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Should Every Effort be Made to Preserve Human Life?

calvin and hobbes death

Currently, Ohio House Bill 413 is winding its way through the legislative process. If enacted, the 723 page bill would become the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the United States. HB413 is so extreme that some Ohio anti-abortion groups oppose the bill. Not only does the HB413 turn having an abortion into a capital crime, it also requires doctors to reimplant fertilized eggs from ectopic pregnancies into the womb. Refusing to do so could result in doctors facing murder charges.

Never mind the fact that reimplanting ectopic pregnancies is medically impossible to perform. Doctors are required to attempt the procedure regardless of the outcome.

HB413 is the logical conclusion of believing life begins at fertilization. Ohio Evangelicals and Catholics have been pushing for zygote personhood for years. The goal has always remained the same: an absolute ban on abortion. These zealots demand no rape or incest exception, and many of them object to abortion to save the life of the mother. “Let God sort it out! He’s the giver and taker of life. If he wants the mother to live, she will. If not, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Fundamentalist Christian Jeff Maples believes ALL life matters, and it should be protected at all costs. Here’s what Maples said Sunday on the Reformation Charlotte website:

Critics have argued that reimplanting a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy is a procedure “not known to medical science” and would place obstetricians and gynecologists in a dire situation for not performing an “impossible procedure.” However, the bill does not require doctors to be successful in the procedure, rather take all measures at attempting to do so. This would, in effect, advance the science behind the practice making it more likely to save lives in the future. When dealing with human life, it is imperative that all measures be taken to preserve it — an unborn child deserves no less than a two-year-old child or an adult. That’s the whole point of the measure.

I wonder if Maples really believes all life matters. I wonder if he is a pacifist or anti-capital punishment? I wonder if Maples opposes President Trump’s barbaric immigration policies; policies that have led to the deaths of adults and children alike? Something tells me he is not a pro-life as he says he is. Most Evangelicals are schizophrenic when it comes to matters of life and death. Typically, Evangelicals, and their counterparts in the Catholic Church, only think life matters before birth. After birth, humans are on their own. Well, that is until it comes time to die. Then Evangelicals show up to protest and criminalize end-of-life attempts to lessen suffering and pain. Humans must suffer to the bitter end. Euthanasia is humans playing God, and that must never happen. In their eyes, physician-assisted suicide is murder.

Maples believes that every effort should be made to preserve life. No matter the cost or the outcome, life must be preserved. I am sure that Maples believes his anti-death viewpoint is noble. It’s not. Maples and others like him see no qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and a thirteen-year-old; no difference between a thirteen-week fetus and its mother; no difference between a teenager with a full life ahead of her and a ninety-year-old man whose life is nearing death. Such thinking, of course, is absurd.

I do my best to have a consistent life ethic. That said, all life is not equal, nor should every effort be made to preserve life. There is a qualitative difference between a fertilized egg and its mother. The fertilized egg represents potential life. It cannot live outside of the womb. That’s why I support the unrestricted right to an abortion until viability. Once a fetus is viable, then the mother and medical professionals must consider its interests along with that of the mother. When it comes to choosing between the fetus and the mother, the choice, to me anyway, is clear: the mother. Granted, if the mother is gravely ill with cancer or some other terminal disease, then consideration should be given to saving the fetus. Such decisions are never easy, but one thing is for certain: we don’t need Evangelicals, their God and Republican politicians deciding what should be done.

As someone who knows that he is on the short side of life, I don’t want the Jeff Maples of the world butting their noses into my end-of-life decisions or that of my family. I know how I want the end of my life to play out, as do my wife and children. I don’t want Christian Fundamentalists getting between me and my God. “Huh? Bruce, you don’t have a God.” Well, I do when it comes to this discussion. If Evangelicals want to wallow in needless pain and suffering at the end of their lives — all so their mythical God will give them an “attaboy” — that’s fine by me. However, my triune God — humanism, science, and reason — doesn’t demand that I unnecessarily suffer; when it is my time to die it is okay for me to say, “No más.” I expect my doctors, wife, and children to honor my wishes. I have seen far too many people endlessly and needlessly suffer all so Jesus would be honored and their family would know that they fought to the end. I have watched countless dying people go through unnecessary, painful procedures and treatments, all so their spouses and children could rest easy knowing that every possible thing was done to preserve their life.

Sadly, many people ignorantly think that longevity of life is all that matters; that enduring surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation is worth it if it adds a few weeks or months to the end of their lives. Evangelicals speak of being ready to meet God. They sing songs about Heaven and preach sermons that suggest True Christians® yearn and long for eternal life in the sweet by and by. Yet, when it comes time to die, they are in no hurry to catch the next train to Glory.

Instead of focusing on longevity of life, the focus should be on quality of life.  Sure, it is human nature to want to live as long as possible. But some things are worse than death. Often, treatment is worse than the disease. Personally, I would choose to live three months and then die, than to suffer the horrible side-effects of end-of-life treatments that often only add weeks or a few months to a person’s life.

