Between the Ebola virus and Brittany Maynard, death and issues surrounding death have been in the news a lot lately. Brittany Maynard is the 29-year-old who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and rather than die a prolonged and painful death, has chosen instead to move to Oregon and die via assisted death. Her story and video have recently gone viral and are popping up in everyone's Facebook pages. Her assessment is carefully thought out, and she has become an advocate in her last days for the end-of-life choice foundation, Compassion and Choices.
In response, many Christian pastors have started posting Kara Tippett's letter written to Brittany, stating that assisted death is not the answer, and that suffering and death can be met with dignity and offer lessons that assisted death cannot, and that doctors who help with assisted dying are violating their Hippocratic oath to "first do no harm."
This is a complex issue that requires an equally complex response. I would agree that there is beauty to be found in both suffering and in death: a kind of beauty and embracing of life that one only finds when faced with the last breaths and days of someone we love who does not want to die. I believe that we learn lessons in sickness, in suffering, in dying, and in walking that journey with someone who is dying, but I also believe that it is easy for one person to judge another's capacity for suffering based on their own experiences and prejudices. As a friend of mine put it to me, "If God doesn't give me more than I can handle, then he must think I'm awesome."
More than that, though, is the reference to the doctor's imperative to "do no harm." Is sustaining life at endless physical, emotional, and financial cost really doing no harm? Is dying with half a million dollars worth of medical bills and expenses "doing no harm"? In a medical field more concerned with extending life than preserving the quality of life, we must qualify what we mean when we ask doctors to "do no harm."
Both Brittany and Kara write beautiful justifications for their positions on life (and death), and I admire both women -- Brittany for taking ownership of her life and the way she wants it to end, and Kara for fighting to be present with her family and to find ultimate meaning in her suffering. The world is indeed a brighter place with both of these brave women shining light on these important issues and our need to bring death into the conversation of our daily lives.