The Myth of ‘Death With Dignity’

Cancer sucks.

I’ve never met anyone who disagrees with that statement.  It is a brutal disease whatever form it takes and its goal is simply to devour and destroy.

Most of us know someone who has been afflicted with some type of cancer, if not ourselves, and we have witnessed the realities of what it can do.  The suffering that it often brings, physical, emotional, and even spiritual, is unmatched by most other illnesses.  It can steal the life out of a person even before they take their final breath.

A diagnosis of terminal cancer has to be one of the most terrifying things to hear from a doctor.  Brittany Maynard received that diagnosis early this year.  Hers was stage IV glioblastoma multiforme, an extremely aggressive brain cancer, and ultimately she was given just 6 months to live.  After speaking with her doctors and experts on the course this disease would take to end her life, she “quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.” (CNN, emphasis mine)

She and her husband moved to Oregon where the law allows for assisted suicide.  She also set the date of her death: November 1, 2014.  As the time approached there were rumors that she had reconsidered the date, saying that she still felt good and had “enough joy” to continue living.  Sadly however, reports came in yesterday that Brittany had indeed taken her own life.

Much has been spoken and written about Brittany and her final choice recently.  Many gave her and her family simple encouragement in a tremendously difficult time.  Some have been harsh and uncaring, even when speaking some truth.  And still others have been disconcertingly zealous and supportive to a degree that is cause for genuine concern.

We live in a death-crazed society in one sense, and in another we are fearful of its weight and imminence.  We love blood and guts in our movies and video games, but we only allow the pixelated reality of it on the nightly news.  I’m not saying we need to see it every day to understand it and treat it as it should be treated, but we do need to see it and face it to understand what it is not.


Death is not dignified.


Death is nothing of the sort.  We try to package it in dignity it to make it palatable or somehow acceptable to us in the scope of our existence, but in truth it is an incomparably terrible event which we will all experience sooner or later.  We euphemize the euthanized saying they “passed away on their own terms and died with dignity.”  Deep down we know this is a load of crap and still we ignore it or at least “try not to think about it” until it is too late.  None of us chooses death which is why it cannot be dignified.  We can hasten it but we can never escape it.

Death is real and there is a reason for it.  A theological-relational reason for it.  In short, it is the result of our rebellion and sin toward the Creator God.  Death exists because sin exists.  In each of us sin has made its home and because of that we will all one day die.  Death is what we have earned for our hatred of God.  It is earned and is always deserved.  (If this seems harsh and unfair, it is not.  Harsh and unfair is how we have treated the One who loves us and gave us life.  Harsh and unfair is how we live our lives, in selfishness and pride in the face of God.)

The most prominent death ever to occur was that of Jesus Christ.  Even His death was not dignified.  He was unfairly convicted, spit upon, beaten, brutally tortured and crucified as crowds of people passed by “wagging their heads” and mocking him.  On the cross, the wrath of the Father was poured out on Jesus.  Instead of perfect communion and love, there was only punishment for the sins of mankind. The Bible says that the sinless Jesus was made to “be sin” and was punished in our place.  Jesus even cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

In Hebrews 12:2 it says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross (again, no dignity in death), yet “for the joy set before him” he endured it.  That joy is his restored glory and fellowship with the Father in heaven.  Part of that glory is the magnified grace that will be displayed for all eternity in the saints who will join him in heaven.

What that means is that even though you will not die with dignity, if you die knowing Jesus you will have life again.  Jesus endured the cross for you and for me.  He gave up all of his dignity so that we might live with him for eternity in heaven.  This truth is something we all should consider in light of our impending expiration date:  In God’s economy, humility and repentance trump dignity, and faith in the Son of God trumps death.

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