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Morning over the bay

A Merciful Death?

Eldad Ben-Eliezer

Available languages: Deutsch

5 Comments
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  • Karen Silver

    The two greatest fears I have heard from the dying people I knew were loss of dignity through extreme pain or abandonment. When they are reassured that neither will happen, good things follow - to wit clarity and peacefulness.

  • Dennis Kahn

    Judge not, lest you be judged! We cannot sit behind our computer screens wagging the proverbial finger at those who choose to end their own lives, no matter what we think would be moral or not. In the words of the Master: "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone."

  • cynthia mawson

    An outstanding article. Thank you for such clarity and wisdom.

  • Nicole Solomon

    Thank you tremendously for these words of real honest compassion and obvious struggle that has come with the question of those who suffer. It is particularly encouraging to me here in the middle of the night feeling very alone and in pain and yet being completely surrounded by God's angels and the arms of the church! For this encouragement to come at this very moment is itself a testament to God's compassion in making sure that those of us who are in pain are really and truly not alone. I have also had to live with a pretty frustrating illness for several years now--one that the doctors really can't even give a proper name to! And what Eldad Ben-Eliezer struggles with us to find is that complete surrender in knowing that every moment of our lives was a moment set by God's perfect plan. And I don't believe that God intends for us to miss a single moment of His plan for our lives... And I think that question is also what helps one to find peace then in their own life to not just accept what is happening to them at the time, but to in fact embrace it completely in the knowledge that it is a moment set in God's perfect will for you. I have found that even some of the worst pain I have been in has been bearable when I stopped fighting it and in fact embraced those moments. They were moments that I had complete focus on nothing but God's words of forgiveness and comfort. It is not a focus anymore on what one is going through, but a complete focus on what one is heading towards--the Kingdom! And to know the answer to why Jesus' first words were to offer full forgiveness of sins to the sick is a complete revelation, because it is only in finding the daily repentance in our lives that we can also find a way to forgive ourselves--which is often the hardest place to find true forgiveness--and experience a real peace. I am sorry to put so much in a comment, but feel that it was no coincidence that at a time I needed to feel "not alone" that the arms of the church once again send out love even in the middle of the night! Thank you!

  • Kerry

    Thank you for your clear and poignant insight! My father passed away in June and it was a very long and painful experience to see him suffer through the last months of his life. We all just wanted his suffering to be over and yet we knew that euthanasia was not the way to go. In spite of the distress of seeing my father suffer so intensely, it was a beautiful gift to see how his struggle with suffering transformed him spiritually. In the midst of his suffering, my father reached out to God and learned to humbly rely on others for help. His experience of suffering led him to a dramatic conversion to the Lord that I believe open the doors of Heaven for him. He went from being scared and bitter to accepting and trusting in God's love and mercy. We must not only assure the dying that they are not alone but pray for them intensely, that God may show them the light.

Several years ago I wrote an article explaining my opposition to deliberately ending the life of a terminally ill person. A reader wrote back: "What the doctor writes is well and good, but what I miss is compassion. If he had seen my mother suffering like she did at the end of her life, the only compassionate thing would have been to put her out of her misery". This gave me pause for thought.

Having worked in hospitals, I know there are countless stories of individuals who suffered terribly at the end of their lives. Part of the blame for this comes from futile efforts at prolonging life, rather than accepting that death is inevitable and providing palliative care. Pressure from relatives, the reluctance of medical staff to face their inability to cure the sufferer, and the patient's own fears and hopes all contribute to this tragic process.

I know too, from being at the bedside of many dying patients, that the process of dying can be exceedingly hard to bear – not only the physical symptoms of pain, nausea, and shortness of breath, but the "total pain" of physical, emotional, and spiritual distress. And perhaps more than that the fear of the unknown, the isolation, the sense of loss, the lack of control and perceived loss of dignity all contribute to the dying person's suffering.

It is therefore not surprising that some beg for an "easy death", or euthanasia. Certainly, few would argue that a naturally occurring death in someone suffering intolerably can be welcomed as bringing a merciful release. But is the intentional ending of the sufferer's life an act of compassion? There is no doubt that a compassionate approach to the dying person involves first of all the cessation of unnecessary and burdensome medical intervention, and secondly good palliative care which can relieve a large proportion of their suffering. Sadly, both of these are seriously lacking in today's financially pressured "outcomes-driven" healthcare systems. Indeed, I believe that with the right care, most requests for euthanasia would be withdrawn. However, there remain some whose suffering cannot be completely relieved even with the best medicine, particularly the fears and deep "pain of heart". What does compassion lead us to in these cases?

The word "compassion" literally means to "suffer with" another person. Sometimes there is nothing we can do practically for the sufferer but to be present – yet through this something deep grows between us that cannot happen in any other way. When Christ was suffering agony of heart in the Garden of Gethsemane, his plea to the disciples was to "watch and pray" with him. We often find this the hardest thing to do. Like Peter, who quickly raised his sword to defend Jesus, we want to "do something", and miss the call to simply be present, to "suffer with" another.

Euthanasia is thus avoiding the challenge of compassion, to go with the sufferer to the bitter end, to "drink the cup to the dregs". In fact, most people who request euthanasia are not actually suffering intolerably, but are afraid of losing control, becoming helpless and dependent, and of future suffering they may have to endure. By assuring a person that we will stay with them, come what may, we can go a long way to relieve their distress. And by helping the dying person go through with it to the end, they can reach final victory, the peace that I have so often felt in the final moments of a dying person.

Fear of losing control drives some in our society to demand the "right to die" when and how they want. Often these are people with chronic disabling conditions who are afraid of the future, and who wish to retain control over their destiny. This is a challenge to us to help such a person to realize that we care about them in whatever state they find themselves. Human dignity and self-worth does not depend on physical and mental abilities – anyone who has cared for a new baby knows this, and our lives are enriched immeasurably by people who are dependant and disabled in mind or body.

It can be incredibly difficult to accept an illness or disability, especially terminal, and yet I have seen an amazing peace in individuals who have come to the point where they can "let go" of trying to control things and who simply accepted their destiny. This opened a way for them to confide their past burdens and failures with a trusted friend, and be given complete peace of heart through forgiveness and reconciliation. In this way they touched the lives of many whom they could never have reached with a healthy body.

Rather than talking of the right to have an "easy death", let us accept the challenge to show compassion by seeing to it that each person has the right to live a fulfilled life to the end.

Elderly hand in a young hand
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