Nancy had no choice but to watch her middle-aged husband slowly, painfully die. After years of failed treatments, his body finally succumbed to brain and spinal cord cancer. The process wasn’t pretty. Nancy recalls how Randy’s eyes began to bulge out of his head due to aggressive tumor growth. Eventually he could no longer close them. He became confined to a hospital bed after he lost control of his arms and legs. He hated wearing a diaper. Nancy recalls how he’d scream out in pain. All she could do was hold his hand and make him a promise. He asked her to help change the law.
I heard Randy’s story when I recently watched How to Die in Oregon, an award-winning documentary about legalized aid in dying. Nancy was one of the advocates profiled. She recalls in the film how Randy asked hospice workers to help him hasten his death when the time came. They told him no. The practice was illegal in Washington. So Randy said he wanted to move to Oregon where it was legal. They told him he wouldn’t live long enough to establish residency. Randy was out of options. He could not avoid the escalating pain and humiliation that preceded his certain death. But he wanted others to have that chance.
The issue of aid in dying has weighed heavily on my heart since Brittany Maynard shared her end-of-life story. Brittany’s journey ignited nation-wide interest on current options available under the law. As I’ve begun to more closely examine this topic, I’ve witnessed the passion of those striving to provide the power of choice, as well as their commitment to thoroughly address the multifaceted concerns that surround this issue.
Yet while I’m encouraged by the many productive, nuanced conversations surrounding the legalization of physician-assisted death, I’m disheartened that when it comes to many Christians, the discussion is abruptly shut-down. Why? Many cite a biblical obligation to oppose any and all forms of aid in dying.
But is this necessary? Does Scripture require Christians to deny folks like Randy the legal option of hastening their own imminent, horrific deaths? Many insist that the answer is yes, and Bibles are often opened to explain. Reasons are given, such as: