We all know life begins and life ends, but when we are suffering or someone else is suffering, we want to do all we can to alleviate that suffering. Every doctor, nurse and medical attendant has that desire as an important part of his or her calling.
And now, as more people are choosing to spend their last days at home, their loved ones surround them in their pain. This means that the sharing of that suffering comes back into the family, as it once was before the advent of hospitals. We are confronting a new/old reality of having the death and dying process back in our homes.
I thank God for those families who accepted this challenge. They have embraced all the consequences, the joys, the caring and the weeping, of being a hospice home. It is a major testimony to their faith and the faith of their family.
It does raise the question of suicide / assisted suicide as watching someone die can be unbearable. Watching your family care for you as you die can be unbearable as well.
The place of suicide / assisted suicide for the Christian has been long debated in the church. All the major denominations: Protestant and Roman Catholic, have issued statements about it. Our United Methodist Church has some guiding thoughts, (but they are not “doctrine” i.e. core faith statements). It’s found at bit.ly/UMC-Stmt-Suicide.
It talks about being non-judging, but also the need to be very careful because our support to reduce pain can easily ends up undercutting hope. It could also lead to the abuse of the elderly.
And in addition, some will use it as an “easy out.” Of course, others will struggle until the very end. (Oregon reports that of those receiving drugs for assisted suicide under their laws, only one-half have actually used them.)
Christians are a people of hope. Christ brought us life over death and so over the centuries we have been very reluctant to end life by our own means. Such an act was seen to close off all hope even as it ends obvious suffering and pain. Such an act was also seen to go against the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
All in all, the church generally reflects what Paul said in Roman 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” It doesn’t mean we should ignore the sufferings. But it does affirm that we should not lose hope in Christ and use every moment we can have to love God and love others as God loves us.
I hope some of this background helps. I encourage everyone to continue to pray, talk, share in love, seek Christian conferencing and work to discern God’s will. It is a very difficult and multifaceted issue.