I was diagnosed with what is typically a terminal cancer in November, 2009; the cancer is called, Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor (DSRCT) sarcoma. The survival rate when diagnosed with this cancer is dismal; it is a mere 10% (up to 5 years). There is no protocol or treatment for this cancer, and typically when it is found it has spread so rapidly through the body, that surgery is out of the question.
By God’s grace, and after enduring grueling chemotherapy (apparently the most difficult protocol to endure – they used a related cancer’s protocol, the Ewing’s sarcoma protocol to treat mine) I had resection surgery on May 6th, 2010, and then more cycles of chemo after that through June right up to July, I was declared cancer free in August 2010, and I have remained cancer free since then. I survived this cancer, through all of this treatment (which almost killed me), but only miraculously.
I am opening this post this way not to talk about what I went through any further, but to join in on a conversation that has already been started by Brittany Maynard, and Kara Tippetts, and now a respondent to Kara, Jessica Kelly. Brittany is suffering from a terminal brain tumor, she is 29 years old, just recently married, and was just getting started with life; but this brain tumor has brought things to a screeching halt! Brittany has decided to take her own life through utilizing the state of Oregon’s assisted suicide law (her and her husband moved to Oregon, recently, to allow for this possibility). Brittany plans on ending her life through assisted suicide, potentially on November 1st, 2014. Kara Tippetts, is a 38 year old woman who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her pastor husband, and four kids. She too is fighting with terminal cancer, but hers is terminal breast cancer. She wrote an open letter to Brittany challenging Brittany not to take her life through assisted suicide, but instead to let the natural (according to the terms of her cancer) order of things take their course, and allow the cancer itself to take Brittany’s life – this is what Kara plan’s on doing with her cancer (i.e. allow the cancer to take her life whenever that happens). Jessica Kelly, in her own right, is a mother, a Christian mother who just recently lost her young little boy to terminal brain cancer. Jessica has responded to Kara’s open letter to Brittany, and encouraged Brittany with the thought (contrary to Kara’s advice) that it is proper and right for Brittany, if she so chooses, to end her life through the means of assisted suicide.
Here is a sample of what Kara originally wrote to Brittany, encouraging her not to take her life through assisted suicide:
Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.
In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the [sic] such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths. (source)
Kara is obviously appealing to the wisdom of the cross, the cross of Jesus Christ where suffering, of the most heinous kind resulted in bringing eternal life and beauty out of ashes to the many. But Jessica responded to this, she disagrees with Kara; here is how Jessica responded as she reflects upon the death and suffering of her own little boy:
The suffering that led to his death was not beautiful. That is not to say that there were never tender moments, but the overall experience was not one of beauty. And I find our experience is completely consistent with my Christian faith. The Bible does not say that death is beautiful. Scripture describes Satan as one who holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14). It is Satan who comes to kill and destroy, Jesus is the giver of abundant life (John 10:10). The Bible does not associate death with God’s beauty. (source)
This represents an honest disagreement between two sisters in Christ, and both of them, Kara and Jessica have presented themselves, either to Brittany (i.e. Kara), or to Kara (i.e. Jessica), in the most gracious of ways. My intention is not to muddy this up, then, but to continue within this same theme of gracious conversation.
What is under consideration, really only has ethical import from a Christian perspective. If I were not a Christian, I would say assisted suicide, without a doubt, is the way to go. If I believed that this was it, and that my personal comfort was the ultimate that determined the way that I lived, and provided the value to what life means and is ultimately about, then I would choose assisted suicide; no questions! But this is not the reality. The reality is that Jesus Christ is alive, He is risen, and we live in world where his life and death, and resurrection has provided all of the value and purpose that we need. We know what God thinks about life, we understand who holds the power of life and death in his hands. We understand, as Christians that we are not our own, that we have been bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:18-19), and that our days are in His hands and not our own. It is knowing all of this, knowing the living Lord, that problematizes this situation; the situation of assisted suicide.
I believe Kara’s sentiment is right, and Jessica’s is wrong. We are not on a slippery slope when it comes to this end of life and death question, there is a difference between alleviating suffering through various medications, and life support systems, and deciding to finally take one’s own life (no matter how great the suffering). God controls the “natural” order of things, which includes the number of our days (Psalm 139); “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up” (I Samuel 2:6). His grace was sufficient enough for His own Son to endure death by the “natural order of things” (which was according to God’s gracious plan), and not to allow His life to be taken prematurely – remember in the Gospel of Luke when the people wanted to take Him and throw Him over a cliff and kill Him (that would have short circuited God’s plan for His Son, even if it would have been the gracious thing to do in light of the terminal suffering Jesus was going to suffer at the cross).
I cannot ultimately counsel Brittany Maynard on what to do on November 1st. I can encourage her not to take her life though (along with Kara). I can pray for her, that if she has not given her life to Christ that she would. I can pray that the Lord will give her wisdom. I can pray that the Lord would miraculously heal her body. And I can use myself as an example. I was diagnosed with a cancer, that is just as terminal as Brittany’s (DSRCT) – look it up (Wikipedia has a good description of it, actually). What if, in light of the dismal diagnosis that I had, what if I had decided to take my life before the suffering got too bad? I wouldn’t be sitting here almost 5 years later writing this letter and reflection of sorts for the world to see on the internet. If nothing else, this should be reason enough for Brittany to forego her apparent decision to commit suicide, and take her life. How do you know Brittany (if you read this) that you are going to die from your cancer? You do not know that, for sure. Look at me. But even more so, look to Jesus! I am praying for you dear sister!
Let me end this with the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism (The Lord’s Day):
Q. What is your only comfort
in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
And here is a video of Brittany Maynard: