In a profoundly emotional and sincere “open letter” video to the late Brittany Maynard, another brave victim of glioblastoma–the devastating brain cancer–Maggie Karner, pleaded with Brittany not to end her life. Karner, whose own suffering is beyond words, begged Maynard to “squeeze every bit of life” out of her remaining existence while conceding that “cancer sucks.”
In the end, this decision by Brittany Maynard was between herself and God.
It should be noted, with grace, that Maggie Karner, based in Connecticut, serves as director of the LCMS Life and Health Ministries for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. She also sits on the board of the National Pro-Life Religious Council in Washington, D.C.
It’s difficult not to be grateful for Ms. Karner’s attempt to encourage the younger woman, who was 29 and only recently married. Karner’s convictions about staying alive even with a terminal diagnosis are shared by a tremendous number of people (most of whom do not have terminal cancer) and I was especially touched by her closing declaration to Brittany: “le-chayim!”—the timeless Jewish affirmation that means “to life!” Respect for the Catholic pro-life tradition is also noted here.
In the end, however, this decision by Brittany Maynard, this impossibly courageous and lonely conclusion, was between herself and God. Yes, it was facilitated by state law in Oregon, to where she and her husband relocated, but it was her personal right and obviously supported by her husband. Brittany had as much right to choose to leave this world as Maggie has to remain in it. And both women require our prayers and blessings.
Even as the question of when life actually begins remains both a scientific and spiritual quandary, so is any determination of when life ends—in terms of quality and promise—beyond any objective deduction.
The Bible proclaims, “Thou shall not kill.” It does not declare, “Thou shall not die.” Suicidal feelings are betrayed in Scripture, notably by Rebekah. The pain she suffered while her twin sons (Jacob and Esau) “struggled within her” was so unbearable that she cried out to God, “If this is so, why do I exist?”
Several biblical characters, from Saul to Samson to Judas, ended their own lives. Moses was suicidal; the travails and threats laid upon him unremittingly by the Hebrews caused him to cry out gutturally at one point: “If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now.”
Suicide is completely tragic and it has a ripple effect on many innocent family members and friends—as noted assiduously and correctly by clinical psychologists. Righteous theologians deride it as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But Brittany Maynard, besieged by seizures, brutalized with pain, further sickened by chemotherapy, tortured by terror, given absolutely zero hope of survival, was not dealing with a temporary problem. She was not ill; she was doomed.
This young, vibrant, and articulate woman had only one thing that she could control: her destiny. It’s so easy for the rest of us to judge. It was cosmically harder for her to make a judgment. She didn’t take anyone with her; let her go to the peace promised by the same God too many of us are now co-opting because we lack the courage she had.
Acquire my latest book, ‘DANGEROUS FRIENDSHIP: Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Kennedy Brothers’