Who am I to question someone’s view of the cosmos or their spiritual and religious beliefs? If one believes, as I do – in a creator whose essence is love and compassion- then my own beliefs firmly support ‘death with dignity’ and ‘medically-assisted ending-of-life’. The Old Testament of the Christian Bible is a collection of 39 books about the history and religion of the Hebrew people. The Old Testament was written at different times between 1200 and 165 BC recording not only a strict legal code for ‘right living’ but also a long history of internal and external conflicts and war. Some of the books chronicle the lives and messages of men believed to be prophets of God. Both hope and fear was instilled in the believers through the prophets who proclaimed God’s message to the faithful and the wayward. Each book possesses a unique tone, style and message. Together through hundreds of characters and detailed events they represent a narrative about God’s relationship to humankind through a specific group of people, in a specific area of the world, during a specific period of human history.
About 400 years after the majority of the Old Testament was penned, a new Hebrew teacher came along – Jesus of Nazareth; a teacher who was proclaimed by some to be a new prophet and by others, the Son of God and Savior of humankind. Jesus’ life and his message of compassion and love are recorded in the Christian New Testament Gospels. Ironically, as the new religion took hold even Jesus’ message of love was spread by long periods of bloody violence as empires, religions and societies clashed.
Raised in a Christian tradition, I believe in a truly compassionate God, a God that would not condemn a person who ended his/her own life due to unbearable mental and/or physically suffering. The medical interventions available today could not even be conceived of when the sacred writings of the Jewish, Christian and Muslims were written centuries ago. Is it God's decision when a person's life ends? Maybe when a person has an accident or stroke or heart attack it is “God's will” to end their life. But now, we can rush in with artificial instruments and play God by bringing people back to life and you will be called ‘lucky’ that you are alive. Hopefully, if you are ‘lucky’, you will not be a vegetable or a quad or live a life that is undesirable and unwanted. If you are incapacitated or near death but not dead, man will play God again and will try and keep you alive for as long as they can.
In Oregon and the several other states with virtually identical Death with Dignity laws, we are considered by many to be compassionate and progressive. But how can we call ourselves compassionate when the law requires that the dying and suffering wait until two doctors agree you only have 6 months to live? At that time if you are mentally capable, you can apply for a long process to end your life compassionately if you make it that long – sadly, many don’t. In 100 years they will look back at these times and say the most popular form of torture was refusing to let a suffering human die a peaceful, dignified death when that was his/her wish.
If a third testament is written, I believe it will prohibit making people live (against their wishes) while they are dying. For now, I think that all who call themselves disciples of Jesus and support medically assisted ending-of-life should remember and take comfort in Romans 8:38- 39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”