This story has been troubling me for a couple weeks now.
In Belgium, 44-year-old Nathan Verheist opted for suicide by medical euthanasia because of multiple failed gender reassignment surgeries. Verheist was born a girl but said his parents wanted a boy and psychologically tormented her in her childhood. Verheist said the psychological trauma of the failed effort to become a man was unbearable. He died by lethal injection. Belgium is one of three nations in the world that legalize euthanasia. The Netherlands and Luxembourg are the other two.
The story linked above quotes a woman explaining the virtues of the law.
“The law is about giving people the final choice in how they envision a dignified end of life,” said Hannie Van den Bilcke, a consultant at Huis Van De Mens, a humanist organization.
“I want to emphasize ‘dignified,’” she added. “Any person can make the decision to end his or her life, but this law guarantees that it can happen in a dignified way, if you want to.”
The premise advanced here is that “any person can make the decision to end his or her life.” If we accept that premise then the only moral thing to do is to make the choices as efficient and comfortable as possible.
Of course, the church has not, historically, accepted this premise. We believe that our lives are not our own, but God’s. We receive life as gift and steward it. We do not choose when we are born or when we die. But these claims do not remove the pain and difficulty of our lives. They do not take away from the often tragic choices we make. They do not eliminate — but rather call for — love and compassion for people who are coping with overwhelming pain and suffering.
I don’t want to pretend any of this is easy.
But I can’t help but feel that the church of Jesus Christ has failed when a person dies like this. We failed Nathan when he was damaged by his family and his belief that his life was not worth living. We failed when a nation adopted the idea that life is anything less than a gift from God. We failed when we do not equip each other to walk through suffering and pain without losing our faith.
I know in my own pastoral ministry, I find myself tongue tied in the face of pain and suffering. In the absence of the ability to explain it, I find myself reduced to silence. I need more wisdom in these areas myself. I need more humility. But I hope never to be a witness to the lack of faith that denies our lives are gifts from God.