Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Should This Woman Be Allowed To Kill Herself?

[Again, apologies it's been so long since my last entry. I'll try to ramp it up! :) But please know that the more comments you guys leave here, the more motivation it will be for me to get my next entry out soon.]

Chantal Sebire used to look like you and me, but facial tumors (esthesioneuroblastoma) rendered her face disfigured. Over time, they will destroy her brain and kill her. Sebire speaks heart-breakingly of what she has had to go through:

In 2000, I lost the sense of smell and taste ... and I lost my sight in October 2007. One would not allow an animal to go through what I have endured.
Sebire recently appealed to a high court in Dijon, France, to be given the right to end her own life but was turned down. She's now appealing to President Sarkozy for a change in France's euthanasia laws.

Sebire's case presents one of the most troubling right-to-die cases in recent memory. Her disfigurement and pain is obvious to anyone who sees her photographs, and a restriction against killing herself is equivalent to a sentence of lifelong suffering.

In evaluating these cases from a Christian perspective in contemporary society, there are many conflicting values and norms that come into play. The first is the prohibition against suicide. Most often, people cite 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 to demonstrate unequivocally that God is against suicide:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body
It's clear that God values life in the Bible, but the Bible is strikingly unclear as to what level of existence qualifies as life. Would God prefer someone resigned to the abject pain and horrifying struggles of a daily struggle with only a future of slow and torturous death ahead of them, or would he prefer someone that celebrated their life for what it was shortly before taking it? This is the choice I think is offered by Sebire's situation.

One other thing to consider is the advancement of medical technology, which has made suicide an easy and painless procedure, but has also brought into existence life-prolonging drugs and equipment that might benefit the body but not the soul. People live longer today than they were meant to live according to "nature." A pastor who I recently spoke with opined to me that as a result of all this technology, people live longer than they're "supposed to." Maybe we're not supposed to live so far past the time when we still have the ability to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, and use the bathroom ourselves. But society has deemed that because we can, we should.

But maybe in Sebire's case, keeping someone alive just for the sake of it says a lot more negative things about us as a human society than it does positive.

7 comments:

Diana said...

Um, interesting thought. How can any of us know how long we are "supposed to" live? The life spans in the Old Testament were hundreds of years long, not decades, if we believe the Old Testament. It is a hard decision, I know. And being a relatively healthy middle-aged woman I cannot possibly understand the pain and agony this woman must go through. But, who can know what impact she has on others? How she can change and grow as a person?
I am an "old" critical care nurse. I understand totally the concept that occasionally people are kept alive longer through modern technology and have on more then one occasion talked to family members and physicians about timing for discontinuing treatment. I am, however, not God. If I believe in the sovereignty of God and believe that he is all-knowing then I have to believe that he knew that we would advance to this stage of knowledge. And that He knew we would have to face these decisions. If I truly believe, then I have to believe that He has this woman in His hands too. Too bad He doesn't write an addendum to the Bible to address our "new advanced" society!

Dave said...

Diana,

Thanks for visiting my blog and for sharing from your experiences! I think you've hit the nail on the head here with your comment, but it does raise the question: Yes it's possible she can change and grow as a person. But shouldn't we leave the decision of whether she wants to do that up to her? God doesn't want us to force people to do His will...

Lee Jones said...

First Of All:
Ouch; that sucks! I would not wish that on anybody.

On Life:
I would think that, without guidelines for what what level of existence qualifies as life, we have to assume that the level is "alive." One might recall that King David killed the man who claimed to end the life of King Saul in 2nd Samuel 1.

On Resignation or Celebration:
If you strike the words "shortly before taking it" I would say that God would desire both resignation to our powerlessness and a celebration of the life God has given. The choice appears to me as a false choice. To think that it is our choice to live or die as we please is to assert that our desires and comforts here and now are what God wills. Rather, I would think God's will is eternal in scope, and this present suffering, as horrible as Sebire's is, is a means to depend on God's grace and to bring Him glory by submitting to His will, even if it means present suffering.

On How Long We Are Supposed To Live:
There is truth in that notion. It is fully within the rights of a patient to refuse treatment and heroic efforts. It is also within a persons' rights to seek medical treatment or procedures which could work, but are risky and may result in their death. However, the right to refuse or seek medical treatment does not extend to the deliberate use of medical means to kill. Just because we can kill ourselves medically doesn't mean we should.

