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Dying With Dignity

brittany maynard
Brittany Maynard

What follows is a letter I wrote recently to the Defiance Crescent-News.

Dear Editor,

Recently, Brittany Maynard, a brave woman with terminal cancer, took her life. As a resident of Oregon, Maynard could legally choose to commit suicide. Many religious people are incensed over her suicide. A Papal Monsignor called Maynard’s choice reprehensible. Pope Francis called such acts a sin against God. Evangelicals have taken to the internet to denounce Maynard, suggesting her suicide landed her in hell.

Here’s what the religious need to understand: those of us who are not so inclined are not moved by quoted Bible verses and threats of God’s judgment and hell. For us, a God who controls life and death and afflicts people with disease, is a fiction. Everywhere I look, I see suffering and death. I reached a point where I asked, where is God? Eventually, I concluded that the Christian God was a figment of my imagination, an imagination fueled by 50 years of Christian indoctrination.

The Bible encourages people to pray, have faith, and hold on. The faithful are assured that God only wants what’s best for them. Suffering is turned into virtue, some sort of badge of honor. Those who suffer will be rewarded in heaven, the Christian preachers say. Of course, we have to take their word for it because no one has come back from the dead to testify to the veracity of the suffering for God sermons.

I am more inclined to believe what I can see. What I see is suffering and death. I should do what I can to alleviate the suffering of others. Imagine one of my children suffering from a painful disease and I have a cure for the disease. However, I am not willing to give my child the cure because I think his suffering is good for him. What kind of father would people think I am? Yet, the Christian God gets a pass when he does the same. If we consider a human who withholds that which could alleviate suffering reprehensible, surely we should view God the same way.

Theodicy, the problem of suffering and evil, is one of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. Like Baal in I Kings 18, when it comes to suffering, war, famine, disease, pain, and death, the Christian God is AWOL. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, suggesting that their God was on vacation, talking with someone, sleeping, or using the toilet. Could not the same thing be said for all gods? It seems quite clear to me, we are on our own.

At the heart of Maynard’s choice is the right to self-determination. As a person who suffers with unrelenting chronic pain and debility, I want the right to say, no more. Unlike many religious people, I see little value in pain and suffering. I endure it for the sake of my wife, children and grandchildren, but my family knows that there might come a day when I am no longer willing to do so. I want that choice to be mine.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio


  1. Avatar

    this is a good example of why i keep you in my RSS feed, despite the fact that i rarely comment. you say a lot of the same stuff i would say, but you do a much better job of it than i would… keep it up, bruce. 8)

  2. Avatar

    This was a local story for me. Despite the dire predictions made when our death with dignity law was passed, there haven’t been hundreds and hundreds of deaths because of it.

    I had to snicker when the Catholic church was bloviating over Brittany’s choice.
    Because most sane people don’t let a bunch of men in dresses decide what’s moral or acceptable to their gods.

    I hope to never be faced with such a choice, but it’s nice to know that option is there. And it shouldn’t be for anyone else to decide.

  3. Avatar
    Erin Word

    As a social worker, I absolutely agree with self-determination. No one lives in anyone else’s life. It’s “walk a mile in my moccasins” to the Nth degree.

    As a person with a chronic and likely eventually debilitating illness, I also absolutely agree. My diabetes is presently manageable, but even in my mid 40s, it already takes its toll on some days. Maybe I will surprise myself and it won’t be terribly problematic until I’m quite advanced in years. But, the odds disagree, and I want the right to say when I’ve had enough of complications without having to consider anyone else’s vote, other than my family and the people I love.

  4. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    Many Evangelicals and conservative Catholics allow their dogma and ethical rules to get in the way of loving kindness. So many think they are God’s moral police and judge and jury when they think THEIR rules are violated.

    Why can’t they develop a tender heart towards those who are suffering recurring pain? Why can’t they see that people matter more than their rules and regulations? If they were suffering would they not want others to show them empathy, kindness and tenderness? Would they not want others to try and understand their situation? They certainly would not want comments about hell to be thrown about? They certainly would not want their fellow Evangelicals or conservative Catholics acting like moral police towards them.

    My wish is that Evangelicals and conservative Catholics and their tribes diminish unless they can show by their deeds, words and attitudes that they are prepared to demonstrate loving kindness towards others over adherence to theological and ethical dogma, But I suspect that I hope in vain.


    John Arthur

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