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14th October: Better off Dead. A Matter of Viewpoint (1)

Cursed be the day on which I was born! Jeremiah 20:14

It is sad but not altogether unusual to hear someone say that he or she would be better off dead.

Jeremiah felt that God had called him to so daunting and impossible a task, that life seemed unbearable. Yet he found that the God who had called him also enabled and protected him (Je 20:9).

For Elijah it was physical exhaustion tinged, perhaps, with self-pity that made him plead for death (1 Ki 19:4,10,14). Rest, food, renewal and recommissioning returned him to effective service.

In our medical practice it is not unheard of for men and women in moments of extreme crisis, or in times of prolonged mental depression or apparently meaningless physical suffering, to feel that life is no longer worth living. But almost always there are means of relief, and often this is a passing phase. Normally life is sweet even for those who are handicapped or are suffering the disabilities of old age or disease.

But there is a new turn in today's society, and doctors are being asked to decide for others whether life is likely to be worthwhile. Some attempts have been made to sue doctors for `wrongful life' in the first place. Mercifully the law has declined to define what constitutes value in life. As Gareth Jones points out in Brave New People. decisions regarding potential for real life are being based solely biological criteria, value choices on the worth of life have been reduced to `a rating on a scale of excellence'; `but', he adds, `life is more than simply a healthy body. It reflects our likeness to God, our creation in his image and our dignity based on his love and concern for us no matter how beautiful or ugly, how successful or fragmented we may appear to those around us'.

The fact that `life defined as intolerable by physicians might come to be defined differently by parents' was the experience of two shocked by the discovery of Down's syndrome in their firstborn. It took time for the hurt and the fear `to give place to total acceptance. He enjoys every minute of his young life. God has used him in ways we will never know...There are many people who love and serve our Lord today because we had a little handicapped son. We have three beautiful and very precious children but our firstborn is `special'. We have heard Down's children described as abnormal or imperfect and other such words, but to us he is non of these -- he is just Simon'.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Lord, grant us humility, compassion, sensitivity and discernment
in our value judgments and choices. Help us to remember how
precious in your sight and how close to your heart are some whom
the world would regard as worthless.

Further reading: Ps 8. 1 Cor 1:26-29.

MC

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