Yes, keeping Sebire alive to make sure she suffers longer makes no sense. The only ethical thing to do is to aggressively treat the tumor, even risky means, and, failing that, use the medical means available to ease her pain until such time that disease kills her.

Finally:
Some time ago, my wife was told she was going to die in less than 5 years. She would remain 'normally' functional until, suddenly, her body would stop working and she would suffer for about three weeks, then die. We decided to administer pain killers should that time come, but refuse treatments that would artificially extend her life.

On a happy note, last year she was healed. Why her and not Sebire? I don't know. I just know we can't play God, and starting down the road towards euthanasia is unwise.

That said, nobody can stop Sebire from going to Switzerland. However it turns out, I feel very bad for her.

Brenda said...

I cannot imagine the suffering this woman endures. May it be that her 'impact on others' as another blogger stated, is her determination to force the issue to lawmakers. I applaud her efforts! However, this will be a never-ending issue as long as there are those that believe they hold hierarchy over all our lives. This should purely be an issue between the person and God. If a person lives by faith according to the Bible, then it should be laid to them to challenge St Peter at the gates of Heaven.
I reside in Ohio, USA and have worked as a nurse for the past 18 years. It is unfathomable to me the amount of suffering that families place on their loved ones. I recently had a lovely patient of 91 years of age that had her legs amputated 'to save her'. She is now in unbelievable pain, demented, and septic. She will die within a short period of time. Patients that come to Emergency under premises of suicide attempts are issued citations by police. "It is against the Law!" The only statue cited is under the State Revised Code of 'inducing panic'. Even with 'Advanced Directives' that are legally binding documents, once a person has impaired mental capacity, the families over and over again revoke the desires stated by their loved one out of their own selfishness. WE AFFORD MORE GRACE AND DIGNITY TO OUR HOUSEHOLD PETS BETTER THAN WE DO TO EACH OTHER!
What gives 'you' the right to state in which manner I must live or die? Who are 'you' to say that I must assimilate myslef with Jesus Christ on Mt. Calvary and suffer all my days until the end!
Where has the issue of God's grace and love gone? Do you not believe that God would afford this poor woman Grace in light of what she has endured?
There is a great line that lies between thinking about suicide and acting on suicide. I would think that if a person holds faith and God in their lives, they have already pondered all the issues surrounding suicide /euthenasia. Once a person has taken action over that line, it is always an option.
If I was her, I would already be in Switzerland.

Kurtis said...

Admittedly, I am a young optimistic man who has not had the experience of witnessing the pain and suffering associated with a long drawn out death. I will not pretend to be authoritative on this subject in any way, shape, or form.

With that said, I offer my thoughts. I do believe that it is Sebire's right to refuse treatment. I would also have no problem with her using pain medication to help her through her final days. But I find something inherently wrong with allowing her to outright kill herself. I do not think it is Sebire's place to determine when her god given purpose is finished. I think what Lee said regarding Resignation or Celebration is what kind of applies here.

On another note, I believe this raises another question. At what point do we determine it is ok for some one to kill themselves? If we were to allow euthanasia, who would qualify for it? I would think the difference between Sebire and say a depressed teenager is quite obvious. But what about cases where the difference is not so clear? I am curious as to where any one thinks we would draw the line because I have no idea.

Finally, my heart goes out to Sebire. I feel for her as much as I can, but the truth is I can't even imagine what she is going through. She will be in prayers.

Anonymous said...

You're all a bunch of idiotic hipocrites! How can you say you feel bad for this woman and still deny her the right to have a peaceful death? To force her to live her life in excruciating pain so she won't offend your "christian" sensibility? What happened to the separation between church and state? Bunch of #$%holes...

Jamie said...

@Diana: "The life spans in the Old Testament were hundreds of years long, not decades, if we believe the Old Testament. "

I have heard some compelling evidence that those spans were, in the original Hebrew texts, actually meant to be the spans of various tribes (named after their original patriarch), rather than just specific individuals.

Moreover, I find your "she's in God's hands" argument to be a little disconcerting. You don't think that God has already condemned her to die? I'd say He clearly has, since she is practically dead already; the only difference is whether WE are merciful and allow her to go with minimal pain and suffering. If anything, I see this kind of thing as a test for, not the sufferer, but those around her who make the decisions; a test of both mercy and reason. Jesus, I think, would not want a woman to suffer like this.

Additionally, sorry to say this - and I realize this is a Christian-oriented blog, but - Christianity is not the only religion out there. Nor are all Christian interpretations of the Bible/doctrine the same. I think anyone arguing against this case merely on the "Bible says no suicide" argument are overstretching their bounds.

