Like most of us, I’ve read about Brittany Maynard and her choice to end her life due to cancer, sparking an intense debate on the ethics of physician assisted suicide. I do not wish to condemn Miss Maynard for her choice though it does deeply sadden me that she chose to end her life. Anyone in her position deserves only compassion. I cannot imagine being told at 29 that my life was about to come to a slow and painful end. I understand completely the wish to avoid that pain, to have “death with dignity” as they say. However, I do wish to comment on death itself, to provoke thought about what it means that we all must die and how that meaning should affect the manner of our dying.
You see, I do not think it is possible to have death with dignity because death is not dignified. Death is humiliating. It is painful, emotionally if not physically. It forces us to face the truth that we would all rather choose to ignore, that we are finite. We are fleeting. We all know that we must die and yet we all sense there is something wrong with the fact that we must die. Something deep in our souls tells us that it should not be this way and for good reason. It shouldn’t.
A world with death is not the world that God originally intended. Death came as a result of the fall of Adam. Man chose to sin and rebel against God and now, we are all born into that heritage of death. “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).” In a fallen world, death reminds us of our crimes against a holy God and the just punishment for those crimes. There is no dignity in that. Only shame. Only sorrow. This judgment, we none of us can escape.
Except for one man. Only one man, Jesus Christ, did not deserve death and only one man, Jesus Christ, could overcome it. And He did. He died a shameful, completely undignified death. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross and scorned its shame (Hebrews 12:2). Why? So that we who are dying, might die, not necessarily with dignity, but with hope. So that we who must face the reality of death in all its agony, shame, and humiliation might endure it because there is now joy set before us where once there was none.
And so our dying can be transformed from defeat to victory, from misery to beauty. We can now choose to embrace dying, every awful second because doing so can tell a lost and dying world that death does not have to have the final word. This is what I wish Brittany Maynard and all of us knew, that our suffering does not have to be meaningless or worthless. That instead of championing death with dignity, an illusion, we can champion death with hope, an anchor for our souls. For this hope we have: that we who believe in the One who conquered death shall not be conquered by death. That like Him, after the harrowing, undignified suffering of our bodies and souls, we shall see the light of life and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11).
“‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).”