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Is Suicide Ever Right?

17 Jun

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” The suicide recently, of a friend has spurred the revisiting of an older post. On the heels of California becoming the fifth state to legalize a “right to die” for patients, the events of this trying week beg the question: Is suicide ever the right thing to do?
Before I move into a bit of conversation, I would like us to make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, spouses, families, and friends. We must state our love in words and in actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point. The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddled with chemical imbalances, at times. We are frail and all of us one breath from the end of life here on earth. We also live in a world that would swallow us up, as a vortex vanquishes its volume. The pressures are great on us all.
For me, there is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted by internal and external forces to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose, and that is our fault as Americans. There is also no mistaking the fact that there are other factors that can cause people to “feel” hopeless, and convince themselves there is only one way to deal with this hopelessness. These feelings are real. These feelings are heightened beyond reality, sometimes. They are feelings, nonetheless. I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into depression and destructive thoughts.
With that last query in mind, I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause irrational thoughts and bizarre behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or PTSDs–and even child sexual abuse. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously by loved ones and friends. A person living with “harmed and fractured insides” sometimes believes that such harm is a norm and that what we would call “additional harm” may be viewed as that person’s “additional norm.” When this happens, something is wrong inside the person. Add to this some form of chemical or substance abuse, and the brain is all cross-circuited, and emotions are imbalanced. The brain both affects and is affected by biology and chemistry. Emotions and the brain are inseparable, especially so for girls and women.
As a Christian man, I can assure you that praying for people is the right thing to do. Miracles do occur. I have seen some. But God gives us common sense also, and sometimes prayer has to be coupled with professional assistance and treatment. Asking a person to simply pray their way out of depression, or for healing from a fractured youth is one thing. Walking through these issues has to be accomplished by the person first admitting there is a problem. This is where there is often a hang up.
As quickly as we go to the doctor for a physical disease, the same should be done for something problematic emotionally and mentally. However, getting the right help with the right worldview is critical. I am no physician, and certainly I am not a psychotherapist. But I am a man of common sense and signs of trouble are perceptible if we take the time to see them and act accordingly. They are easily missed, and even more easily dismissed–until it is too late. Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for additional conversational purposes.
First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such? Love to know your thoughts.
Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is certain death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide? Can it ever be heroic for a person to take his or her own life, albeit for a higher cause–even if it means pain in the present? I have heard people say, “They would be better off without me, in the long run.” Some people actually think they are choosing a higher path, in their own minds. That is the issue. They see this negative as a positive. In a disabled mental or emotional state, one’s mind can confuse purposeful actions.
Therefore, third, is it possible for a person to be in such a confused state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? The converse of this is whether suicide is a cheap and selfish way out of problems a person sees not end to, and it is ultimately purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic. I have always said, if those who kill themselves by their own choice, could float above the room in which their family and friends gather, and see the devastation and grief their actions leave behind in the people they claim to love, they might very well wish to un-choose their actions. Yes, this is only speculation. But, we struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction.
If we trace the family history, sometimes is seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. But this is not always the case for the first person in the family to carry out the act. But now there is a precedent and a bridge crossed for others to more easily justify the action for themselves. I have heard people say, “I have suicidal thoughts because my mom and grandfather committed suicide.”
Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on. I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might can fit as factors. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not. We must understand that death is not a part of life, like a nap from which we awaken later. Death is the cessation of physical life. Taking one’s life with the hope that there is an eternal life, lessens the value of this temple we are given–the very house of the Holy Spirit and new creations, at that! This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I have my beliefs and these are strong beliefs–but I simply do not know. This is where my faith comes in.
I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and the eternal state of created souls. Certainly we cannot practice anything we want at any time, and think our lives are in line with the Almighty. What is more, we cannot expect those in their right minds, who rake their lives, to be accountable. Inasmuch as a small child’s brain is not fully developed to be accountable for his or her actions, I also believe there are probably some adults whose brains, hearts, and minds are so injured that they are not accountable for their actions, either. My only dilemma is whether or not all suicides fit this accountability factor. Again, that’s up to the Almighty.
In summation, here are six questions to consider:
(1) How is killing another the same, or different from killing self? Is killing still killing?
(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?
(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot repent and ask for forgiveness, after the fact?
(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?
(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?
(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or does not keep one from heaven?
Thanks for reading and thanks, in advance, for your comments. Please keep them respectful.

Is Suicide Unpardonable?

6 Apr

I would like to open a discussion on the topic of a person taking his or her life. We call it by the term “suicide.” Of course, the suicide of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, age 27, has spurred this post. Is suicide ever justified?

I am saddened about the death of Matthew Warren, and I am dedicated to praying for the family. I hope you are also.

Furthermore, let us make certain to spend a little extra time lingering over those hugs with our kids, and making certain to state our love in words and by actions. One never knows how long we have on this earth, which leads me to the next point.

The facts are that even with all of these loving expressions, we live in a world that is tainted by evil and sin. We live in bodies that are faulty, and riddle with chemical imbalances, at time. We also live in a world that clamors for our lives. There is no mistaking the fact that evil exists, and that some people are tempted to end their lives. The culture of death and abuse in which we live is pervasive. Many young people are not seeing their futures as full of purpose.