I'm of course not advocating letting people kill themselves willy-nilly... but this isn't willy-nilly. This woman is legitimately suffering on her way to an obvious death that could be easily soothed. It seems utterly wrong to me to force her to suffer when, as she puts it, she's dying anyway and if she were LESS than human, people wouldn't force her to suffer like this.

@Lee Jones: "To think that it is our choice to live or die as we please is to assert that our desires and comforts here and now are what God wills. "

By that logic, voluntary military enlistment should also be illegal during times of war, since it will likely lead to one's death. Heck, by that logic, God may well be a complete jerk who likes to just make people suffer.

Sorry, but I refuse to believe that the same God who allows us to have free will (or some semblance of it), and whose Son preached love and mercy, would be angry at us for exercising the occasional discretion when it is clear that someone is not just going to die, but to die horribly and slowly, suffering immeasurably the whole way. If God is so merciful, so loving, and so all-knowing, wouldn't the fact that it would be intended to save her pain so that she could move on be taken into account by God? Could not, in fact, the doctors who would help her die more peacefully and less painfully, be a literal answer to her prayers for all we know? You are not God. You do not have special insight into the mind of God, so you can't know what He thinks of it. So please don't pretend to.

"Rather, I would think God's will is eternal in scope, and this present suffering, as horrible as Sebire's is, is a means to depend on God's grace and to bring Him glory by submitting to His will, even if it means present suffering."

So you would prefer to believe that God is sadistic, rather than understanding? That He would prefer to beat a person into submission rather than showing them to His glory and mercy? You would prefer to convince yourself that since awful things happen, they are condoned by God to keep happening and causing suffering? (What, Satan doesn't exist all of a sudden or something?)

I am sorry, but this seems lazy to me, and to be reading an awful lot into God's mind, when He is by definition well beyond any of us. To me, this seems to be taking the easy way out. You don't like the idea of someone asking someone else to kill them because of your personal interpretation of the Bible, I get that. Suicide? Generally bad, I agree. But it sounds like you would rather explain it away as "sometimes, God is a real jerk", rather than assume that she was simply unlucky. Given that she will meet her maker either way, I cannot tell you how uncomfortably close to arrogant that sounds to me, to read that much into His motives.

"Just because we can kill ourselves medically doesn't mean we should."

Nor does it inherently mean we shouldn't, in cases like this... where the patient is very obviously and unavoidably going to die, and painfully and slowly and horrifically at that. In a way that we do not even force dogs to endure, as I'm going to point out once again because really, it's quite pertinent; if we consider it mercy to an animal, why is it not mercy to a human to help make their passing less excruciating?

The tumors are untreatable, or had you missed that? And painkillers can only do so much. Even morphine can only do so much, especially without knocking the person out. Comatose and soon to be halfway braindead... doesn't sound like a good position to be interpreting God's grace. Last I checked, God wants us to actually think and accept His message in our hearts. How can one even be able to do that if they are made incoherent by drugs?

I believe Brenda has an extremely good point with this:

"I applaud her efforts! However, this will be a never-ending issue as long as there are those that believe they hold hierarchy over all our lives. This should purely be an issue between the person and God. If a person lives by faith according to the Bible, then it should be laid to them to challenge St Peter at the gates of Heaven."

This should, simply put, be between Sebire and God.

@Kurtis: "I do not think it is Sebire's place to determine when her god given purpose is finished. "

And it's not yours, either.

This is all the more important when you consider - and please, please do - that you, personally, are looking at this only from ONE interpretation of ONE religious text that was written centuries if not several millenia ago. Please stop and consider that it is possible - just possible - that your personal vision of "suffering to find grace" is flawed, especially in this case, that you do NOT necessarily special insight into God's mind. You are HUMAN, not a deity. You cannot possibly determine for sure what God wants with this woman. I am disturbed at the possibility that you are so convinced that you can, that you would prefer laws to be in place to cause her suffering to continue unabated. Have you not read the Gospel of Matthew? Particularly Matthew 6:1-6? Jesus preached vehemently against making noise about religion without actually being spiritually merciful. Perhaps you need to reread your New Testament a little.

No, this isn't an easy or painless decision to make. But it seems to me that there is no way to preserve this woman's life without causing her horrific suffering that no one should have to endure. Which to me, would seem to leave only one option that could possibly seem merciful; and that is to put a stop to her suffering.