Anne Lamott, a self-proclaimed follower of Christ, weaves an artful defense of friend-assisted suicide this morning in the LA Times. I thought the debate was over physician-assisted suicide. Either the debate is shifting, or (as my friends at the Acton Institute joked last week) I live in a foreign country called California. Or maybe it’s both.
I knew for a fact, though, that Mel believed in assisted suicide. We had discussed a story in the paper once, about a local man who gave his wife an overdose, and then sealed her upper body in a plastic trash bag with duct tape. Then he had done this to himself, and they died holding hands. What love!
When I read this pitiful retelling of a dual suicide, I wondered if Anne was really serious. Then I read the next paragraph, and knew she was...well…dead serious:
Mel was sort of surprised that as a Christian I so staunchly agreed with him about assisted suicide: I believed that life was a kind of Earth school, so even though assisted suicide meant you were getting out early, before the term ended, you were going to be leaving anyway, so who said it wasn't OK to take an incomplete in the course?
What drives Lamott’s view of assisted suicide? What’s the critical piece for her? In reflecting on her father’s difficult death, she tells us: “But all the time I knew he had not wanted to end up in the shape he did.” So, for Lamott, what’s important is not God’s will or sovereignty. It’s Man as Sovereign over his own life, executing his own will.
And we all live in this attitude from time to time: I don’t like things the way God has allowed them to be. We complain. We pound the table. We seek friendly commiseration. But as followers of Christ, we follow our Lord into the garden, where He says to God the Father, “Not my will but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) We might even ask for a difficult cup to be removed from us. But we would be asking God to do the removing. And our heart’s cry is for God’s will to be done, for the Giver and Taker of Life to be respected in His office:
See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
I said earlier that Lamott weaved an artful defense. I meant that she told a good story with a touching ending. It touches us because none of us want to see our sick family members waste away as frail shadows of their former selves. We can identify with the feelings she poignantly describes. But she makes no argument, except to assert the will of human beings as the primary concern in end-of-life situations.
That’s a worldview, friends, but it’s not the worldview of Jesus, who sought to ground his whole life in a simple phrase: “not my will…” It’s much more reminiscent of certain Supreme Court justices, who asserted in 1992 that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”