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Two Issues; One Response

There are two topics, more than any other, that people ask me about.  One is human sexuality, the other is end-of-life and euthanasia.  On one I have accepted the discipline of the Baptist Unions and will direct you at books you might find helpful if you want to think seriously about it.  On the other I can offer my views - not 'the' Baptist view, just mine.

I make no value judgements about the rights of other people to determine how their life ends, and there are Christian arguments that can be made for euthanasia understood as assisted dying, but for me, it is not something to be considered.  If someone I knew did elect to end their life - or have it ended - in this way, of course I would conduct a funeral for them and treat them exactly the same as anyone else.  A while ago when someone asked me what I thought, my response was roughly thus:

Death is simply a door from this life to the life of eternity (however that is understood by the individual) and what most people really seem to want is someone to walk with them to that door.  We all know we have to go through the door alone but to approach it alone is frightening and we just need someone to accompany us that far.  The 'goodbye' or 'farewell' at or near the door is different for different people.  Just as in any parting, some will quickly say 'bye' and be on their way, others will linger on the doorstep for a while, a few will sneak off when we aren't looking.  Some people stand on the step waving and waving until their friend has disappeared from view, others close the door swiftly.  My, relatively limited, experience, is that people, even people in tremendous pain don't actually want someone to open the door and push them through it, they simply want someone to be alongside them as they prepare to grasp the handle.  Some people 'choose' to die with others around them, some 'choose' to die alone (how often does someone die just after their last longed for visitor has left?).  I also believe, though cannot prove it, that in these circumstances people don't die until those left behind are able to cope with their loss - whether that is determined by God or by the dying person is a moot point.

One of the greatest privileges of ministry is being one of those who walks towards that door alongside other people.  To share a last communion ('food for the journey' or viaticum of you're more sacramental than I am) is precious and can be helpful in 'giving permission' to go through the door (ministers sometimes find ourselves seen as 'gentle angels of death' in this context).  But in the end we have to step aside and let go, the last hug, the last whispered 'farewell.'  For me, attempts to hasten that moment, or to pre-meditate it would be inappropriate - death is a mystery in the true, theological, sense of the word and should be allowed to remain so.

Now I know there are many and complex issues.  I know I've ignored murder and accident.  I know that life gets 'artificially' prolonged.  I know that even having thoughts on this is the privilege of wealthy western society.  Just that I get asked about it quite a lot.

Don't try reading anything into this, there's nothing to read in, except that there's a lot of death, terminal illness and chronic incurable conditions in the lives of people I know and love right now, and the question gets asked, 'what do you think, Catriona?'

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