A COMFORTING AND SURPRISING LOOK AT DEATH AND DYING

Twenty-five years after addressing to the subject
for the first time, Joni Eareckson Tada returns
to euthanasia as the main focus of this updated
edition of When Is It Right to Die?. She felt the need to
come back after learning of the tragic case of Nancy
Fitzmaurice, a young 12-year old girl from England who,
by the court’s order, had her tube feeding taken away. She
died fourteen days later… of starvation.

Over the course of the years, especially the most recent ones, Joni has followed closely any story or initiative carried out by “pro-life” activists or  those who defend “the right to assisted suicide,” as behind it all there is a family just like hers. Despite her paralysis, she has found an answer to make life worthwhile. And that answer is “hope.”
But why not die? Joni delves into the subject from the point of view of the human being that suffers. When is it right to die? “It’s none of your business!” “When the pain becomes unbearable!” “When it’s too  expensive!” “When you don’t want to live with all these limitations!”  “When it’s easier to die than to continue living!”
Joni raises the question and, from the cases exposed and their inherent outcomes, it’s not just about knowing “when,” but who wants to die, how and why! One can notice a complex interpretation when it comes to the  distinct conditions in which the patients find themselves, even though all  is oftentimes reduced into a “terminal situation.” And it’s usually not so.
From the athlete that is confined to the life of a quadriplegic who, even with the support of her spouse and kids, refuses to eat; to the woman dependent on life support for fourteen years, in a standstill  between her family, who wants her to stay alive, and her husband, who wants to “pull the plug.” Which side should have the power to decide? Who was freed from the terminal condition of “dependency” – the sickly woman or her husband?
With her vast experience of suffering and dependency but also of struggle and nonconformity for her condition, Joni dissects the numerous approaches to the subject, whether it is euthanasia per se, voluntary, involuntary, non-voluntary, or assisted suicide; as well as “death with dignity,” the “right to die,” “quality of life” and relative/absolute value; even considering the approach to the subject from the outside, though stating that the current tendencies in society is what influences public opinion.

THE FOLLOWING ARE REASONS INVOKED WHEN APPLYING FOR ASSISTED SUICIDE:
  • Limited capacity to take part in activities that make life enjoyable (96,2%)
  • Loss of autonomy (92,4%)
  • Loss of dignity (75,4%)
  • Feeling of being a burden to others (48,1%)

These reasons have nothing to do with the pain caused by a terminal disease.

Dr. C. Everett Kopp explains euthanasia in this way: “The whole thing about euthanasia comes down to one word: motive. If your motive is to alleviate suffering while a patient is going through the throes of dying, and you are using medication that alleviates suffering, even though it might shorten his life by a few hours, that is not euthanasia. But if you are giving him a drug intended to shorten his life, then your  motivation is for euthanasia.
But the book is not all about final moments. Larry McAfee, a civil engineer, suffered a bike injury, becoming paralyzed from the neck down and relying on a ventilator to stay alive. Prevented from moving outside the nursery and not being able to breath on his own, Larry  appealed to the court in order to shut off his ventilator and die. Though she didn’t hesitate writing to him, Joni read on the papers that the judge had allowed Larry to end his life.
However, Larry then opted not to turn off the machine right away, being transferred to another institution, with Joni eventually losing his trail. Years later, and to her joy, she found his whereabouts and reached out to him. They exchanged brief words about the paralysis, and before it was over she questioned him about what made him go back on his decision to  proceed with the assisted suicide and what motivated him to keep on living.
The reply was somewhat astounding: “Because I’m not forced to live in an institution or hospital anymore. I’m living in a little independent-living house with two other guys in wheelchairs. It’s a lot more enjoyable with a lot less pressure, less rigid. You can set your own schedule. As long as I’m not forced to live under the conditions of the state, then I consider life worth living.”
Viktor Frankl, the author of Men’s Search for Meaning, a psychiatric and survivor of Auschwitz, comforted thousands in despair. In his words, “suffering can have meaning.”
Joni E. Tada has done an extensive work of analysis to the multiple branches of this conundrum. This includes the differences  between “vegetative state” and the “minimally conscious state,” as well as what the Bible has to say about euthanasia and dying, and the  Hippocratic Oath, along with the wise comments of Christian authors such as Eric Metaxas and J. I. Packer. When Is It Right to Die? is clearly an essential work to better understand this subject from a biblical point of view.

Joni Eareckson Tada – ZONDERVAN


BY PAULO SÉRGIO GOMES