When it comes to dying, God is an unnecessary middleman. He and his Bible-sotted disciples get in the way of what is best for the dying. Demanding that life be preserved at all costs only causes unnecessary pain and suffering. I know of Evangelical families who refused to let their dying loved ones die with dignity. You see, in their minds, all that matters is playing by God’s rules. All that matters is pleasing God. If their loved one has to suffer, so be it. God comes first. God mustn’t be offended, even if he prolongs the misery of the dying. Quite frankly, when it comes time for me to die, I don’t want religious zealots anywhere near me. I don’t need or want their prayers or admonitions. I want to be surrounded by my family. I want to hear them say, “Dad, it’s okay to let go.”

I have made my wishes known to my wife and children. Polly and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the various end of life scenarios; about what we want or don’t want to be done in the various circumstances we might face in the future. Both of us believe that quality of life is more important than extending life. We reject Jeff Maples’ notion that our lives should be preserved at all costs. We know that one day we will physically reach the end of the line. Hopefully, not any time soon, but who knows (certainly not God), right? Better to have these discussions now than to have them under pressure or when one or both of us might not have the mental acuity to make rational choices.

Not talking about death is not an option. Pretending we will live forever only leads to heartache when the lie is made known. The moment we are born, we begin marching towards the finish line. While I would love to live to threescore and ten or fourscore, (Psalm 90:10) I know that’s unlikely. Probabilities come into play. All the positive thinking in the world won’t change the odds. I am grateful to have lived longer than my mom and dad. But it would be foolish of me to ignore the realities staring me in the face. Pretending that I am going to live to a hundred helps whom, exactly?  The Bible is right when it says, “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) Solomon was spot on when he wrote:

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Last week, I referenced the advice I give on the ABOUT page. I think it would be good to end this post with that advice again:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Do you think life should be preserved at all costs; that every effort should be made to preserve life? How do you come to terms with your mortality? Do you prefer longevity of life over quality of life? Please share your astute thoughts in the comment section. If you are so inclined, please share approximately how old you are. I am interested in how age affects our end of life viewpoints.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar
    Brunetto Latini

    I made a living will to ensure none of my religious relatives makes every effort to preserve my life when it’s time to go. And I told my partner and my family under what condition I would want extraordinary measures taken — only if I would emerge nearly as good as I was before.

    I’m in my 50’s.

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    Mark C

    When I perceive that the quality of my life has sufficiently declined and hope for a meaningful existence as I define it for myself has passed, I demand for myself the right to end my life however I choose, whether the law allows me that right or not. After the deed, let them prosecute the hell out of me. As for a judgmental, vengeful God on the other side who would horribly punish me forever for making such a choice….seriously??

  3. Avatar

    I’m 66, 67 next month. Earlier this year I was diagnosed with bowel cancer, but was fortunate in that it hadn’t spread to other organs, nor even lymph nodes. I went voluntarily on a course of chemotherapy (self administered tablets, just begun final cycle).

    I’m now mentally and physically back to where I was prior to the diagnosis, with one caveat. I’m now much more aware of my mortality, and it does prey on my mind at times, especially when a couple of similar age friends have recently died. My worry isn’t for me, or even for my wife; I’m quite ready to leave this mortal coil, though I’ll miss life (except I won’t know about it). My biggest worry is for a disabled son, who relies on me implicitly, despite living some distance away, and who is going to have to be catered for when I’m no longer around. With this in mind I want to hang on as long as I can, hopefully into eighties and maybe beyond. But really, who knows what’s round the corner?

    • Avatar

      GeoffT, I’m glad you are doing so well and hope that you do beat cancer!!

      When my mom who had multi-infarct dementia developed kidney failure, my brothers decided to not have her undergo dialysis even though that meant that Mama would live only a few more days It’s not pleasant and my mom probably would not have understood what was going on. I agreed with their decision.

  4. Avatar
    Mark C

    In my earlier comment I neglected to note my age. I just turned 70, so I am really old and have nothing left to live for, but I have felt that way for a long time, and I’m still “with it” and really cool, and all that…

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    Why do these ”pro life” zealots restrict their concern to fertilized eggs? Why not sperm. Is a sperm not half of a potential life? Therefore all efforts must be made to salvage the millions of sperm that go to waste when only one is used to fertilize an egg. What about the boy who has a wet dream and leaves millions of potential lives on his sheets to wash away in the laundry. And let’s not even talk about masturbation which of course is a mortal sin which no fundamentalist man would ever dream of. Now reinserting semen back into the human body may not be possible but since it contains the genetic material of human life every means should be taken to do so. I challenge Jeff Maples to attempt a semen reinsertion procedure every time he ejaculates. Certainly his god expects nothing less.

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    I wonder why we dont hear many evangelicals condemning people with a Di Not Resuscitate directive – or maybe they do and I am not aware. My mom was an evangelical Christian, and I am so thankful that she was smart enough to make clear, legal instructions about her end of life, and she also prepaid and preplanned all her funeral arrangements.

    Another evangelical I know chose not to continue chemotherapy treatment for his aggressive glioblastoma. Of course, Christian’s were all praying for a miracle that didn’t come, but no one openly criticized him for his choice.

