Today’s must-read article is by Dan Savage, whose mother recently died of pulmonary fibrosis. It’s personal and painful, and it also touches on the political. Washington state has a ballot measure coming up that would make it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication for the terminally ill, and Savage’s mother, when her disease reached a crisis stage, had to choose what kind of painful death she wanted to face.
People must accept death at “the hour chosen by God,” according to Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the Catholic Church, which is pouring money into the campaign against I-1000.
The hour chosen by God? What does that even mean? Without the intervention of man–and medical science–my mother would have died years earlier. And at the end, even without assisted suicide as an option, my mother had to make her choices. Two hours with the mask off? Six with the mask on? Another two days hooked up to machines? Once things were hopeless, she chose the quickest, if not the easiest, exit. Mask off, two hours. That was my mother’s choice, not God’s.
Did my mother commit suicide? I wonder what the pope might say.
I know what my mother would say: The same church leaders who can’t manage to keep priests from raping children aren’t entitled to micromanage the final moments of our lives.
If religious people believe assisted suicide is wrong, they have a right to say so. Same for gay marriage and abortion. They oppose them for religious reasons, but it’s somehow not enough for them to deny those things to themselves. They have to rush into your intimate life and deny them to you, too–deny you control over your own reproductive organs, deny you the spouse of your choosing, condemn you to pain (or the terror of it) at the end of your life.
The proper response to religious opposition to choice or love or death can be reduced to a series of bumper stickers: Don’t approve of abortion? Don’t have one. Don’t approve of gay marriage? Don’t have one. Don’t approve of physician-assisted suicide? For Christ’s sake, don’t have one. But don’t tell me I can’t have one–each one–because it offends your God.
Somehow, putting on a silly clerical collar gives people the feeling that they can dictate how others will be allowed to live and die. They want to meddle, and worse, they want to make decisions based on the worst kind of reasoning — that the voices in their heads told them how it was so, that it was written down so in ancient books, that their myths tell them of codes of conduct necessary for an imaginary reward after death. That is no way to live a life, or end one.