Death has ripped off a winning streak in March not seen since the days of Chairman Mao or Pol Pot. Death just may prove to be the growth industry to lead us out of America's recession. The Grim Reaper's schedule is so busy that he is adding extra staff daily. Frankly, I do not feel so good myself.
Death has been hosting ticker-tape victory parades from sea to shining sea with its impressive wins this week in Washington state, Washington, D.C., and in Georgia. Washington's new assisted suicide law took effect on Thursday, helping the state to follow Oregon in legalizing the encouragement of its citizens to check out. Patients immediately lined up to ask their “care-givers” to assist them in ending their own lives. Next came the announcement from the Obama administration in Washington, D.C., that it soon would lift a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, thereby funding the creation of human life merely for its destruction.
However, death saved its largest cache of celebratory champagne for Georgia. The Final Exit Network (FEN) may well have found its defining moment in the Peach State this week when four of its members were arrested on charges of assisting John Celmer in ending his own life by breathing helium last June. Celmer was not terminally ill but had been physically disfigured by surgery. In suffering from worries about how his appearance would be received socially, Celmer had become severely depressed. The Network represents a steadily growing group of activists whose motto should be, “A friend in need is a friend in dead.” Members of the FEN desire to extend the right to die beyond people who are terminally ill to include those who simply believe their quality of life is no longer worth living.
The FEN has staked out a position even Dr. Kevorkian finds uncomfortable. In doing so, the FEN makes its members available to individuals who seek coaching, advice, and assistance in ending their lives for whatever the reason. In fact, Lawrence Egbert, one of those arrested in Georgia this week, says he has rarely if ever refused the Network's assistance to any applicants seeking to die. As a result, FEN members appear to have assisted at least two hundred people in killing themselves over the past five years. I sure hope none of these folks are near me in my darker moments. Rather than lending a hand of encouragement, they seem to prefer lending a pillow of death.
Dr. Kevorkian and his devotees seek to make assisting in the death of the terminally ill both legal and universally accepted. The right to die-rs rally around the idea of “death with dignity” for those who have been medically diagnosed as being within the final six months of their lives. The FEN merely wants to go one step beyond that by extending that opportunity to anyone who no longer believes his/her life has the quality desired. They defend the right to “self-deliverance.” Remarkably, doing so makes the “right to die” movement appear moderate. And that may be the FEN's point. When you make a radical position of death appear moderate, you make it palatable to the masses.
Sadly, as cleverly named as they are, both of these positions represent a malformed view of human existence. The “death with dignity” and the “self-deliverance” movements fail to see any real meaning in human life. In their views, life is not so much a gift as a right. As a right, one's life has little or no meaning other than what one makes of it. Life is ours to make or to take. To own or to discard. To enjoy or to end. This position finds its roots in a nihilistic perspective where human life ultimately has no significance but rather is something we own while we are here and can choose to embrace, value, discard, or abuse.
Where life has no meaning or purpose, death, and murderous death in particular, finds fertile soil. It becomes easy to do horrific things to one another when life has no meaning or value. Nihilistic perspectives, emphasizing an absence of any absolute values, easily lead to the life-less policies of totalitarian regimes like those who led the 20th century in the greatest genocidal death marches of human history. Think Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge. “Your life has no value unless the Leader says it does.” All told, more than a hundred million lives were destroyed in less than a century because, in the mind of the leader, those lives had no real value. They could be embraced or discarded at will. Nietzsche would be proud.
However, people of faith understand that life belongs to God. Each human is made in the image of God. As such, each life has intrinsic value, and dignity. Each life has a purpose beyond itself. Since life belongs to God, human life is not ours to make, nor is it ours to take.
In the face of suffering, Christians sense that suffering can and often does bring good in the lives either of those who are suffering or of those around them. While such meaning and value cannot always be discerned by the human eye, Christians face suffering and death with hope and purpose rather than with despair and escape. After all, Christians seek to be Easter people, people of the Resurrection. People of hope. People who see meaning in life, death, and beyond.
Finally, people of faith offer compassion and mercy to the suffering and the dying rather than an extra hand in accelerating death. These assisted suicide measures easily exploit depressed or vulnerable people who no longer are able to see a quality of life in their present state and/or worry they have become a burden on their families. By offering hope and encouragement, believers embrace the dignity of the gift of life which God has given. Life is something to be cherished and embraced, to be lived with a higher purpose. It is more than a state of mere temporal being to be cast off at will.
So, the Grim Reaper rides in the convertible at his own victory parade and proudly waves to the adoring throngs who believe that he provides a solution, albeit the final one. By embracing no intrinsic value or ultimate meaning in their own lives, Americans look to life and death as yet another “right.” Our lives are all better when we instead see life as a gift.