“Maybe she’s just being punished because she never knew Jesus.”
“What if God had a plan for her life that will never happen because of her decision?”
“She’s missing out on the richness that can be experienced from suffering.”
These comments and others like it have appeared on my Facebook newsfeed regarding an article about a 29-year-old woman who is facing a terminal illness. Rather than wait for the inevitable suffering and decay from her prognosis, Brittany Maynard is electing to die on her own terms this November 1st.
A few years ago, I would have agreed with many of the above sentiments. I would have argued that ALL life, no matter how damaged or painful, is worth the struggle. I would have insisted that all suffering is character-forming. Sanctifying.
It’s not that I don’t still believe these things. But at that time I had yet to witness the agonizing death of a loved one from cancer. I had yet to experience The Struggle up way too close and far too personally.
I wonder how many people making those comments have personally dealt with the raw ugliness of cancer and its consequences. As much as I believe in the sanctity of life, I also believe in the validity of personal, educated choices. And Brittany’s choice to end her suffering on her own terms no longer strikes me as morally abhorrent.
But what about miracles? What about God’s plan?
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered flawed theology about suffering. I find it unbelievable that some Christians would suggest the upright and faithful followers are immune; that God will always step in and prevent it.
Have we forgotten what God allowed to happen to Jesus? If God allowed his own son to be tortured and crucified, it’s pretty obvious that God has a very permissive attitude about physical pain and suffering. We can’t know the reasons. But we know it’s allowed to happen.
Furthermore, I highly doubt God’s plans for our lives can be easily impeded by our choices. If he is truly all-powerful and omnipotent, he already knew what Brittany was going to do since before she was even potty-trained.
How do we define ‘quality of life,’ anyway?
This answer varies, depending on the person. I’m certainly not suggesting that people with disabilities, depression, or other ailments should just kill themselves to be spared more pain. When there are options, there is hope. It’s not illogical by any means for a woman with Brittany’s condition to make this decision about ending her life. Unlike depression, cancer cannot always be managed. A fatal prognosis changes everything.
If you have never personally watched someone you love cripple day by day from a terminal disease, you have no right to judge this woman. I watched cancer kill my father slowly over the course of 13 years, and then rapidly over a period of 11 days this summer.
There were some precious moments we had together as a family at his bedside, but overall, there was nothing beautiful about my father’s death. There was pain, there were shouts and whimpers we couldn’t understand, there was tossing and turning, eyes rolling back into his head, the stench of rotting body parts, and overall, helplessness. I found myself feeling guilty as a daughter for wishing that death would hurry up and take him already — not because I wanted my father to die, but because I wanted his suffering to be over.
Suffering wasn’t supposed to be God’s plan. There was no suffering in Eden, there is no suffering in heaven. There can sometimes be a dignity in suffering that is beautiful and inspiring, but this is not universal in all cases of suffering.
These end-of-life decisions are never easy. There may be no ‘right’ answers. If this ever happens to you, by all means, pray…and then make a decision using the reasoning God gave you.
Trust that Brittany made her choice with good judgment and input from her doctors and those closest to her, with wisdom and maturity.
Pray for Brittany and wish her well. But do not judge what you would or would not do unless, God forbid, you find yourself in her shoes.