Responding to Assisted Suicide Issues
(Part II of II)
Editor’s Note: In part one, we talked about the suffering of innocents and whether or not it is possible to win all arguments. Today, we will look reflect on the sacredness of human life and the meaning in suffering. Here is the question we are examining:
Dear Fr. Bartunek, as usual, your reflections are quite helpful and I often share your wisdom with others. However, I have a big question regarding the idea that God permits some evil, and the suffering that comes from it, even the suffering of innocents. Recently, I had a discussion with my ob-gyn regarding assisted suicide, which is now legal in California. Her question was why should young children suffer the ravages of cancer or other dreaded diseases which involve such catastrophic suffering? Further, she said: We put animals down when they are suffering. I attempted to explain that children are not like animals, in that they have souls and we cannot put them down. She witnessed her father going through an agonizing process of dying and said she saw the assisted suicide in those cases not a problem. I also attempted an explanation of suffering to be a way of joining our suffering to that of Christ on the cross. This she totally disagreed with because, as she said, that was different for Him and He didn’t experience the suffering. I tried explaining that Jesus took on our humanity and did suffer exactly the same way we do. Please help, Fr. Bartunek. One, about her response to ending a child’s life because of suffering, and two, about Jesus, in His humanity, suffering.
Fr. Bartunek, I understand that what I am asking about this suffering may not be the result of evil; but I had not found an answer to this physician’s questions from someone whose opinion I respected, as I do yours. Thanks again for all of your many explanations and much-needed help over the years at SpiritualDirection.com.
Human Life is Sacred
As human beings, and especially as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors, to battle against evil whenever we can, to relieve each other’s sufferings (to bear each other’s burdens, as St. Paul put it) and to walk together through this Valley of Tears. But human life itself remains sacred. Each person is created in the image and likeness of God. We cannot simply put people to death in order to minimize suffering, the way we put an aged horse or a lame dog to death, because we have no right to do so.
Human life is a gift from God, and God is the only one who is sovereign over it, from natural birth to natural death. Yes, it pains us to see those we love suffer, and we are certainly permitted to do all within our power to help alleviate that suffering. But to extinguish a human soul is not simply to alleviate suffering; it is also to extinguish every other aspect of their lives – it is to put ourselves in the place of God. Human beings are unlike all the other animals on the earth, whom Adam named (thus showing that he was giving authority over them); they are unique and called to live eternally with God. We have no right to throw any of them away, as if they were merely a product that had lost its usefulness.
Suffering Can Have Meaning
Furthermore, God has indeed given meaning to suffering. Jesus truly suffered (just read the Gospel accounts of his Passion, or watch “The Passion of the Christ,” which beautifully dramatizes the reality of Christ’s humanity, and so the reality of his suffering). And yet, his suffering and death had a purpose – they atoned for the world’s sin and opened the door to eternal life; Good Friday gave way to Easter Sunday. This is a pattern that God has built into his plan of salvation. It means that in order to save us from sin and evil, God’s first step was not to eliminate those things, but to promise to bring good out of them when we live them with a spirit of repentance and faith.
This sounds strange, from the abstract point of view. But in concrete terms, I truly believe everyone can understand it. We have all known families, for example, who have had a child with Down Syndrome. It is a blow to the family initially, a cross and a source of suffering for them – they were hoping for a healthy child. And yet, so many times, when the child is welcomed and loved, that very child becomes a profound blessing in many unforeseen ways. Likewise, we all have known families in which one member was struck with cancer, and the suffering and pain that ensued became a path to reconciliation and deeper unity and love among the family members. Sickness and disease in themselves are certainly not good things. But God through his providence can turn even those evils into sources of redemption and saving grace.
Much more could be said – about the interior spiritual fruits, for example, that ensue when sufferings and injustices are born with prayer and bathed in faith and hope. But I hope these thoughts are enough to give you food for reflection and conversation. Thank you again for submitting your question. I will pray for you and for your doctor.
God bless you! In Him, Fr. John Bartunek, LC, SThD
Art: The First and the Last Communion, Cristobal Rojas, 1888, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.