When our son’s unexpected question, “Is war ever justified?” demanded a response, I knew the answer.
As a child, I had visited Gettysburg. After absorbing American Civil War history, my family stopped beside the largest cemetery I had ever seen. Row upon endless row of small white tombstones. Each stone marked the grave of someone’s father, husband, or brother, and always someone’s son. I was overwhelmed by the suffering, not only on the battlefield, but in the lives of all those these men had left behind. I decided there, as a child, that war is wrong. Nothing ever justifies war.
This was my experience; however, it was not my son’s. I thought of Matthew 5:43-44:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
If Jesus loves all people, I asked my son, “How can you kill anyone?” Startled, I realised that though this is clear to me, it is not clear to everyone. Consider the haunting reality of assisted suicide and assisted dying.
The media presents assisted suicide positively, at least in England where I live. This past summer articles appeared praising the courage of those who travelled to Dignitas in Switzerland. Dignitas provides assisted dying as well as assisted suicide for those neither dying nor terminally ill, who feel their quality of life is such they do not wish to continue living. There are many who find this shocking and morally wrong, but there are a growing number who see nothing amiss with respectably taking one’s own life in one’s own time.
Of those strongly opposed to assisted suicide, some support assisted dying, the option offered to someone terminally ill. They argue that if someone with only suffering ahead can be spared pain, why not? None of us wants to see someone we love suffer.
Jesus’ commands do not change, but the twenty-first century is rewriting the definition of love. “Love your neighbor as yourself” no longer means you cannot kill him. The easy solution of assisted dying or assisted suicide leers, a sinister phantom, at the beginning of this new decade.
Probably the most insidious drawing card assisted suicide and assisted dying offer is the heady choice of when and how we die. Now we are in control.
How foolish can we be?
Let me tell you about my friend Krista. Last May Krista was diagnosed with aggressive cancer: lymphoma. Krista was capable, independent, and as active as any other 39 year old single woman. Living with cancer did not make Krista a saint, yet paradoxically, Krista became more alive as she prepared to die.
In late November her physical strength dramatically declined. As Krista lost her ability to walk unassisted, to visit friends in their homes, it was tough.
On Tuesday, December 28th , Krista lay at home surrounded by family and friends. Her breathing was labored, but she radiated a tangible peace. She had been struggling to let go: to let her strength go, let her independence go, let her life go.
But she had done it. She had given each thread of her life into God’s hands. Strand by strand. God had called Krista into life, and she trustingly allowed God to call her out of life. Breathing more and more slowly, Krista slipped away mid-morning the next day.
As I think about the wonder of Krista’s life, of an end that could have been frightening and ugly, but was instead beautiful and embraced by the eternal, my heart turns to those who might never know the fullness of a surrendered death.
Since I was 12 and stood on that hillside in Gettysburg, I have known it is wrong for one person to decide when it is time for someone else to die. No war. No justified killing.
Standing in Krista’s room, I knew with certainty the only way to die is in God’s time. There must be no assisted suicides. No assisted dying. Please.