every “old” and “new” idea by what the Holy Spirit shows us in Holy Writ. And above all remember that the Apostle Paul said that “the goal of our instruction is LOVE from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Tim 1:5). This dear girl is going down a tough road and needs to have our support to hear from God herself … without feeling “pushed” or judged.

  6. I really enjoyed your blog and the fact that you gave words to some thoughts and feelings for me. I read Brittany’s blog and my biggest and saddest thought was that there was no mention of God. So instead of criticizing her situation (since we are not facing that ourselves we cannot judge until we walk in her shoes), let’s pray that in these final days that God WILL become a Person to her to bring her strength and comfort and eternal peace.

  7. Somehow, I’ve missed the debate on this, being in France, though I do follow U. S. news quite regularly and get religious news posts.
    I am shocked by the callous, simplistic remarks that you report have been directed toward Brittany. And I agree fully with you that they are totally out of line, and I would say un-Christian. I think fear drives people to find pat answers, until it happens to them.
    I agree 100% with you statement that sin is the cause of all of this. So many in France want to believe in a God who will not allow all this misery. But where does one draw the line? Most people would want God to stop other people’s acts of injustice, but are not willing to understand that this means God’s stopping all injustice, including their own. This would in effect reduce us all to robots. What is a love that makes it impossible for us to choose?
    This is one of those questions where my heart is on one side, and my theology may not exactly line up with my heart. I’ve not figured it out yet. Maybe I will have to some day. But in the meantime, I certainly have no condemnation for anyone in Brittany’s (rather) unusual position who makes that decision. I think your comments are right on, and you have courage to state them clearly.
    May God continue to give you His grace, which He is obviously doing.

  8. Very insightful and thought provoking!! Thank you for being willing to state this in such a challenging way, and to examine these tough issues. I know I am guilty of throwing the glib statements around and I appreciate you for bringing my thinking up to a higher level.

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have 2 of my own in response. Maybe I as a mom with Stage 4 cancer have a little different perspective since she does not yet have children. If I were in her shoes, I would be hoping for a miracle so that I could live for my children until the very last minute. I am fighting like crazy to live despite all that I have to go through to do so. My other thought was, oh please wait . I don’t want her to suffer but I don’t know her and what she believes. I know of people who have accepted the Lord on their death beds and I hate to think she lost or cut short that opportunity. I do understand the excruciating pain issue but those two things would give me pause.

  10. This is such a tough topic, Michele. Thanks for your challenging thoughts. In the end, though, if I believe in a God who has our days numbered, I struggle to believe that we have a right to end our life. Having said that, there are certainly many issues involving the beginning or ending of life that are very controversial for Christians- birth control, scheduled c-sections, refusing cancer treatments or life support….. I don’t feel that I have a right to criticize Brittany, but I do fear how okaying this could encourage people to end their lives and miss the good plans God has for them, even in suffering. I believe some who are also suffering have already written responses to Brittany.

  11. Dear Michele………I read your post and watched the video of Brittany. You might remember I lost my precious 25 year old daughter, Kate, to cancer. Lost is a terrible word as I know exactly where she is……in heaven with Jesus. So I write to you from this perspective of a mother with a broken heart.
    As I watched Brittany explain all that she is going through, my heart ached for her. My daughter, Kate, was only married 13 months with no children. I understand from a mother’s viewpoint that pain……and I emphasize “from a mother’s viewpoint”. My heart breaks for her mom to have to let go of her only child….I still have 2 children and grandchildren now. I do not know that pain of loss that takes all of that away. But I think of Kate everyday and miss her always…..there will always be a hole in our family here on earth.
    I remember sitting at Kate’s bedside, watching her slip away a little more everyday….in excruciating pain, asking for enough medicine to render her unconscious so that she no longer experienced the pain. She asked for that medicine on her 25th birthday. It was not sufficient to take her life….just to keep her out of pain. In those 5 days of her unconscious state, I read to her from Scripture about heaven. I sang to her, I touched her sweet soft skin, and I sat with her. On the 3rd day, Kate removed her mask, opened her eyes, said “it is well”, closed her eyes and was unconscious again. on the 4th day, she opened her eyes and focused on her precious husband. I lifted her arms so that she could feel the curls on the top of his head….she loved his curls. She slowly and softly said, “I love you”. Then she was unconscious again until the end came…..the end for here and the beginning of her eternity. As I heard someone say recently, my worst day on earth was Kate’s best day of her life. That is so true. Perspective……
    The reason I write these details is to give perspective. I would hope that Christians would reach out in love to Brittany and family. But there are not many who would know how to do it well. Sometimes, in our zeal to do or say the right thing as believers, we sound uncaring and unloving. What is said may be absolutely true but may be the wrong message delivered at the wrong time. I do believe in the sanctity of life. And I have been in the cancer world and have been at the bedside of very painful death……..I think that all cancer deaths are excruciatingly painful. Kate’s was so much that she had to die in the hospital being constantly monitored….I so wanted to bring her home using hospice like she wanted, but the pain was too great.
    So, what’s my point? We need a call to prayer for this family……and Christians who will show up with compassion for them. We need to pray for Brittany’s salvation and that of her family. And we need to keep loving them after this is all over so that they can see the love of Jesus first-hand.
    I cannot condone the action Brittany is taking…neither can I condone the soldier taking his life rather than be captured…not Biblically. Just because the situation is horrific does not mean it warrants us taking our life. But that is missing the point…what good does it do for us to demand that people behave in a Biblical manner only to go out into eternity without knowing Jesus? What good does it do for Brittany to escape the terrible excruciating pain of this life only to start an eternity without Jesus? I can still love her, even though I disagree with her ……and I can pray for Brittany and her family as they walk this terrible journey. But this is not the time to plaster my disagreement on the airwaves. This is the time to bring Brittany and her family before Jesus in prayer……just like the friends of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof to Jesus. I can pray that Jesus will reveal Himself to Brittany in her dreams. He is not limited to Christians being His spokesperson. And I pray that her family will experience His presence………the only One who can walk you through this. And I pray for truly loving Christians who can give comfort and help to this suffering family.
    Pray for Brittany and family.

