Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brittany Maynard and the Myth of Dignified Suicide

Pictured: courage, dignity, and death that didn't serve a politically correct agenda
If you're alive and have spent any time on the Internet in the past few weeks, chances are you've heard the heartbreaking story of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer who has decided to kill herself rather than suffer the effects of the disease. Like most of you, I read her story and was saddened by her plight, but I got stuck on one part of her interview:
“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die,” Maynard told “I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there’s not. … Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”
And suddenly, I found her story more exasperating than empathy-inducing. What, exactly, is dignified about giving up?

A big problem I have with modern culture (and I’ve written about my distaste before) is that it has an unnatural aversion to suffering. Since suffering isn’t pretty or comfortable, we, as a pleasure-obsessed culture, run from it. Don't get me wrong, yes, suffering sucks, but it's a natural feature of being human, not an abomination to be avoided. In her quote above, Brittany juxtaposes dying from cancer with dignified suicide, as though the pain of her illness made dignity impossible. Well, that simply isn't true. Pain does not preclude dignity; in fact, it often enables it, focuses it, draws it into sharper contrast. Dignity is better shown by suffering nobly and peacefully than by fearfully running from adversity. Courage is not the silent escape from pain, but the difficulty of standing through it. 

Look, I get being so afraid of pain and being a burden on people that you think that you would just be better off dead. I've been there, and it hurts. And I also understand the feeling of wanting some semblance of control back as a disease takes over your life. But suicide is not the way to gain that control. If anything, it's a loss of control, allowing disease and depression to be the master of your will.

Psalm 48:14 says, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” God is the only one who can guide us to death; we can't guide ourselves there. And God definitely understands pain, loneliness, and fear. But He suffered through the pain of His passion and death because He knew that it would bring redemption to His people. Naked, bloody, feeling not only the hatred of the crowd around Him but also the hatred of the millions of people who would reject His sacrifice, Christ died with more dignity than any quiet drug could give. 

When we give in to despair, we lose the ability to see the beauty around us. We lose our will, our strength, and yes, our dignity. Suicide is an act of loss! We can't see the people that love us, the loveliness of the world that surrounds us, the chances for laughter and growth. We don't see the ways that suffering strengthens and confirms us, and that's a crying shame. Yes, Brittany may be dying (and aren’t we all?), but that doesn’t mean that the rest of her life is meaningless. I pray that Brittany takes a second to look outside herself, to see that life, even life with a brain tumor, is still worth living.

As for the rest of us? Stop being so afraid of suffering. It has amazing power to cleanse our souls and make us better Christians and just better people. If you are stuck in the vicious cycle of depression, hold out. It might be hard, but keep clinging to the Cross, that tool of suffering that became the very altar of salvation. I’ll close with a quote from Saint Rose of Lima: "Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven."

~Tani (who is definitely getting tired of the melodramatic posts she's had to write lately — can't we have some cute fluffiness for once?)

Yes. Yes we can.


  1. I tend to disagree. Certainly, from a Christian perspective, suffering is noble (or can be) for a number of reasons. But even Christians largely seek to avoid suffering, and it is permitted for them to do so. For non-Christians it clearly is "an abomination to be avoided." And why shouldn't it be?

    1. Take a look-see at my original blog post, highlighted in "and I've written about my distaste before."
      Even for non-Christians, though, suffering can have a good outcome. That rather vapid song by singer Kelly Clarkson, "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" is a good example of that. Suffering might hurt, but you'll come out of it as stronger than before. And if it's a suffering that's going to kill you, well hey, you'll be dying as a strong and peaceful individual who lived life to the absolute fullest.