Brittany Maynard was young, lovely, vibrant. Now she is dead by her own hand.
According to news reports, the 29-year-old overdosed on barbiturates in early November rather than succumb to the ravages of brain cancer.
Suicides are not normally celebrated, but she and her immediate family had turned her decision to kill herself into a cause that the media found compelling.
In keeping with the narrative they had adopted in order to rationalize Maynard’s premature demise, her family stated that she achieved her goal to die “with dignity.”
With all due respect to Maynard and her family, who no doubt still grieve, it nevertheless must be said: It’s a lie.
Death is never dignified.
It is not just an unfortunate milestone, an inevitable unpleasantness to be gotten through with as little discomfort as possible.
Death is a scourge. It saps vitality, withers flesh, reduces bodies to husks and living tissue to dust.
It is the culmination of Eden’s curse. By destroying the best of all that God made good—animate creatures including His image bearers—death mocks creation and exposes its own true nature as the implacable enemy of life.
Death should never be embraced. As the bitter means by which we are divorced from our loved ones and expelled from the only world we’ve ever known, death may be feared, jeered, or denounced, but not welcomed.
Though it’s true death may offer release from suffering—from petty degradations to ghastly illnesses of the kind that cut down Maynard—we should never forget that this so-called comfort is only a guise. Death ends pain not as a kindness but by shattering the seat of our consciousness and dragging our souls into eternity.
There we will stand before our maker and divine judge. Those unprepared for this unavoidable appointment arrive to their ultimate misfortune—thanks again to the grim conveyer.
The prospect of facing what could result in one’s final indignity explains, then, why the poet Dylan Thomas famously advised not to blithely accept death’s coming, but to watch for it and then “rage, rage.”
Understanding death’s true nature also underscores the need to resist government policies that make it easier for people to dispatch themselves. An official stance fostering suicide is not only ugly and immoral, but is susceptible to abuse.
Rationalizing death in any form leads to a callous disregard for human life and makes it all too easy to dismiss certain kinds of people as less worthy of our attention and resources.
The truth is all human life is precious—and fragile. For this reason those of us still well and blessed with vigor are duty-bound to comfort the sick, bolster the despairing, and treat with dignity even those apparently lacking the intelligence and means of expression considered the hallmarks of humanity.
But more than physical comfort, more than reassurance of our worth, what human beings ultimately need is something no fellow mortal (or government policy) can provide. We need a champion over our implacable enemy.
Fortunately, one exists—in the form of Jesus Christ.
Wholly man and yet wholly God, Christ the inexplicable hybrid died as an atoning sacrifice for sin—but didn’t stay dead.
He returned to life as the conqueror of death. And as St. Paul insists, Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee that all who embrace him and his gospel will also overcome death.
As Paul wrote to believers in Corinth: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ will all be made alive.”
Through God’s intervention we can vicariously enjoy this triumph over decay and corruption, to proclaim with the apostle and the prophets before him:
Death is swallowed up in victory.”
O death, where is thy sting? O grace, where is thy victory?”
Only then can we mortals be imbued with true dignity.