A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured. – Andrew Coyne
Much has been said about assisted suicide in the last few months. I don’t write from the perspective of one currently facing unwanted, imminent death, but as one who has suffered in other ways and battled seasons when I wanted to choose death. My multiple stints in psych wards weren’t gained apart from some level of belief that:
- My pain was senseless and unbearable
- I shouldn’t have to endure it
- I wouldn’t endure it any longer
It’s not difficult for me to grasp Brittany Maynard’s perspective on death with dignity. A part of myself could agree–if all that mattered were rights. And if it were really possible to separate suicide into categories of acceptable and unacceptable based on circumstances. But ultimately death with dignity’s mindset can be distilled to the same mindset behind suicide at any point in time for any person:
- I have the right to decide when I will die
- I have the right to avoid something which would cause me and/or my loved ones senseless pain
But do we?
If I were to be candid, I wish we did. More than once, in the heat of pain which pushed me to the point of irrational thinking, I reasoned ending things before they grew worse was best for everyone. It was the selfless thing to do. I really wish it was.
A selfish wish on my part. But understandable, right? Because staying alive is often pure agony. How could we not have the right to use any and all measures available to end pain?
But what if the focus moves from our so-called rights to what bravery would do? Courage says that even if I know the day I will die and that it will be immensely painful, I don’t shorten my life by one breath. Whether you are 54, 29, or a newborn (thinking of my niece, Ella Nyquist).
I’m exploring these questions right now and can’t always hold tight to what I’m writing–even tonight. Sometimes courage isn’t appetizing enough to merit the sacrifices its pursuit demands. Sometimes I can’t think straight enough to know what I believe about it all. That’s when absolute truth must win the day. And today I believe there are at least two reasons to always, unequivocally reject suicide.
1. Bravery demands it. An interesting paradox: I’ve longed for death by my own hand, but when someone else held a gun to my head and I’ve been tailed in a filthy alley, my will to live held strong. We don’t really want death; we want a life free from unbearable pain–for ourselves and those we love.
Unfortunately, that’s not a wish within our power to grant. Our part is bravery. Whether we feel brave or not, no matter how much we long for relief and how angry we are that our loved ones have to suffer with us, the moment we pretend suicide is an acceptable option, we lose. This torment, this seemingly mind-rotting, senseless torture is where our souls are shaped. No matter how much we want to cry foul, this is where we stand.
2. We don’t know what we lose by cutting life short. My youngest brother and his wife chose not to end their daughter Ella’s life when they learned it would most likely be very brief–despite that decision meaning exponentially more grief and pain. They now watch her grow, feel her kick, and simultaneously prepare for her birth and her burial.
I don’t pretend to know what my sister-in-law suffers, and I honor and respect her for the courage to cherish Ella’s life. Because she and my brother chose life for Ella at great personal cost, I’ve had the joy of feeling my niece’s tiny kicks, hearing her heartbeat, seeing her ultrasound pictures. She is as much a part of our family as her older brother and his cousins. My son and I pray she will know she is loved.
Do we have the right to decide how long we will live? What beauty could possibly justify the pain of life destined to end in premature death? Why prolong the agony?
Perhaps our focus should not be on what we think we can do (end our life, end our suffering) but on what we as humans were meant to do. I believe we were created and filled with a desire to fight for life. Our instinct is to preserve life and any aberrations from that path will lead to pain more profound than we are running from. Because all life–from the womb until a natural death–is sacred.