Controlling Death: Examining Society’s Rush to a ‘Final Exit’

Amy M. Schultz

Today we can seemingly have everything that technology affords us in the name of medicine to control and sustain our lives. Yet society is still perplexed by controlling the way we die. In the rush to unfold the mystery of the human body, it is the soul of man that will never be understood. It is the very breath of God that can only be taken away by His divine authority. Yet man is continually fascinated at the prospect of usurping God’s will on that as well. In the world today there is a bold desire to play a hand at controlling our own exit of this life.

This desire has manifested itself in many ways, and recently public access television has taken a drastic step in the push for euthanasia and assisted suicide. This past February [2000] the Eugene and Springfield, Oregon areas aired the world premier video version of Derek Humphry’s best selling book, Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying. Public access television serves as an open forum. To Derek Humphry, president of ERGO! (Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization), and his followers, it is just another media outlet. They intend to fuel the hunger that society has for this kind of knowledge and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.

The 34-minute video tells Humphry’s story of how he helped his first wife to end her life. She had been suffering from inoperable cancer and had carefully planned her death. The video illustrates the most effective methods of committing suicide with plastic bags, barbiturates, applesauce, tea and toast. Humphry also offers advice on “keeping clear of the law” and “dealing with the aftermath.”

Humphry claims the video is only intended for the terminally ill, “the helplessly and hopelessly ill,” and urges the depressed or mentally ill to seek help. Yet, the depressed and mentally anguished who are not terminally ill cannot remain unaffected. In the click of the television remote, the option of “self-deliverance” was flashed before them. As nightfall enclosed on the familiarity of their own living rooms, an eyelid of the depressed may have cracked open upon a solution so distant, so farfetched and yet so easy to comprehend that for a moment it may have seemed like the answer they were searching for. The video, hailed as a do-it-yourself video on “self-deliverance,” seems appropriate in this do-it-yourself society that we have become. Too often the implication is that we need no one else to depend on but ourselves, and the choices and consequences are only our own. All of a sudden we don’t feel the need for God anymore. Imagine, we can even control the portal between life and death without His divine intervention.

Derek Humphry wrote in his essay, Whose Life Is It Anyway, “Television and radio programs graphically describe health matters; books and magazines on medical psychological affairs are big sellers . . . With the empowerment of better knowledge, we nowadays make more decisions for ourselves . . . We live in a more autonomous age; gone are the days when the doctor played God.”

Yes, Mr. Humphry, gone are the days when just the doctors “played God” – now we all do.

Sadly, our world has embraced this notion of “self-deliverance” simply as a sign of the times in this autonomous age. The issues of euthanasia, assisted suicide and self-killing have fueled a curiosity of human nature. Accepting these issues is a symptom of our dying society that is tumbling down the “slippery slope” in the decay of the value of human life. It is not surprising when we fail to acknowledge the humanity and worth of an unborn child, that we also fail to see the worth of our own lives when a sense of quality is gone.

In the mad rush for plastic bags, lethal drugs and applesauce, society has trampled the one important factor that would make the need for all these things obsolete: the truth and promises of God’s Word on the issues of life and death!

As the pro-death movement makes such bold moves as airing the “how-to” on suicide, we must know how to combat these trends in society. We must condition ourselves and stay in the fight. The pro-death movement disguises what we know as the fundamental truths of right and wrong with their arguments of dignity, autonomy and accelerating the end.

There are two issues that need to be addressed in combating this desire for “self-deliverance.”

First, simply, God commands us not to murder. When did personal choice over a quality of life overshadow a fundamental truth of right and wrong? “Justifiable suicide,” as Humphry and his followers call it, has nothing justifiable about it. The “slippery slope” has begun to wear away the basic principles of God’s Word. We are never allowed to take life into our own hands. This obsession with personal choice and rights has fogged even the minds of some Christians. “In the name of choice,” writes Leon R. Kass in his essay, Death with Dignity and the Sanctity of Life, “people claim the right to choose to cease to be choosing beings.” Our lives are not a right to control by our choosing, but a gift from God; a trust that we must guard for Him. Even Humphry claims that belief in God and His commands must override the acceptance of euthanasia and “self-deliverance.” He writes in the first chapter of Final Exit, “If you consider God the master of your fate, then read no further. Seek the best pain management available and arrange hospice care.”

As followers of Christ, we must agree with the apostles when they proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

Second, suffering has a purpose. Consider the words of Scripture where we are told, “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (I Peter 2:19).

We can certainly understand the human desire to end suffering; to long for a quality of life that is lost. We can sympathize with those who would want to hasten the end of a difficult battle because we Christians know that what lies beyond this fleeting life is a treasure far greater than we can imagine. Even the apostle Paul understood these desires. He wrote to the Philippians from Rome during a time of intense persecutions of the Christians, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:23). Paul knew that God had better plans in store for him, and he was convinced that what was happening to him would turn out for his deliverance.

Paul considered suffering something with a far greater outcome than a burden to wipe out. He writes that, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Life, however, is full of temptations that make us question God’s purpose for our lives. In the context of great pain and suffering, we wonder how a loving God could be using this for our good. We are tempted to assume control. We must keep in mind that no temptation will be able to shake our faith if we hold fast to God and His promises. “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Corinthians 10:13). Holding strong to this Scriptural promise, we know that no pain will be so unbearable that He would not deliver us when we can no longer hold up.

Euthanasia allows us to abandon those who suffer. It is our human and Christian responsibility to have compassion on our fellow man. We are to strive to help them ease their suffering, but not to assist them in sinning by committing self-murder. God often uses such circumstances in life to unveil His plan of salvation.

Derek Humphry wrote in his essay, Whose Life Is It Anyway: “While it is true that we have no control over our births, at least we ought to have control over our deaths. How can we claim to be free people if someone else’s morals and standards govern the way we die?”

Humphry may be partially right – we have no control over our births. The intricate set of circumstances that brings about the development of a human life can be nothing short of a miracle. But the same is true of our deaths. We cannot control that moment when God chooses to separate the soul from the body. The miracle that began in the womb unfolds to the glory of life after death.

So – Whose life is it anyway? Certainly not ours. We must never forget that our lives are not our own, but God’s, and He will be our Deliverer. As others around us may fall into a trap of trying to control death, we Christians wait, with bated breath, for that glorious time when He will come.

“Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).


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