If you’re an atheist, now is a good time to stand up and give a big round of applause to the Vatican. Right on cue, the world’s oldest and most exclusive drag show is proving better than any non-believer could why the Catholic Church can’t claim either the moral high ground or sway over public opinion in the wake of Brittany Maynard’s death. We knew that Maynard’s heartbreaking decision to take her own life rather than suffer an unmerciful and excruciating death at the hands of brain cancer was bound to elicit a comment from the Vatican, an organization which not all that long ago claimed that suicide amounted to a nonstop ticket to hell. But the condemnation coming from at least one church official is offensive even by the standards of a group of men who spent decades quietly sanctioning the sexual abuse of young boys while claiming to be the voice of God on earth.
You almost certainly already know the backstory: this past Saturday, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard followed through on her pledge to end her own life. After being diagnosed with a stage four glioblastoma last spring, Maynard moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication for terminal patients to use. Maynard’s last months, weeks and days drew plenty of media attention, an overwhelming amount of which was positive for the simple reason that by choosing the manner in which to bring about the inevitable — her death — Brittany Maynard courageously took control of the one thing she had left. She had chosen to die not only with dignity but with compassion for those she would leave behind.
Should we be put in a position where going on simply isn’t an option, the choice of how and when we die could very well be the most sanctified and inviolable right any of us has. Morally, it’s a decision that belongs to no other man or woman, nor the palliative myth to which he or she inexplicably chooses to supplicate.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this sentiment. On Tuesday, a bioethics official from the Vatican called Maynard’s decision and assisted suicide in general “an absurdity.” Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told an Italian news service, “Suicide is not a good thing. It is a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and towards those around us.” Thankfully, the Monsignor’s opinion carries a lot less weight than it used to legally and culturally and when faced with the prospect of a certain, difficult death it’s a pretty safe bet that the scolding of an old man in a robe would be the last thing on your mind anyway.
A representative of the Catholic Church was of course going to say this. It was always coming, particularly considering the outpouring of public support Brittany Maynard received to her decision. What’s interesting is how the the church has had to soften its stance on suicide in recent years to keep up with changing times and to continue being able to bill itself as endlessly compassionate. Whereas taking your own life used to be a mortal sin, it’s now seen as still wrong but — viewed generally in a more understanding light. This is a tip of the cards to the way that progress can force change upon ancient religions and it calls into question why, then, there’s a need for those ancient religion at all. If the word of almighty God is subject to human tastes and development, how can it be the word of God? If you’re fitting holy scripture to your life instead of the other way around, aren’t you cheating? And if you’re cheating — then why hell are you bothering in the first place?
Brittany Maynard made a brave and in many ways triumphant decision. While her family now mourns her, they almost certainly celebrate her strength of character and the legacy of her short journey on earth in a way that’s even more profound given her choice to take control of her final days. She deserves all the praise in the world for this. More praise, certainly, than anyone sitting in a far away cathedral who would criticize her.
RELATED: Brittany Maynard had a right to die any way she pleased. You can read that story here. Also, is it better to live to old age or choose to die while you’re still somewhat vigorous? We ask the question here.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.