Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Ethics of Dying

I submit to you the strange case of Chantal Sebire, the French woman who suffered until recently with a rare form of malignant tumor. She brought a case before the French courts, seeking doctor assisted suicide by barbiturate overdose. Her plea was denied on Monday due to ethical concerns. Despite the court loss, she was found dead today at her home in the town of Plombieres-les-Dijon. While we should applaud the court's decision, these pictures depict why we should do so with reserved respect and sorrow for this poor woman.

Chantal was diagnosed with esthesioneuroblastoma (here is a technical medical journal article on the disease), a tumor that (as the pictures obviously show) attacks the sinuses, mucous membranes, lymphatic tissues, and grows into the eyes. This tumor causes intense pain and loss of certain senses. In Chantal's case, the senses of sight, taste, and smell. The tumor is highly vascular which means it receives its own blood supply through veins and arteries, making removal exceedingly difficult and risky. Recurrence after surgery is very likely.

It is obvious from the articles that this poor woman was not a believing Christian since she did seek death (and likely killed herself). What should be searingly painful for us believers is that she will continue to languish forever. Hell-on-earth is nothing compared to Hell in actuality.

The court decision, while right and good, is somewhat surprising given that a number of countries neighboring France have adopted doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia practices. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg have all passed laws to allow doctor-assisted suicide, while Switzerland allows the doctor to prepare a lethal dose for the self-administration by the patient. This works out to be the same thing.

Again, as with most concerns, this is a situation that may be informed either by humanistic or theistic consideration. Ms. Sebire was humanistic, as are the European courts. Humanism sets the ideal of "personhood" and the self as the highest authority. What that implies is that if what makes you a person, by contemporary definitions, is stripped from you, you lose the "rights" and recognition of relevance enjoyed as a human. Life, in this mindset, is not worth the pain and bother of debilitating disease or injury.

A theistic viewpoint (particularly that of the Judeo-Christian sort) dictates that we are created in the image of God. Because we bear His image and He is most important, we are given an importance as well. Because we represent God, we and our lives must be valued. This has implications for court cases, medical decisions, and discussions of abortion/infanticide, euthanasia, and quality of life. The life of a human is more important than that of an animal, and while animals should be treated with respect and care, they do not enjoy the "rights" and privileges of humanity because we, and not they, are created in the image of God.

Humans must be treated with respect, love and care, because we respect, care for, and love God (please see my post titled The Link Between Augustine and John Piper's Thesis in Desiring God on 2/29/08). Human life, then, must not be thrown away or invalidated, even on the account of pain, suffering, and impairment. At that point, the person must be cared for as if they were the self or an immediate family member by the rest of society (read Jesus' consideration on the responsibility to one's neighbor in Luke 10:25-37).

Applying the considerations of the image of God (imago dei) and the neighbor considerations of both Old (Exo. 20, 22/Deut. 5; Lev. 19; Psalm 15) and New (Mat. 19:16-19, 22: 36-40; Mar. 12:28-33; Luk. 10:25-37; Rom. 13:10, 15:1-3) Testaments to Chantal's situation, we begin to see how far off track she was. Ms. Sebire, as image bearer, had the duty to suffer well, to make the most of what time she had left, and to model faith and hope in her creator. She had the duty to live.

The courts of France, for once, should be applauded for preserving humanity, even if it may not have been for all the right reasons. In a final act of disbelief and rebellion, Ms. Sebire removed the marred and hampered image of God from the earth; an act that should be seen as shameful and deplorable rather than offering any kind of example for the rest of humanity. This strange case has had a most tragic ending.

No comments: