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The Valley of the Shadow

Another well researched, intelligently written and thought provoking read, this issue of BMS Mission Catalyst covers aspects of the current debates and legislative considerations around end of life issues.  Probably not that often that Baptists and Muslims get lumped together as the agreeing odd ones out on a topic!

Some very personal and deeply moving writing, honest and challenging.  One quote that really struck me was this from Tony Nicklinson, a man who has shut in syndrome following a major stroke:

"To end on a personal note I decided in 2007, some two years after my stroke, that I didn't want to go into old age like this.  I engaged a lawyer to draw up a living will and stopped taking all drugs that were meant to prolong my life. I also wished for a life-threatening condition like cancer so that my life may end sooner rather than later because the law is not helpful to me.  I also considered starvation but concluded that I didn't have the courage to put my family and friends through that amount of distress.

So, we a law which: condems me and others like me to a life of misery; makes my wife (or anybody else) a murderer for simply carrying out my wishes; puts people in jail for up to 14 years for helping someone to commit suicide; makes we wish for a fatal condition; makes me consider starvation as way out and sends society's cripples abroad to die.  Tell me, just what is compasisonate about that?  Who will defend sich a law?  What sort of person might he be?  Who can defend the indefensbile?  Perhaps your [Lord Falconer's] Commision will tell us."

From BMS Mission Catalyst, Issue 1 2014, p7, emphasis mine


That cut me to the core - that someone would wish for cancer as a way out of suffering.  That someone would feel their life was so unbearable that they'd choose the path that I, and countless others, are propelled down unwillingly every day.  That someone would want to die so much that they would want to be in the shoes of those friends of mine whose cancer ravaged their bodies and stole their earthly futures leaving their families heartbroken...  My heart aches for him, I cannot imagine being in such a place; I cannot imagine not wanting to go on living because my quality of life was so awful.  I'm not angry at what he said, or at him for saying it.  Indeed, like a lot of people who have/have had cancer, I feel that it (cancer) is almost certainly preferable to some other conditions and diseases, but I would not wish it on my worst enemy (if I had one, which I don't).

But it also jarred because on Friday evening I, with a friend from church, was visiting someone roughly my own age who has advanced and advancing MND, who has already defied her prognosis, and who is a truly remarkable woman.  Free from self-pity, she choose life, she chooses to find moments of joy in each day.  She uses an iris (eye) controlled keyboard emulator to communicate, and had written a lengthy message for us to read on arrival.  We chatted, properly chatted, via this medium, for an hour.  We laughed.  She shared stories of her student days in London.  We talked about church stuff.  And we prayed together.

The valley of the shadow: I've been there myself (even if I did get the escape route up its steep sides), I've been privileged to walk it with others, but it need not be a place of despair.  I thank Tony Nicklinson for his honesty, and I am grieved that he feels so helpless and hopeless, but it is only one view.  The woman I visited has no possibility of old age, yet, for so long as she has breath in her body she chooses life - and I find her attitude humbling and inspiring.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me...


  • Is the difference in attitude caused by faith or the lack of it, I wonder?

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