The Ethics of Life and Death
The death of 55-year-old fashion designer Kate Spade was reported as headline news above the fold in every major news outlet in America. A wife, mother and iconic American female entrepreneur, Kate Spade appeared to have it all. She was rich, famous, beautiful, and beloved. But looks can be deceiving. Kate Spade ended her own life.
Whatever extreme distress or sorrow she was facing, she emptied, through her final act, upon others who now suffer extreme distress and sorrow, guilt, anger and helplessness, despair. Her family, coworkers and friends now deal with private and public horrors only imaginable by others who have walked this side of suicide’s dark valley.
And yet, an ever-growing majority of Americans say they affirm the autonomous decision of the individual’s right to die. According to research done as recently as early May 2018 by Gallup, there is steadily growing support in the United States for the decriminalization of assisted-suicide.
Polling indicates that
- 72% of Americans agree doctors should be able to help terminally ill patients die
- 65% express support when the question includes “commit suicide”
- 54% think doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable
And if the trends in Europe are any indication, the physician-assisted suicide of those who are terminally ill will extend to those who are aged but not terminally ill and those who are not physically ill but suffer unwanted psychological pain. The other direction the moral wave moves is from those who decide for themselves to those who can no longer decide for themselves and therefore, others make the determination to actively euthanize them.
The story of the elderly Australian who travelled to Switzerland to die in the manner and at the time of his own choosing was advertised in advance and celebrated by the same press which now treats Kate Spade’s termination of her own life in the manner and at the time of her own choosing as tragic. Why? If autonomy is now our highest value, why was it not her right to die when and how she chose in the same way that it was his right to do so? While imagining that boundaries and barriers could be established to keep right-to-die laws in some kind of moral check, much like abortion, the culture of death lobby will continue to press those boundaries ever further.
Belgium decriminalized euthanasia in 2002. Now, according to Belgium law, the qualification is the self-determination of unbearable physical or psychological suffering. As you can imagine, that is open to wide interpretation. All one need do is find a doctor willing to assist. France is now considering following Belgium’s lead.
Euthanasia is also the arguable next step for Ireland after a majority vote to remove right-to-life protections and allow for abortion on demand nationwide up to 12 weeks. Again, abortion activists will seek to remove the 12-week barrier in much the same way that right-to-die advocates see no reason a person should be aged or physically infirm to be allowed to lawfully end their own life.
So, when is it right to die? That question is also the title of the new book by Joni Eareckson Tada who joined me on Connecting Faith to talk about it.
From a Christian worldview the answer to the question is simple: it is right to die when the Lord, who is the giver of life, takes it from you. We are not self-made. In life and in death we belong to God. He has made us and we are His. Scripture attests to the reality that God conceived of us before we were born, knit us together in our mother’s wombs and when the number of the days written for us is complete, we will, by His sovereign will, breathe our last. We may rebuff the idea of God’s sovereignty over life and death but our resistance in no way changes the reality.
In the same way that I do not pretend to understand why my dad died in the fullness of his life at 43, I do not pretend to understand why some individuals live in hollowed out bodies without mental faculties for decades. But my failure to understand does not diminish God’s authority nor His divine right to superintend every life.
The ethics of life and death, suicide and abortion, need to be cultivated under the instruction of Scripture and in conversation with fellow believers who are ruthlessly committed to the Truth. The cultural altar of autonomy says that our lives and our bodies are our own. God’s Word reveals otherwise. Which counsel will you keep and which way will you follow?