My beloved friends and family, I hope and pray that this is never anything we have to deal with, but I will write about it, nevertheless. If one of you should experience the devastation of being diagnosed with a terminal illness, please do not decide the best way to deal with it is assisted suicide, and — please God — do not decide to have a pre-suicide party, and do not invite me to it. Suicide is an even greater tragedy than the diagnosis itself. Why, you wonder? How is this possible, you ask?
The many arguments for assisted suicide include empowering phrases such as taking control, dying with dignity, ending suffering, going in peace and not being a burden. Does not Satan always masquerade as an angel of light? These sound lovely, but if you believe them above the Lord’s promises, then you do not know the Gospel, and you do not know the Lord.
When we wring our hands and say, “But I don’t want to lose control,” the good Lord beckons us to abandon ourselves completely into His care. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you…plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
When we are afraid of the future, we don’t know what lies ahead, and terrifying thoughts assail us night and day, the Lord comforts us, tells us not to be afraid, and that He is always with us. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Isaiah 1b-2)
When our body or mind fails, and we lose our good health, we feel useless, and suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually, know that Jesus suffered this Himself. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” and “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 22:44 and 23:46)
When we desire to die with dignity (with our narrow, preconceived notion of what that looks like), know that Jesus died as a condemned man, stripped naked, with not a single possession to his name. Even his apostles (except John) had fled in fear and abandoned him, and one of them had betrayed Him and handed Him over to His enemies. Yet, there has never been anyone who died with more freedom and dignity than Jesus did. My friend, do you not have the opportunity to prepare prayerfully for your death, to face it with the love of friends and family, and the benefit and comfort of modern health care? Would you deny your loved ones the opportunity to love you, comfort you, serve you, pray with you, read to you, and just be present with you as many hours as possible to care for you and help usher you to the threshold of the next life, come what may? Is that not a dignified way to die? Is that not what love is about?
Would you not wish to confess your sins to a priest, receive absolution, and thus strive to remove every obstacle to God’s grace, as you journey towards Him? Would you ask to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick frequently during your illness? I personally know many people who were given very stark diagnoses indeed, but who with prayer and the Sacraments lived much longer than expected with good quality of life. The Lord is gracious and patient, and He gives time to His faithful ones to open themselves to His will. Those of faith I know who have died, died with great hope and after experiencing much spiritual and emotional healing by suffering patiently with the Lord as a close friend. Be faithful and trust in Him. Never say, “I will do things my own way.” Never think you are alone. God Himself gave you life, and there is absolutely nothing of this earth that you can claim as your own. The only thing we can bring with us into heaven are our good deeds and mercy.
And last, to address suffering. None of us wants it or desires it, nor should we ask for it. Yet it comes. However, suffering does not have the last word. Jesus conquered suffering through His life, death, and resurrection. He is victorious. The angels asked the women on the first Easter Sunday, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” As followers of Christ, we can take up our crosses with love, and with trust in Him. He will use it for our everlasting good, and for that of others. I say it again: Trust in Him! “In all things, we know that God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28)
Finally, I will share my go to Scripture passage for when I am scared, discouraged, or anxious. This is Sirach, Chapter 2:
My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity.
Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days.
Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient.
For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation.
Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him.
You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy, do not stray lest you fall.
You that fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost.
You that fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations long past and see:
has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him and been ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.
Woe to timid hearts and drooping hands,
to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint of heart! For they do not trust,
and therefore have no shelter!
Woe to you that have lost hope!
what will you do at the Lord’s visitation?
Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words;
those who love him keep his ways.
Those who fear the Lord seek to please him;
those who love him are filled with his law.
Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts
and humble themselves before him.
Let us fall into the hands of the Lord
and not into the hands of mortals,
For equal to his majesty is his mercy;
and equal to his name are his works.
I will visit you, care for you, pray with and for you, comfort you, listen to you, send you flowers and cards, and just be with you.
However, do not invite me to your suicide party, because I decline with regret.