By Julie Grimstad with the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization (HALO) HaloVoice.org
The problem of suffering has confronted mankind ever since Adam and Eve lost paradise. Suffering – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – is an inescapable element of human life. Fortunately, modern medicine is able to relieve physical pain, or at least reduce it to a tolerable level in nearly all cases. People hurt physically less now than ever before.
Ironically, just as we are making real progress in pain management, as well as in addressing the needs of the total person, “death control” is being proposed and, in fact, practiced as a solution to the problem of suffering. Numerous organizations exist with the primary aim to make it legal for someone who is suffering to request and receive assisted suicide or euthanasia. Proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide claim that death is fundamentally a matter of choice. Those who oppose “choice in dying” are unjustly accused of wanting to force people to suffer unbearably. Is this true? NO!
The mental anguish, loss of control, social isolation, economic hardship, and other sufferings that often accompany serious illness and debility are more likely to undermine a patient’s will to live than is physical pain. Our culture glorifies health and self-sufficiency. It treats suffering as a thing without value, which must be eliminated at all costs. This climate makes it difficult for people with incurable conditions not to despair. Beneath all the talk about “choice” is the (usually unspoken) view that those who are very ill, old, or disabled should be put out of their (and our) misery. This attitude may be a loaded gun pressed into the hand of a person, who, at a time of great vulnerability, feels that he would be better off dead and his loved ones would be better off without him.
It is not easy to resist the popular mindset that some people are better off dead. Often, however, selfishness is what makes this idea appealing. True compassion means sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear or whose needs we don’t want to concern ourselves about. Genuine concern requires that we saturate with love and tender care those who are suffering, assuring them that their lives are precious to us, and they are worthy of our attention and protection.
Those of us who are sick or old must in turn be willing to humbly accept the care we need – medical care, of course, but also the personal care that our families, friends, and communities offer us. Our human task, whether healthy or sick, is to cherish each other.
Both giving and receiving care demonstrate genuine respect for human dignity and the sanctity of life.