December 14, 2023
By Jim Towey
Christmas is the season to be jolly. It is a time for comfort and joy. And how couldn’t it be? A holiday centered on the birth of a baby must surely herald hope, for every newborn bears bright promise. This is true even when the days are short, the nights are cold, and all around us appears barren. We know that winter prepares spring, and that nature is not oriented toward death, but rather, ever-renewing life. That is why the story of the Christ child – the emergence of hope in a darkened world – brings joy to the world.
Humans are wired for life. It is not only in our blood, it is engraved in our laws. Our whole system of justice is oriented toward a hierarchy that has human life at its summit. That is why we have a 911 hotline for life-threatening emergencies, and 988 for suicide prevention. We want to help our neighbors live, not help them die.
This explains why ambulances race to get an accident victim to intensive care; neo-natal doctors and nurses keep vigil over the infant who could pass any moment; the myriad of prescription drugs and food precautions we take are designed to avert illness; traffic signals and air traffic controls regulate travel safety; our military and police keep us secure; caregivers for the elderly and disabled make the personal sacrifices they do; prisons and jails conduct “suicide watches” for despairing inmates; and safety protocols that govern the use of everything from children’s toys and adult firearms to nuclear power plants and fitness centers are in place.
Whether it is the proverbial man on the ledge about to jump or the reckless driver speeding through a crosswalk with baby strollers in sight, we naturally recoil at the sight of any life recklessly endangered and admire those who fight to preserve it. Consider the heroism of the Israelis who resisted the Hamas butchers and rapists on October 7th. The efforts these brave and noble Jews took to preserve their lives in the face of sheer evil are testimony to the triumphant strength of God-given human dignity.
“Right to Die” movement will fail
This same dynamic energy that fuels human life and its preservation is precisely why the euthanasia and assisted suicide movements will ultimately fail. They may have surface appeal because our systems of care too often lead to unmanaged pain and unaccompanied dying. The existential agony of loneliness and the feeling of powerlessness while suffering, team up with cutbacks in the availability of governmental services and the increased use of AI algorithms to deny health care, to make the hastening of death an alluring option. It is not surprising to see that the suicide rate in the U.S. is at a record high.
But suicide is never a solution to a human problem, whether you call it “medical aid in dying” or whatever euphemistic term you invent. Mercy killing is not caring. Get ready for the push next year to expand these alternatives. It has already started.
A better path forward
It doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine if our government and health care systems actually accompanied the disabled or dying, managed their pain and isolation, provided them social and rehabilitative services, attended to their mental health needs, provided home health options and respite services for their exhausted caregivers, and offered spiritual succor to those fearing death. How few would be tempted to hasten their own deaths!
Let us resolve in 2024 to improve our systems of care to make them more humane. And let us be attentive to those who are depressed or hurting during the holidays. For many, it is not the season to be jolly but a time to question whether life is worth living. The more we drape others in the warmth of our compassion and attend to their needs, the merrier and brighter this season will be. We will say through our actions, “Life is worth living!” It may be difficult at times, but it is beautiful at all times because it is a gift from God, not a burden to man.
Happy Holidays to all from Aging with Dignity, and to those who share my Christian faith, Merry Christmas!
(The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Aging with Dignity and/or its Board of Directors.)