Don’t Kill Yourself, Even if the New York Times Thinks You Should
She’d suffered with dementia for the last few years of her life. She didn’t know her kids at times. She worried about her babies, not realizing they were grown and married. She was scared and confused. Yet she died a peaceful death with family members present.
If she’d considered assisted suicide before she lost all memory, I would have been devastated. I would’ve been horrified to know my grandmother chose death.
But that’s the hotly debated topic for some families, especially those with terminal illnesses who live in areas where assisted suicide is legal.
What’s more, the idea of euthanasia is often presented as a compassionate, thoughtful option. It isn’t. It’s giving up.
“I carry the memory of Mr. Shields’s [intentional] death with me like prayer beads.” On Monday the New York Times published an article by Catherine Porter telling the stories of three people she followed until their deaths by euthanasia. Shield’s self-inflicted death, she said, “has become a mantra not only about dying well, but also about living well.”
Porter, the newspaper’s Toronto bureau chief, doesn’t call the event euthanasia. She never uses the word. She charmingly calls it a “planned death.” The parties held beforehand are called a “celebration of life” or a “living wake.”
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John Shields planned to die and held a party right before his death. The next day, Porter watched him die. She left the room crying. “I’ve thought about Mr. Shields’ death continually since then,” she wrote. “I hope everyone I love dies with such peace. … I wonder if I will have his courage to beckon death rather than fight its arrival. I am not sure.”
Other Reasons for Life
I’m glad my grandmother did not beckon death. She always said, “When it’s your time to go, you’ll go.” Not before. She believed, like the psalmist, that all of her days were ordained. “Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:15-16). Grandma’s life, to the very end, was in God’s hands — and she knew it.
Every life is precious and every stage of life is valuable in itself — even the very last stage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that human life is sacred because God created it and sustains it. “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
Taking one’s life, even during terminal illness, takes the control out of God’s hands and places it into our own. It says, “I know better, God, than you. I will end the life you gave me when I please.” Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” Our life is part of His plan. He gave it to us. He determines our end.
Taking one’s life, even during terminal illness, takes the control out of God’s hands and into our own. It says, “I know better, God, than you. I will end the life you gave me when I please.”
A Selfish Act
Shield’s family and friends grieved while he prepared to die in front of them. When he threw his “farewell” party, his wife, Robin, said, “Wow, you want to throw a party, but all I want to do is cry in the woods.” The next day as he lay dying, a few relatives and close friends openly grieved. Even Porter said she “burst from the room in tears.”
After his goodbye party, another man found that he was so overjoyed to see his children that he canceled his death. He changed his mind about having her interview him. He said his children were “too upset.”
Of course we should provide palliative care to the terminally ill and work to relieve their pain. But scheduling one’s own death and letting loved ones watch is a horrific experience to place on one’s family and friends.
Grandma’s death wasn’t dignified. It wasn’t scheduled or planned. And yet, to me, her death was beautiful. She’d lived out all of the years she’d been given. She was 94 years old. It was her time to go.
Porter gets it wrong. Life is too valuable and precious to throw away. Euthanasia isn’t a sign of strength or courage. It’s giving up.