L I F E T H O U G H T S
From Jim and Barb Geistfeld, Trinity's Life Team Members
What is True Compassion?
A Lutheran Response to Brittany Maynard by Seamus T. Welton
“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And these words of eternal life are the words of God. As Christians, and as Lutherans: to whom else can we go, but God?
Brittany Maynard was 28 years old when she had a series of dreadful headaches that left her semi-incapacitated. She was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had both a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of her temporal lobe. Four months later, she learned that her tumor had come back even more aggressively and the only treatment the doctors could prescribe was full brain radiation therapy. She and her family came to the conclusion that nothing could save her life, and that the only thing that had any chance of doing so would ruin her last days on earth. She decided against hospice care because even with palliative medication she could develop morphine resistant pain, as well as suffering personality loss, or motor and verbal loss of any kind. Since she did not like the options available to her, she decided to move to Oregon to be able to kill herself, under Oregon’s Death with Dignity laws. She feared the pain would be too much, and so she decided to take her own life. She believed that death could give her dignity.
Assisted suicide aims to avoid natural death, where body systems fail due to age or sickness. Brittany was given a prescription for a lethal dose of medication, which makes this doctor a part of her suicide, and guilty, alongside any other participants, as a helper. How should we, as Lutherans, approach her death? What is it? Does it come from the eternal words of God?
Now we will apply what God has said to obtain a proper Lutheran response to Brittany’s story. Let us study the words of life we have been given in the Bible. In Exodus in the fifth commandant says, “’You shall not murder,’” which is as Martin Luther explains, “[that] we must not kill either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding or abetting.” This statement goes to show how any assistance of a suicidal person is a sin. In Deuteronomy, God speaks about his power: “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’” In this passage, God firmly declares that he, and he alone, is in control of life and death. In the Psalms we find: “My times are in Your hand,” here again, the psalmist states that God controls when we live and die. All of these passages show that human attempts to control life and death are ultimately sinful, as they are an attempt to thwart the power of God. Therefore, both committing suicide in such a manner and assisting are against the laws of God, but if this is so, what shall we do?
God reveals that he understands our suffering by sending his son to die among us. Compassion is defined as “suffering alongside”, and he suffered as few can understand. As it says in Romans: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living,” And through this suffering, this undignified suffering, what has he done? “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.” He has told us that we are his, in life, and in death: we are his. And if we die in him, because we are his, this world is not the end. We therefore should glorify God in our suffering, by trusting in his steadfast love. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
This then, is our Lutheran answer, that we will trust God’s timing, neither trying to escape death nor hasten it, but rather preserving our life to use it in God’s glory. We will not aid, through means or information, the taking of a human life. We will strive to be compassionate to those in pain, and work to promote compassionate resources for those at the end of life, such as hospice care.
For more information on this or other Life issues, please call Barb Geistfeld, Trinity Life Team Leader 830-935-3415