Being the anniversary month of Roe vs. Wade, January is a good month to look at issues of life. Most of the emphasis is on abortion, but we must consider the other end of life, too, when it occurs, and whose decision it is for that occurrence to take place.
While doing other research, I ran across the case of BBC reporter Gerry McClelland. After an illustrious career with the BBC, and racked with terminal cancer, she went to Switzerland and ended her life at Dignitas, the assisted suicide facility last month.
Evidently this was a cause célèbre in the UK, gauging from the press surrounding it. Given that her album is a good piece of 1960’s and 1970’s style soulwinning (a genre I’m all too familiar with) her end came as a profound shock. But–as the Québec born priest who gave the first sermon I heard after Roe vs. Wade predicted–euthanasia is the coming issue after abortion, so this is my take on the whole business.
There are three reasons why I object to assisted suicide, one theological and the other two a mixture of theological and practical.
The purely theological reason is the fact that all life is a gift from God; he grants it to us, thus he has the prerogative when it’s taken away. This applies to suicide in general. Christian societies have traditionally preached against suicide (as opposed to the pagan ones that preceded them, like Rome) although the “eternally secure” have muddied the waters on this one.
The second reason, more practical in scope, is that sooner or later the “right to die” will morph into the “obligation to die.” Secularists guffaw at this because they can’t see the modern state doing such as thing, but as we see our welfare states careen towards financial-demographic bankruptcy, the pressure for that morphing to take place will only increase. End of life care is expensive; dispensing with it would do wonders for budgets but have deleterious effects on people.
The third reason is that behind much of the push for “death with dignity” is the idea that our life is only what we can do. Involved with nursing home ministry, it’s common to hear the sentiment that “I can’t do the things I used to.” Frustrating as that is, the next step is the idea that “If you can’t do things, then life should be ended.” If we affirm that our lives have the extrinsic worth that God has invested in them, then what’s ultimately important isn’t what we do but what we are, a point I made in a Palm Beachy way in A State of Being.
And the whole concept of “death with dignity” brings up something else. In the trashy, voyeuristic, “reality show” culture we live in, the trick isn’t to die with dignity, but to live with it. Sometimes I think that the reason people are so obsessed with “death with dignity” is that it’s the only time these days they can really aspire to have any. If that’s the case, our culture is much further gone than many of us suspect.
Assisted suicide, attractive as it sounds in the hard cases, is something whose popularisation will bite us harder in many ways than we anticipate. My wife and I better be blessed ministering to the elderly we have before us; they could vanish in a budget cut.
Update (7 March 2013)
This blog past has had a stranger history than most, and given the comments below it deserves an explanation.
In putting this together, I conflated two people: the BBC reporter mentioned above and another Gerry McClelland whose album (download at the time, no more now) appears on the Ancient Star-Song. I attempt to research the material I put up as best as I can, but in this case my methodology failed me.
I was called out on this by another sometime BBC reporter, the atheist Sheilagh Matheson. Usually these days someone who does this puts a link in to drive their point home, but Matheson didn’t bother to do so, leaving me suspicious of the whole thing. I guess she figured I was following this on British television, but that’s easier said than done outside of the UK.
Finally Geraldine Snape, the singer on the album, has come forth. The fact that she messed up her blog address threw me off (it’s actually here) but I finally have been able to ascertain that she is the one who produced the album, to my satisfaction at least.
As I noted in my response to Matheson, the issues I brought up re assisted suicide were independently derived, so I have basically excised the first part of the blog post, and apologise for the confusion it has created.
On a more personal level, Geraldine Snape’s current situation is intriguing from two standpoints. The first is that she’s originally from Belfast; Northern Ireland, of course, is the ancestral home of the Scots-Irish, who get a good deal of space in this blog, most recently here. The second is that Penketh, where the Potter’s House is, is just west of Warrington, which is of course the putative origin area of my own family, although my great-great grandfather came from Manchester to the U.S. in 1842.
Hopefully we can move forward discussing the issues, although I wouldn’t count on it.