Christians: Suffering is a part of our faith journey, not a cause for suicide

The Safford Family

As a wife who accompanied my husband on his fatal fight against pulmonary disease, the mother of two disabled adult sons, the legally responsible individual for my mother suffering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and as a Christian, I must address the defense of HB 1283 made in an op-ed by the bill’s sponsors before it comes for a vote in the State House this week. As tempting as it is to try legislating pain away, I hope Granite State Christians will look at this issue through the lens of faith and join me in affirming the value of human life.

The sponsors’ argument for legalizing suicide as a medical choice presented biased data and a heart-breaking, misguided appeal to people of faith based on the false pretense that God wouldn’t allow suffering.

First, they claimed 71% of Granite Staters support state-sanctioned suicide legislation. However, they didn’t disclose that the study was funded by the pro-assisted suicide special interest group, NH Alliance for End of Life Options.

Secondly, they referenced the testimony of a Durham faith leader to assuage Christians’ moral qualms about state-sanctioned suicide. Highlighting the tragic death of her husband, this faith leader stated she did not believe her husband’s disease or manner of death were God’s will. Her motivation to change the law is, “so that a dying, suffering person may say instead to their doctor: ‘I’d like to pursue medical aid in dying.’”

As a fellow Christian and widow, I understand not wanting to see a loved one suffer. However, it’s far beyond us to determine the will of our Creator. As we approach Easter, I would remind all people of faith who are questioning the value of suffering in the face of death that God saved the world through an excruciating death that followed the unimaginable agony of crucifixion.

Christ gave suffering immeasurable value, and we’re called to imitate Him. Following our good intentions to be compassionate should never lead us to permit harmful behavior. Trusting and giving our ‘yes’ to God in difficult times is what it means to live out our faith. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic who has lived in a wheelchair for 57 years often says, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” While God allows us to experience adversity, He always plans for our good. By honoring His sacred gift of life, we are truly being open to His will for our lives.

Finally, by the sponsor’s own admission, HB 1283 would create opportunities for coercing vulnerable people to choose death rather than feel like a burden to caretakers.

A hypothetical situation was presented in the Judiciary Committee’s executive session: What if a grandmother legally obtained lethal drugs and decided not to take them; could she then be coerced by a family member? In the sponsor’s attempt to dismiss concerns, he did the opposite.

“Does it ever happen? Yes, it does happen. And not only in this area, but in other areas. People get coerced in their old age to transfer property or do things like that…” It doesn’t sound like the safeguards in this dangerous policy would truly protect the most vulnerable from abuse of the law.

Much of my life has been caring for those with physical or mental health challenges. It’s been more blessing than burden. However, state-sanctioned suicide turns the right to die into the duty to die.

In 2002, my sons Ben and Sam were diagnosed with Duchenne MD, a fatal muscle-wasting genetic defect with no cure. The pediatric neurologist at Boston Children’s said “take them home and love them; they won’t survive their teens.” They are now 26 and 28. Doctors are only human and even without ulterior motives or financial incentives, they’re often wrong. Ben has a social work degree and works for a non-profit supporting young adults with cognitive disabilities. Sam is a talented writer, speaker, and artist. They live full and meaningful lives not despite their disability, but because of it. I don’t have to take care of them, I get to!

Ben and Sam know they’re nearing the end of their battle with DMD. They’ve chosen to sign Do Not Resuscitate and Polst Forms so extraordinary measures won’t be taken when their time comes.

Life and death should be in the hands of our Creator, not in the hands of medical professionals or legislators. Asking physicians to assist in ending lives when they have pledged to “Do No Harm” is simply wrong. I encourage Christians not to act out of fear of suffering, but cling to the hope we have in Christ and boldly oppose HB 1283 before it comes to the House this Thursday, March 21. It should be rejected not simply on moral grounds but also for the danger it poses to the most vulnerable.

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