Death or Suffering: A Choice Allowed or Denied

By Ramona Rhein on April 7, 2017

I recently watched a movie with my granddaughter, Emma, titled Me Before You. Although it was a good movie, it had a predictable ending. The protagonist falls for the man she is taking care of and he dies. The point of view is that of a young woman who is hired as a companion to a quadriplegic.

As the movie progresses, the viewer discovers that the young man’s family hired her because he desperately wants to end his life. His inability to do anything for himself plunges him into a depression that he feels can only end with death and his family makes one last attempt to change his mind.

While we were watching this, my granddaughter asked me if someone could do that. Can people actually make a decision that would end their lives? I told her yes, and she went on to lecture me in the wrongs of this moral acceptance. My granddaughter is 8, but there is an innocence to how she sees the world that I wish I still possessed. I could not dispute her point of view, and I had to question the soundness of our values as a society, especially in light of recent proposals in the state elections.

In Colorado, this last year, we were asked to vote on proposed initiative 145, also known as the Colorado end of life options act. This allows mentally capable adults to self-administer a drug that will induce death if they are within six months of death by a terminal illness. The drug itself would be prescribed by a licensed physician and the stipulations to the measure include seeing a licensed mental health professional to determine the mental capacity of the patient and the prognosis agreed upon by two licensed physicians. I believe that these standards were set to keep the measure from being abused. Apparently, Colorado voters were satisfied with this and passed it.

When I considered the proposition, I could not with good conscience vote no. For one, I have never been diagnosed with a terminal illness but I have frequently thought about the suffering of being there. Two, I watched my mother die. It was to me something I am glad I had the opportunity to do. I was there at the end and I was sure she knew that I loved her. Her death would have influenced me to vote no. But when I was younger, I worked in nursing homes and watched the suffering of many people who did not have the option of ending it. Remembering these people was why I voted yes on the initiative.

I myself hold onto my Christian faith and whether I am voting in an election or making everyday decisions in life, I try to act, as well as vote, according to my conscience. I would love to say I always do what is right, but I don’t. I would love to say that all dilemmas have an easy solution, but not every answer is in black and white. And I would be called a liar if I claimed that every decision I made was prayed about and that I was confident in my actions.

There are no answers in death. Neither from God or men. Why is the world plagued with things like cancer and aids? Why does God not take those who have brain injuries and Alzheimer’s? Why do children suffer from starvation? Why do good people die but cruel ones seem to live forever? And why does God allow bad in this world if He is a good God? The questions are endless. The answers are elusive.

My choice, whether it is agreed with or not, was one of compassion. If I knew death was forthcoming, would I want to suffer? Are there some things that I am willing to endure but others I am not? If I were to suffocate to death, would I want to die before it happens? Would loss of movement be enough to make me lose hope in a normal life? Some possibilities are too frightening to consider. I have never been in the shoes of those who have had to consider these questions. Would I want to wish those possible scenarios on anyone else?

I don’t believe there will be too many who will abuse this right. I could be wrong but I think the measures against it create a solidity in individual choice. As for me, as one proponent for the initiative, I must ask myself whether I voted right on this one. There might come a day when I stand before my God and He tells me I was wrong. If that day comes, I’ll have to accept the consequences of my actions. But as I said before, not all answers are black in white. As a woman who tries to think with my heart as well as my morals, I do the best I can.

After our short talk on the movie, my granddaughter grew silent. She seemed to consider both the subject matter and the implications of all options. For that, I am proud of her. I hope that as she matures as a young woman, she learns to think out her decisions in the same way I have. I hope she never stops struggling with right and wrong. If she does, there will never be room for compassion and compassion should be as important in the decisions we make for our fellow human beings as those we are taught.

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