Friday, April 16, 2010

Life, Death and Who Gets to Make that Decision

I've really been struggling with my writing lately...having a busy life tends to do that, I guess. Even so, I've had something weighing heavily on my mind lately, and it's finally reached that boiling-over point where if I don't get some of it out, there's a chance that my brain may start leaking out of my ears. Okay, not really, but it's an interesting visual.

Now, to more serious matters.

I was recently working on an Advance Directive/Living Will/whatever you want to call it. In that document, I made my wishes clear as to whether or not I want life support (I don't) and who should be in charge of those types of decisions if the time comes that I can't make the decision for myself. Technically, I'm giving a directive as to whether or not my life is worth living. So...if I don't allow life support or if there's a certain type of debilitating condition that I would choose not to live with, does that mean it's equal to suicide? And who gets to make the judgement as to whether or not it is? If I don't want life support, am I guilty of committing suicide? Or if my doctor withholds life support, even at my advance request, does that make him/her guilty of homicide? If a doctor disagrees with that decision and the courts get involved, does my Health Care Agent (the person making decisions for me) or the judge who would allow termination of life support also be guilty of murder?

No. On all counts. But that's just my opinion.

Now for a more heated part of the topic. Abortion. Go ahead and have whatever reaction you have when you hear or read the word. I know I always react in the same way whenever I hear about it or read about it. But you know what? I don't react in a judgmental way. At least, I don't think so. I make an honest effort not to judge, though I would be a liar if I said I never judge people. Of course I do. But I try really hard not to judge any woman weighing the option of abortion. But for many people, it's a topic of life and death and a topic related to morality and religion. It's obviously hard for some people not to judge. I get that. Maybe I work so hard not to judge because I've worked with A LOT of women, women of all ages in various stages of pre-abortion consideration and post-abortion feelings and emotions.

Their stories break my heart. I'm pretty sure their stories break God's heart, too. A woman once asked me, "Since I'm an atheist, how can anyone tell me that it's a sin and I'm going to hell for having an abortion?" I had no answer for her, and even if I did, it wasn't what she needed. As a therapist, I did my job and helped her explore her feelings about that. Another woman told me that she would get physically ill when she drove past churches that display the white crosses in front representing the numbers of babies aborted...not because she'd ever had an abortion, but because her beliefs were so strong that she discouraged her daughter (who was in her late 20s) from having an abortion. Her daughter was considering abortion after finding out about a medical condition that was going to lead to certain death both for her and for her unborn baby. This woman told her daughter that miracles happen every single day (and they do!), that doctors can be wrong (they often are!) and that her case could be one of those that went down in the record books if she and her baby both survived.

She and her baby did not survive. And the mother/grandmother was riddled with guilt because she couldn't help but wonder if she hadn't pushed her daughter so hard, if maybe, just maybe, she would at least have had her daughter still with her. Certainly, there's no way to know. She struggled with seeing the crosses because of the loss it represented for her. Don't get me wrong...many women would have made the decision to go through the pregnancy anyway and hope for the best. I think I probably would. But...if I died as a result and my baby died as a result, does that equal suicide and homicide? Or does it not count because intent isn't a factor? As for those white crosses, some people make the argument that they're no different than roadside memorials to honor people who've been killed in car accidents. Mmmm...maybe. But I know plenty of people who are also upset by roadside memorials. I'm one of them. I know I wouldn't want to memorialized on the side of the road, but I never gave it much thought beyond that until a friend of mine lost her husband in a car accident and people kept putting up white crosses and flowers at the accident site. She kept taking them down. It was unbearably painful for her to have to drive by it daily on her way to and from work and she kept asking people not to put the stuff up, but they did anyway...because it made them feel better. They showed no respect for her feelings. Ultimately, she quit her job because she didn't want to face another day of that painful reminder that she had to live the rest of her life without her husband. I'm sure there are some women who see those white crosses in front of churches and the wounds they carry in their hearts are opened up all over again. Some people might argue that they deserve it for making that decision.

My response? Last I checked, the only One who ultimately gets to judge me is God, and even He saves it until I die. Why would somebody else (especially a self-proclaimed Christian who is supposedly trying to live a Christ-driven life) judge another human being? Does God judge us differently if our intention is somehow labeled as okay or good?

If I take a bullet for my child or husband or any of my sisters, and I would, without a thought in my head...technically, I'm taking my own life. If a firefighter rushes into a burning building to save someone inside and he dies as a result...technically, he's guilty of taking his own life. Police officers go to their jobs every single day knowing that they might not survive their shift. Is it different if they die serving the greater good? What about our U.S. military personnel? They've chosen a dangerous career. Granted, there are plenty of them who will never see combat, never have to make a life or death decision...but what about the ones who do? If a soldier gives his/her life for our great country, is that suicide? Is the general who sent them to war a murderer? If someone threatens the life of one of my loved ones and brandishes a weapon, could I see myself trying to wrestle that weapon away and end his/her life before he can take my life or the life of a loved one? Hell yes, I could...and technically, I'm guilty of taking another human being's life. Again, is it the intent that's considered the factor? Is it the level of risk involved? Is it different if the person who ends up dead is a "bad" person?

If the goal of taking a life is to preserve another human life, does that make it better or more okay in God's eyes? I don't know. I have no idea what God thinks about stuff like that. Why? Because we're talking about man-made laws and beliefs. But if preserving another life would make it somehow "okay", then consider this: How and why is abortion considered wrong in cases of selective reduction (reducing a multiple pregnancy to save the life or lives of other unborn babies) or when the life of the mother is in danger? I'm not saying it's right or wrong or that I have a certain belief either way, I'm just presenting the question.

You know that leads right into death penalty issues. If a serial killer is put to death, presumably because of the heinous crimes (for argument's sake, I'm going to make it a male) he committed, because he's a risk to the general population and because it's believed that in order to preserve the lives of the people around him, he must die...then is the person who flips the switch or administers the lethal injection absolved of the crime of murder? The person carrying out the sentence killed a man. Is he or she really any less guilty of murder than the serial killer? I don't know. And I'm thankful that it's really not up to me to know the answer to that or to any of the questions I've presented here.

I've discussed this with a few close friends and some of them were appalled...that somehow, by presenting the questions for discussion, it makes me a bad Christian. And my goodness, what would Jesus think? Well...people thought Jesus had pretty radical ideas and asked some pretty wild questions, too, so I guess we might be able to relate to each other a little. I think He might be open to hearing what people have to say about all of it. And He'd still love everyone and forgive everyone and not pass human judgement, the same way He expects all of us to do.

Now, I'm going to take a deep breath and post this...

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