I am left to wonder the extent that biology plays into suicidal thoughts. I know firsthand the thyroid deficiencies that cause destructive thoughts and irrational behaviors. I am aware of the depression that haunts some people, due to chemical imbalances, bipolarism, or clinical depression. The threat of suicide by all should be taken seriously. There is the reality that the brain is affected by biology and chemistry, and emotions and the brain are connected.

When these connections line up and negative emotions emerge from angry moods and language of destruction, we all must listen. However, what happens when we are all blindsided by irrational acts?

Having said all of this, permit me to address some issues for conversational purposes.

First, Jesus, in offering up His life and being in command of the moment it ended, has been accused of suicide by some critics. I would like to know the differences between giving up one’s life by choice, and ending one’s life by choice. They are both ends of life by choice. Is it in the purpose that we consider one not as suicide and the other, as such?

Second, if a military person charges directly into the line of fire, we call this person a hero—even if it means his life is ended. Is this suicide to do so, knowing the outcome is sure death? On the other hand, again, is it in the purpose for which the life ended that allows the removal of the label of suicide?

Third, is it possible for a person to be in such a state that ending his or her own life is to be viewed as equal to sacrifice for a higher cause? Alternatively, is suicide a cheap way out of problems, purposeless, irrational, and devoid of anything heroic?
We struggle to understand reasons why people would be tormented by thoughts of death and destruction. Yet, if we trace the family history, it seems as if others in the family’s past have also committed the destructive act. Some argue this is a spiritual issue. Others argue it is genetic and that mental illnesses are passed on.

I think there is a sensible position in the middle, where both explanations might fit as reasons. Certainly drugs can cause a person to commit irrational acts—whether prescription or not.

This leads me to the ultimate question: If the last act committed by a Christian is a sin—in the case of suicide, which a crime against oneself and a sin to God, as well as the stumbling other believers—does this person find himself in the presence of the Lord, and ultimately heaven? I do not know the answer to this question. I did not originate life and I do not control its ends and eternality.

Additional issues for concern:

(1) How is killing others the same, or different from killing self?

(2) If suicide ever justified for the believer, if it means saving someone else from harm?

(3) Is suicide an unpardonable sin, since the person deceased cannot ask for forgiveness after the fact?

(4) Is there purposeful suicide to alleviate suffering, whereby the person saves others from having to deal with the individual any longer?

(5) If a physician assists in a patient’s suicide, by his or her choice, is that really suicide, or murder—or both?

(6) What reasons are there biblically, and what theological context is there, to say categorically that suicide keeps one out of heaven, or allows one into heaven?

I do not pretend to know everything, and I am neither a medical doctor nor a psychiatrist. Nevertheless, I have opinions. I shared some of mine. Now, I would like to know yours!

Death Technology

7 Feb

Anyone who knows me well understands my interest in some of the deeper and more controversial cultural issues emerging from daily living.  This piece is no exception. 

I can be sort of an iconoclast, at times.  I wish to open a discussion on something just a bit different here.  I hope to cause us, the Baby-Boomers, to reflect on what is known today as “Death technology.” 

In the article, I will be introducing broader concerns with respect to (1) Physician-assisted suicide (or aid in dying vs. active suicide), (2) Death technology in culture, and (3) mercy-killing, or euthanasia.  It might present challenging reading for some, but hopefully not.

In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s last journal entry into his Notebooks 1914-1916, the author questioned the nature of the relationship assumed between suicide and morality.  He wrote:

“If suicide is allowed, then everything is allowed.  If anything is not allowed, then suicide is not allowed.  This throws a light on the nature of ethics for suicide, so to speak, the elementary sin.  And when one investigates it, it is like investigating mercury vapour in order to comprehend the nature of vapours.  Or is even suicide in itself neither good nor evil?”

Here are some working definitions for the article:

~Physician-assisted suicide (or more popularly called ‘physician-assisted aid in dying.’) is defined by me as “the making available of the medical means by which a person may choose to end his or her own life.”  [This is what the Germans called “Bilanz-Selbstmord”]

~Death Technology, a technological medium specifically created for, or used primarily as a means to end the life of a human, or animal.

~Active suicide can be defined as “death by one’s own hand.”

~Euthanasia is defined as “mercy killing,” or death by the “hand of another.”

Assisted suicide (generally euthanasia) has a lengthy history.  People of ages past were given hemlock to drink, or weapons to end their own lives.  Today, we can see this “type” of practice within the ranks of terrorists’ actions.  However, a major difference is that terrorists also seek to take the lives of others, which is suicide-homicide (murder) by definition, along with their own.  Some people are no longer intent on taking their own lives, especially for political purposes.

