Commentary: Reflecting on Brittany Maynard

By Olivia La Bianca
Student Writer

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death,” – Deuteronomy 30:9

There has been quite a bit of coverage about Brittany Maynard’s death. The media syndicates have stopped talking about her because she’s been gone for a few weeks and is “old news”. But her story, and the reaction to her story, have had massive implications.

What about Oregon’s Death with Dignity act? What about the Maynard family who are dealing with this grief? What about the media’s own role in providing both support and hate from people who have found her choice confusing and frightening?

The most concerning implication to me is the very vocal divide between people who believe Brittany’s choice was brave and people who believe that she was a lost soul destined for the fires of hell. Tweets, Facebook statuses, blog posts on political websites: all either loudly approving or vehemently condemning her choice to take her own life. As a student on Messiah’s campus, I feel it necessary to point out that most of the condemnation has come from Christians – a sentence that probably should never be said.

The worst part is, these people were writing these condemning, horrible articles while she was still alive to read them. Perhaps these writers are telling themselves that they are witnessing to her, trying to persuade her to choose the right path, but their attitudes smack of self-righteousness and judgment.

Maynard herself was quoted by as saying: ““I think sometimes people look at me and they think: ‘Well you don’t look as sick as you say you are,’ which hurts to hear, because when I’m having a seizure and I can’t speak afterwards, I certainly feel as sick as I am,” she says in the video. “When people criticize me for not waiting longer, or, you know, whatever they’ve decided is best for me, it hurts because really, I risk it every day, every day that I wake up.”

Her pleas for understanding have gone unheeded by what seems to be the online Christian community. “There is nothing brave about suicide,” writes The Blaze author Matt Walsh, painting things in black and white terms. “I guess, in our modern enlightened society, Brittany Maynard is a martyr. She is a martyr for the cause of self-destruction.” He also pulls religion into the mix: “So if God reached out from the depths of eternity to hand us this life of ours, how can we think it acceptable — or worse, meritable — to throw it out before our time is finished?”

John Piper writes for the website Desiring God, and addresses Brittany’s problem by quoting 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”

He goes on to say that “the point of this text is that our final sufferings are not meaningless. They are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). “Preparing” — working, effecting, bringing about. They are not aimless tortures.” So, now it is God who gave Brittany cancer, the horrible migraines, the faculty-robbing seizures, the promise of a more painful and degrading ending than any of us can imagine?

I know I am straying onto theological ground here, and I do not mean to shake the bedrock of anyone’s faith. However, before Christians begin speaking for God in condemnation of a sick, dying girl, there have to be several questions answered.

Is It Any Of Your Business?

This is probably the most fundamental question, one that gets lost quite frequently when dealing with the Internet. Is the choice of one young woman something that you personally must comment on? Do you know Brittany Maynard? Have you or do you have a terminal illness? Will your openly hostile opinion change her mind?

Joni Earekson, a quadriplegic and fellow cancer victim and probably the only person with enough knowledge to say anything at all to Maynard, conveys more love than all the rest:

She writes: “If I could park my wheelchair beside her, I would tell her how the love of Jesus has sustained me through my chronic pain, quadriplegia and cancer. I don’t want her to wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a dark, grim existence without life and joy; that is, without God.”

Still, Joni’s statement makes a massive assumption, one that I will discuss in a bit. Meanwhile, I have to ask – how many of us every-day average Americans, relatively healthy and moderately happy, making plans for years into the future, can know what the right course is for someone dying of a terminal, torturous illness? How can we point the finger and insist that we would do better?

Is It Consistent?

We talk about suicide as taking your life in your own hands, the life that Jesus bought and paid for on the cross, and throwing it away. It is looked at as a horrible, sacrilegious thing. I am not by any means saying that it is not, however we need to make sure we treat the sacrifice of one’s own life as consistently as possible.

Isn’t that what every man and woman in the military does on a daily basis – putting their life on the line – running the risk of dying prematurely? What about police officers and firefighters and journalists and aides in foreign countries? Is their choice of profession going against the Bible, or are we now qualifying the sacrifice of one’s own life by the impact that sacrifice had? Or are we still going by the principle that “playing with life” is “a sin against the creator”, as Pope Francis declared in response to the Maynard case?

Looking at this from another light, what about Robin Williams’ suicide earlier this year? Granted, there were a few haters then too, but for the most part, the man was mourned with respect and his life was celebrated. People gave testimonies about how wonderful he was on national television, TIME magazine ran an issue with his face on the cover, Netflix updated their selection to include more of his films. Personally, I know almost every friend on my Facebook feed posted some form of mournful “RIP” message.

Why was our treatment of Williams’ death so different than our treatment of Maynard’s?

Are You Sure That’s What The Bible Says?

Surprisingly, there are no passages in the Bible which explicitly say that you shall not commit suicide. Murder is forbidden, and if you stretch murder to incorporate suicide, you can point to the Ten Commandments as your source. But that is still a personal translation and, if we are going by literal translations, supporting evidence is difficult to find.

One of the most frequently used verses is Romans 14:7-9: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

John Piper uses this verse to support the idea that Christ owns our lives and they do not belong to us to do with as we please. I do not refute this. However, Piper seems to miss the next part, which says that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”. While that is not to say that God commends the taking of one’s own life, it certainly throws doubt upon Earekson’s claim that Maynard was going to “wake up on the other side of her tombstone only to face a dark, grim existence without life and joy; that is, without God.” According to the very verse used to condemn Maynard’s actions, Christ is “Lord both of the dead and of the living.”

I am not saying that Christians should believe that Brittany Maynard was right in what she did. I am certainly not speaking for Messiah on this issue. This is my personal conviction: Brittany Maynard should have been able to die a peaceful death, regardless of how or why or when. She should not have been subjected to torment and judgment from people who claim to have God on their side. If anything, the Christian community should have come together to wrap her up in Christ’s unending, unyielding love. We should have been there for her, maybe not condoning but certainly not condemning. We as a community probably did more to drive her away from God than bring her closer to Him. If she was not a Christian when she died on Nov. 1, it may just be our fault. To me, that is an incredibly troubling thought.

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