  12. I wanted to share with you my experience as a nurse. I have been a nurse for years and more than a few times I was on shift and the patient who was GOING to die within hours/days was prescribed a lethal dose of morphine or some other medicine….and I gave it. Willingly I gave it. Knowing that said patient would pass away because of it. And I don’t regret it….not even a little bit. And here is the kicker….in the two states that I have worked in as a nurse, neither has the death with dignity act in place. My thought is that this happens ALL the time in the hospital world with no one the wiser. (From Michele: the nurse who wrote the above is also a cancer survivor.)

  13. I just learned of the Brittany saga today when I learned on BBC news that a lady in Oregon had committed suicide after a long legal and medical struggle. I’m sad. I’m sad she found a way to take her own life. I’m sad some US states allow this. I’m sad that so many of your commenters, and you, were essentially in agreement with her.
    I also read the long comment about Kate, a young lady who died of brain cancer a few years ago, an MK in fact(!), and I recognized the story, and I agree with her Mom, Kathy’s point of view. We had prayed many a time for Kate while the battle was going on. She loved Jesus so much! Her Mom and Dad are not bitter and continue to fully serve the Lord.
    I note that one of the commenters noted that this Brittany didn’t refer much to Jesus and God in her videos; her goal in life does not seem to have been to glorify God, but rather to lessen the pain. Post-Modern thinking, which most of the world has subscribed to now, is about me, about how I feel, about my choices, my rights, my dreams, and Brittany seems to fit in there. At least one of the recent comments also referred to the Bible as our source of knowing, and that we shouldn’t just get our philosophy from our own selves, but form a standard, a reference outside ourselves that doesn’t change: God himself. Again, Post-Modern thinking which has dominated us since the revolutions of the 60s, says God is not part of the picture unless he fits my ideas.
    I agree with the essence of the 1st part of your post, tho you are as quite caustic as usual. Sometimes sarcasm and strong rhetorical questions do have their place (yes, there’s quite a bit of that in the Bible even), but compassionate writing and decency is more called for in issues like this.
    Even Christians do need to understand the origin of suffering and learn from God what is happening in the midst of it. Can 1 Cor 12 not help here? I listened to a tape of Joni the other day where she was speaking at John Piper’s church. She’s now a lady going on 40 yrs of being fully paralyzed, who says, “I thank God that I suffer!” If I hadn’t ever had such a diving accident I would never have known or seen the grace of God.” Could Brittany say that? We didn’t hear it. We heard that a week ago she was trying to fulfill her personal bucket list and even went to the Grand Canyon some how.
    My Pastor friend Chris in Virginia has debilitating diabetes and more, and every time we’re home in the States he’s worse. But he knows his theology and Bible so well: every day lying in his bed while doing his therapy he recites all the Psalms, yes all 150! My Bible teacher friend in Florida, John weak with Parkinson’s so bad, so used around the world, continues to write Bible courses to be used for years to come.
    I don’t know Brittany. I don’t want to judge her. But what we have heard of her is not the same as the four cases I have cited of facing the temptations and sufferings head on and seeking God to be glorified in the midst of it. Try to encourage your friends and readers to see more of the grace of Jesus and “the almighty wise God,” please.

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