The subject of suicide has appeared in literature throughout the ages.  Sophocles, Shakespeare, and a number of other prolific people of history “have depicted suicide not as a major philosophical problem, but simply as one of the realities of human existence.” (Weir, Death in Literature, p. 27)

It was Homer (ca. 8th century) who referred to “Thanatos, the Greek god of death, as the brother of Sleep.” (Bardis, History of Thanatology, p. 25)

The stoics had a fascination with suicide.  They admired the willingness of one who would take his own life.  They deemed it “an aspect of Stoic courage.” (Tillich, in Dyck, To Live and Die, p. 101)

Plato addressed the topic of ending one’s life, in the “Phaedo,” when he wrote:  “There is a doctrine whispered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run away; and this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand.” (Plato, “Phaedo,” The Oxford Book of Death, p. 88)

Aristotle was in favor of a variation of euthanasia.  He argued for “compulsory euthanasia for all deformed children.” (Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying, p. 90)  In addition, ancient Greek and Roman societies allowed for euthanasia suicide for the aged (p. 90).

In the Jewish Talmud, the Jews maintain their belief in a “tehiat hametim” (a resurrection of the dead).  To the Jews, death is a gate to the word to come (olam haba).  However, euthanasia was rejected by Talmudic teaching, even for the terminally ill.  Even the ill were considered “complete living persons” (Shabat 151a).  Furthermore, the practice of suicide came under strict condemnation.  The Old Testament was clear, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Robert Weir discusses the view of the western monotheistic religious traditions:  “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam . . . have considered suicide wrong because of the general beliefs, as argued by Augustine and Aquinas among others, that human life is a gift from God and that self-destruction in an inappropriate way of exercising stewardship of that gift.” (Weir, Death in Literature, p. 226)

It gives me pause that Weir is unaware of the radical jihadist faction in Islam.  Suicide-homicide bombers are told that what await them for their actions is 70 mansions, with 70 beds per mansion, and each bed adorned with 70 virgins.  First, where are all the virgins coming from?  Second, if a bomber is a female, what does she get?  Last, this ridiculous belief is nowhere found in the Koran, or general teachings of Islam.  This would be equivalent to a Christian faction telling people that to take his life in the bombing of an abortion clinic would mean instant “this or that” in heaven.  Taking lives to gain eternal life . . . duh!  I say, line up all the skankiest, disease-infested prostitutes of history and let them adorn their beds and mansions.  Sorry. 

History records that immediately upon the formation of Christian societies, “suicide was formally forbidden in them.  In AD 452, the Council of Arles declared suicide a crime” (Durkheim, Suicide:  A Study in Sociology, p. 327).  Most interesting is the fact that a person committing such a crime might be prosecuted and punished.  Anyway . . .

This all leads me back to the issue of technology used in ending human life.  It is one thing for a culture to allow, encourage, or even promote the taking of one’s life.   But we live in a wider society that celebrates youth, seeks to promote longevity, while at the same time elevates the ending of our lives as a valid choice. 

I am at a loss over this.  If this is such a good thing to incorporate into our culture, why is it I have never heard parents counsel their children from the early years, on how to end their lives should they choose to do so, alter in life.  Wouldn’t THAT be good parenting? 

The very fact that medical advancements seek to prolong life, heal people, and keep them alive, should teach us something about the ethic we have in this nation.  It is most contrary to those advocating death by choice, or by help.

What does it say about a society that speaks of the value of life and death in the same breath?  What does it say about people who argue that the ultimate choice is the ending of the very life of the chooser? 

What will future generations conclude when they read that so and so valued economics, and inheritances over life?  Just curious.  I have heard this latter argument a lot, lately. 

Suffice to say, since 1973 we have witnessed a rise in death technologies.  Abortifacients, various abortion procedures, such as saline, D & C, partial birth abortion (PBA), embryo destruction for harvesting of stem cells, and other life-ending procedures–and these are even before birth.  It gets worse after we are born and we age.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian stated that he wanted “physician-assisted aid in dying” added to states’ laws.  Reminds me of the late crooner, Frank Sinatra:  “I stood tall, and took the blows, and did it my way.”  Imagine EVERYONE doing it their way?

Dying has been glamorized as the most autonomous, dignified act a person can commit.  Culture deifies and glorifies those icons who are forever “young” in our memories.  Think about it.  Elvis and Marilyn Monroe in their late seventies, or eighties?  How sexy is that?  And isn’t this the issue?  The sexualization of death?  There are people even tempting death by “sexual practice” of asphyxiation at the point of orgasm. 

If a culture based on Judeo-Christian principles seeks to protect life at all levels, why then is this same culture allowed to remove these protections?  Who has been asleep at the wheel? 

The way I see it is that death is going to greet us all sooner or later.  We have some options, yes.  But are they all valid options for people of faith?  Here they are:

1.  Allow death to catch us as it will (I kind of like surprises anyway).

2.  Hasten death because we somehow think we have lost control of our own choices.

3.  Ask a physician to act contrary to his calling and give us something so that our conscience is not bothered by considering the taking of our own lives.

There is a fourth option, and for this option I turn to one of my favorite comedy teams, Abbott and Costello.  When asked how he wanted to die, Lou Costello replied, “Old Age!”  Not such a bad idea, in my mind.

Hey Abbott!

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