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Friday, October 9, 2015

How Shall We Then Die?

There are not too many pro-life articles that combine both a compelling conviction and a personal warmth. However, Joe Carter (click here for a very brief bio) recently wrote a short article for the Gospel Coalition that fits both criteria (click here for the article). There is a catch. This pro-life article was not dealing with the life of the unborn child; it was concerning how we should and should not die.

I should point out that Carter is not one of my favorite writers. At the Acton blog, he has acted as if conservative Christianity cannot be separated form conservative politics. In addition, he approaches subjects with an authoritarian viewpoint which should not surprise anyone considering his military experience. But besides all that, and the fact that I will eventually have to partially disagree with the point of his article, how he wrote about death and how we should and should not die is very worthwhile reading.

Carter uses the death of his mother to convey his reactions to the new assisted suicide laws in Oregon and California. He is against them and that's despite the fact that these bills only apply to those who are terminally ill. And he tells a very touching story of how he helped provide his mother with as much comfort as possible in her last days. This will bring back necessary but painful memories to those who watched their parents or in-laws pass away. I was with my father as he died of lung cancer in the hospital. I was on his one side and a saint of a nurse was holding his hand on the other. I was determined to stay with him in his final moments.

Just recently, the wife and I were helping her sister's family take care of the wife's mom while she was in home hospice. This particular situation more resembled the experience Carter went through with his mother. It is a very sad time to see parents or in-laws pass away like that. The loss of one's parents can leave a permanent hole in one's life. I know that seeing my father pass away did that to me.

However, the subject is about how we should and should not pass away. And Carter is against any medical assistance to end life. This is the classic pro-life view. His concern, besides for those legitimate candidates for whom assisted suicide laws are designed, is for others who might become collateral damage of these laws. If we allow for assisted suicide, are we then lessening the value of human life in society? And again, Carter uses his mother's end of life experience as a reason to resist all assisted suicide laws.

Now before witnessing the passing away of my mother in-law, I would be inclined to agree with him.  However, having watched what she had to go through, though she was spared the horrible pain other cancer patients have had to endure, I've changed my mind. It isn't that I object to Carter's caution about where assisted suicide laws could lead us. I fully understand his concerns. But we need to ask whether having a one-size-fits-all end of life law is best for everyone who is terminally ill and near the end. And that one-size-fits-all is the kind of position that the current pro-life approach takes here. For what this position forgets is the input from the person who is most affected by a terminally ill disease.

Of course we would need very strict guidelines in assisted suicide laws so that they apply only to those who are at the very end of their physical live. We need such strict guidelines lest some use assisted suicide laws and sentiments to devalue human life. But here, we need to ask ourselves this question: Which approach most honors human life? Is it the one-size-fits-all approach where we force people to live to the very end of what could be a very painful and miserable end of life scenario, or is it the approach that says that we will let those who are terminally ill and near the end of their life decide how and when they will pass away?

 



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