Every human life has value.

In a post that I linked to a few weeks ago, Wesley Smith mentions a man he knew who was dying from ALS who, after years of depression and suicidal thoughts, eventually came out of his despair and learned to embrace his physically challenging life. According to Smith, who was one of his hospice caregivers, this transformation was the result of life affirming support from his family and church community. Before he died he wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle explaining how those who are sick and suffering need to (and I would submit really long to) be loved and supported in such a way that affirms their life and dignity as human beings.

Euthanasia advocates believe they are doing people like me a favor. They are not. The negative emotions toward the terminally ill and disabled generated by their advocacy is actually at the expense of the ‘dying’ and their families and friends, who often feel disheartened and without self assurance because of a false picture of what it is like to die created by these enthusiasts who prey on the misinformed.

What we, the terminally ill, need is exactly the opposite–to realize how important our lives are. And our loved ones, friends, and indeed society, need to help us feel that we are loved and appreciated unconditionally.

The experience of a traumatic, life altering injury or disease affects a person mentally and emotionally just has it affects them physically. Your whole world suddenly changes and, as few people can really relate to such an experience, very often you are alone in that world with all its pain and challenges – envying the physical freedom of others (or your pre-injury self) and feeling slightly worthless or at least inadequate by comparison. A great tragedy occurs then when you are further isolated by people who, in misguided compassion, pity you for all that you can’t do or the pain you must endure, and justify your feelings of worthlessness.

nullAs for me and my own post injury life, I did not get where I am today solely on my own personal conviction and will to live. Besides the sanctifying grace of God, I was helped in no small part by a family and community who loved and supported my life. Who helped me understand that my life was still worth living though it had been altered in a major way. Though I tried to keep myself optimistic, I had my moments of doubt and self pity and would have surely sank into deep depression and despair without those people showing me how much I had to live for.

We must not give in to the radical individualism of today’s society which calls us away from this kind of compassion that upholds the dignity of the human person by “respecting” a suffering person’s desire or “choice” to end their life. Suffering does not destroy human dignity, killing does. Unfortunately so many suffering people are encouraged to die when they are really searching for a reason to live. As I’ve said before, no human being, whatever situation they’re in, should ever feel that he or she has a worthless life. And if they do, it is our duty as family members, friends and society as a whole to assure them that their life still has meaning and infinite value.

December 23rd, 2008 at 11:12 pm
2 Responses to “The Life of the Sufferer Must be Affirmed”
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    Roland Halpern Says:

    There continues to be a misunderstanding between being terminally ill, by definition expected to die within a short period of time, and being disabled but still able to lead a productive and fulfilling life. The two situations are as different as night and day (although a disabled person could just as easily suffer from a terminal illness as someone who is able-bodied). How to die should be the patient’s choice. If one believes suffering is ennobling or redemptive, then he or she should have the right to be left alone in their suffering. If one finds palliative care a desirable alternative, then he or she should be entitled to the best care available. And for those who are unable to achieve relief from suffering, whether they are able-bodied or disabled, there should be the legal right to ask a doctor for a life-ending medication. Exercising one’s right of autonomy to end suffering from a terminal illness is not the same thing as believing one’s life is worthless. It should not be about how we die but rather how we lived.

  2. 2

    Hi, Chelsea. I’ve found your blog by chance, and it seems wonderful to me. I’ve bookmarked your blog and I’m still reading some posts.
    I’m catholic and I’ve no doubts about the value of suffering, but for some time I’ve asked myself what would I do if I would be confined to a wheelchair or have some other accident (forgive my plain language, but I don’t like roundabout expressions). You are the answer. I mean, until there are persons like you, I can believe that faith is not abstract and Jesus really give us a strength like nothing else and nobody else can do.
    Thank you!

    Marco