Jack Newbold wants to die. Jack has bone cancer and “he doesn’t want to put his wife and 17-year-old daughter through the trauma of caring for him as he loses control over his body.”[1] The good news for Jack is that he lives in Oregon, where a terminally ill patient has the option to “die with dignity.” The bad news for Jack is that the mean, conservative, right-wing ogres in Washington, i.e., Bush and Ashcroft, want him to be alive to experience every last bit of pain before his body naturally dies. Poor Jack … you can’t even kill yourself in this country anymore without the government getting involved.

Jack’s situation is nothing new, of course. Jack believes he should be able to control all aspects of his life, including his death. “By God, I want to go out on my own terms,” Mr. Newbold said. “I don’t want someone dictating to me that I’ve got to lie down in some hospital bed and die in pain.”[2] Numerous other “Jacks” have been voicing pretty much the same things for many years now, claiming that doctor-assisted death is a right that we as free people should possess. Even though nobody can stop Jack from eating a box of rat poison and ending it all right now, Jack wants to “die with dignity,” which means that doctors and other medical staff need to assist him in his “self-murder.” Ironically, dying with dignity requires the help of the medical profession that has sworn  “not to play at God.”[3] The same medical staff that exhausted all possibilities in their attempts to continue Jack’s life should now aid him in ending it.

But even Jack knows that this is not the whole story. He acknowledges that it is only “by God” that he can “go out on his own terms” in the first place. If Jack was serious about ending it all, he would take the “dignifying” barbiturate overdose now, instead of waiting. Jack may say he wants to die with dignity, but he doesn’t want to rush it. He just likes knowing that he has the option.

“I’m just grateful I live in the state of Oregon, where we have this option,” Mr. Newbold said. “I’m just sorry the John Ashcrofts of the world want to dictate not only how you live, but also how you die. There’s nothing more personal, other than childbirth, than passing on.”[4]

I’m not sure what Jack means when he says that childbirth is personal, but if a baby were born with the same cancer he has, the doctors wouldn’t legally be able to euthanize him or her. And this is exactly the point that “the John Ashcrofts of the world” are trying to make. If we follow the “death with dignity” logic, then the baby should be killed. Who gets to make the decision of who lives or dies? When does the “quality of life” degrade enough to fall into the legal suicide category? Should a ten-year old with cerebral palsy be allowed to kill himself? Why or why not? In the world of Jack Newbold, and others who support doctor-assisted suicide, death becomes “dignity,” while life becomes worthless. What can we say to the family whose son or daughter dies tragically as an infant, or a toddler, or a teenager? Where’s the dignity in that? What about the commuter who gets killed by a drunk driver? Where’s the dignity? What about the mother who dies in childbirth? Or the father who falls off the roof and breaks his neck? Again, where’s the dignity? The unfortunate part about “dying with dignity” is that we all don’t get that luxury. Why should Jack get a death of dignity when so many others before him have not? Jack wants us to believe that he is doing this for his family, to ease their suffering of watching him suffer but, in reality, Jack is doing it for himself. When is too much suffering enough for his family? When he decides to call in the doctor with the death drugs. If Jack’s wife and daughter were able to call in the suicide squad, then maybe I would believe his supposed altruistic motives.

Jack needs to realize that his death, and our own, is the wages for a life spent in allegiance to the god of self. The only truly selfless act that has ever been committed—Jesus laying down His life for ours—is the only path to true dignity. Jesus died a humiliating death so that we can live a life reconciled to God the Father, our only Source of dignity.


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/opinion/10Kristof.html?incamp=article_popular
[2] ibid
[3] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/doctors/oath_modern.html  For an insightful look at the difference between the modern and the classical Hippocratic Oath, click here.
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/opinion/10Kristof.html?incamp=article_popular