Recently I watched a film entitled “How To Die In Oregon” about legalized “physician-assisted suicide.” However the phrase “physician-assisted suicide” is misleading in that the physician is not at the bedside injecting something to end one’s life. The physician prescribes Nembutal or Seconal which taken in large quantity quickly and painlessly puts the person into a coma and then death. What was evident in the film is that those choosing this option do so because it’s clear their end is near and they simply cannot take any more pain. What I found myself thinking (to my shock) while watching was how similar this approach is to that taken by the early Christian martyrs who embraced certain death rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ! The core issue which is common to both situations is forgoing the steps to prolong life.
I have a parishioner in our Church who has an End-of-Life document in his folder which states: ”If my condition is terminal or I am in a persistent vegetative state or other condition of permanent unconsciousness, and could result in death within a reasonably short time, I direct that nutrition and hydration not be provided through any medically indicated means, including medically or surgically implanted tubes.” I deal with ethical issues all of the time and find that the problem that people have is when a general theory needs to be applied to a specific situation. In such times it helps to refrain from engaging in emotional slogans which tend to be both general and absolutist. For the person dealing with their end of life the issues are no longer general nor abstract but specific in relation to their painfulness.
The lesson of this film was the reminder to me that I must live my life as fully as possible because the body which carries my spirit around one day will give out! We needn’t wait until physical death in order to know peacefulness! Forgive people their offenses and let go of stewing in feeling hurt so that our days can be peace-filled. Learn to focus on what is good in the day and stop making ourselves miserable by continuing to chant about how terrible the traffic is, how miserable our boss makes us feel, how pissed off we are that so-and-so did not answer our email/phone call/ letter! Above all we need to learn to be grateful! If we wake up tomorrow then we have one more day to try and become a better person! The End will come soon enough! For today learn to live! The question for each of us to ask ourselves is, “Am I living while I’m alive?”
I’d be interested to know what you think about this!