    New Jersey is one of a handful of US States allowing doctor assisted end of life. There’s a procedure to make sure the person is of sound judgment along with extra verification from doctors. I read an article a few months ago about a woman who is thought to be the first person in NJ to pursue it. She had to consult 40 doctors before she found any willing to help her out, but in the end she passed peacefully as she and her family chose. I like that.

    I dont think all “life” is equally worth saving. Evangelicals don’t really either. They don’t think people who are capable of making “bad” choices are worth as much as those who aren’t. If they did, they would promote healthcare, social, and education programs for children and parents. They don’t. They also support wars and capital punishment. Apparently only some lives are important, the ones who chose to be born in the “right” country or those who aren’t charged with crimes. You’d think they would oppose capital punishment as they should want a criminal as much time as possible to “get saved”.

    Don’t get me started on the anti-abortion zealots.

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    We live in a day and age where life is absolutely terminal. Fifty years from now, we could reasonably possess no terminal life span. If one can’t eliminate death or make it irrelevant, we should have that choice to terminate. Reversal of the ageing process, backward Time travel, raising the dead are all lofty goals to shoot for in the distant future BUT this is now!!! Make the decisions that R relevant NOW!! The future will take care of itself. The Bible will not. Nor will it take care of U or your families.

  8. Avatar

    i already almost died once, a little more than 17 years ago, of an arteriovenous malformation in my brain, which burst.

    the first thing i said, after i regained consciousness following nine days of being in a coma, and undergoing open-skull brain surgery for 12 hours, was “why didn’t you just let me die?”

    it’s almost 20 years later, and i still don’t have a satisfactory answer to that question.

    yeah, there have been a few things that i have enjoyed about the intervening years, but there have also been quite a few things that i definitely DID NOT enjoy, and i’m not 100% positive that the good things outweigh the bad things.

    because of the fact that i have already experienced one brain injury, the probability is 50% higher that i may experience another brain injury, at some point in the future.

    if that happens, i want to make sure that jeff maples and his crowd don’t have any say in whether or not i should continue living.

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    I’m 60 but have believed for decades that assisted suicide should be legal everywhere. We have no problem with putting our pets down rather than prolong their misery with treatments that will likely, at best, just buy them a bit more time. The same should be true for humans.
    As for re-implanting embryos, that has to be the purest folly I’ve heard. Surely by the time an ectopic pregnancy is discovered, it’s already causing major problems for the mother and has probably begun detaching. No blood supply = brain death. Even if it could be re-implanted, I’d think there is a grave chance of brain damage. But I think the people behind this law know that and just want to be as restrictive with reproductive rights as possible. WTF is the deal with Ohio anyway? (BTW, I have family there; I do care about the place!)

  10. Avatar
    Melissa A Montana

    I’m 52, and I need to get around to making my final arrangements. I don’t believe these “pro-life” laws are about the sanctity of life. They are all designed to torture anyone not a rich, white, Christian, straight male. Who do these laws mainly affect? The rich will pay off their doctors or fly off to another country to do what they want. The Christian fanatics will do what they want and lie about it to appear pious. These laws harm the poor, elderly, women, disabled, POC’s, and LGBTQ’s. Anyone who isn’t among the “anointed” class will have their lives controlled from conception until death. They want power of life, reproduction, sex, marriage, and death over all citizens. And they don’t care whom they kill (or in the case of end-of-life choices, allow to suffer) in order to get that power.

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    Do you think life should be preserved at all costs; that every effort should be made to preserve life?

    I believe every effort should be made to carry out the wishes of the person whose life is under discussion. Some women might choose to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a fetus even if its chances of survival are poor; others would prefer to have an abortion and save their own lives. Some people facing death want everything possible to be done to delay it, while others prefer to let death come once their quality of life has sunk below the level they deem makes it worth living. There are no right or wrong choices. What needs to be respected is each individual’s self-determination.

    I strongly agree with Dale’s comment above. Potential healthy life span is a moving target due to advancing technology. Today most people can anticipate 70 or 80 years of reasonably healthy and pleasant living; a century ago most healthy lives were much shorter. When the aging process is curable and youth and health can be preserved indefinitely, I can’t imagine ever wanting to die (although, again, if some people choose not to avail themselves of the technology and just let themselves age to death, their wishes should be respected). But this is probably decades away.

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    WHEN will Democrats learn to attach a rider to EVERY abortion bill that makes it LAW that the biological father (proven via DNA testing) will have to PAY for half of EVERY dollar spent on the baby? Medical, cost of living, education. Either pay or go to jail.

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    Catherine Kirk

    I just had this conversation with my grandmother yesterday. She is in her 80s. She is giving me power of attorney to make final decisions for her end of life care. As sad as I will be, i completely intend to honor her wishes to let her go when the time comes. I can respect that. I have fibromyalgia and a few other health problems and I understand not wanting to live in pain, and not wanting to simply survive without any quality of life. I am 43 and I have already told my family to “pull the plug” if I am not expected to make a satisfactory recovery. I do not want to live that way.

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Bruce Gerencser