“‘Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,”, or so the idiom goes. And yet, death is something which as a society we are not very good at dealing with or accepting. Which begs the question, why is death such a problem?
As Christians, we believe we are made bodily, spiritually, completely for God. It therefore matters greatly not only how we live, but also how we die.
In the not-too-distant past, dying was more readily accepted as a normal part of life with loved ones dying in the family home, for example. However, dying and therefore death has become something of a taboo subject – particularly in Western culture where the end of life is so medicalised that we are now sometimes several degrees removed. Though it is not just a lack of proximity and unfamiliarity which makes people uneasy around death.
People fear dying badly, people fear losing their autonomy, people fear the burden they will become to their family or friends or the state. Though these aren’t the only factors at play, they are ever-present – whether consciously or not – in debates around repeated calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide.
Yet time and again, evidence from jurisdictions around the world with permissive attitudes towards assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia shows us that such frameworks can never be watertight. It is simply not possible to legislate for assisted suicide at the behest of a vocal minority without risking and indeed hindering the wellbeing of the vulnerable majority.
Christians should not be aloof and removed from the trials and suffering of others – far from it – but nor should we be swayed by a compassion which does not honour the dignity and wonder of who we have been created to be and what we have been created for. Compassionate care at the end of life – truly compassionate care – regards the person suffering as being of incomparable inherent worth. Therefore, we strongly support measures to improve quality of palliative and hospice care, taking to heart the words of Dame Cicely Saunders who pioneered the modern hospice movement that “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life.”