California’s ‘death with dignity’ law and the true meaning of life

California’s ‘death with dignity’ law and the true meaning of life

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It’s time we shifted the focus of our discussion about end-of-life issues from our ‘right-to-die’ to our right – and innate desire – to live.


PETALUMA, CA, June 12, 2016 – Last week, a new law went into effect in California that allows doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill patients wishing to die on their own terms. Prompted in large part by the experience of Brittany Maynard, a former Bay Area resident diagnosed with cancer who moved with her husband to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s lenient “death with dignity” laws, the law aims to honor what State Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) considers an individual’s freedom while providing “appropriate protections to prevent any abuse.”

Although the public debate surrounding this issue continues to focus largely on the right to die, perhaps now is as good a time as any to examine the much less talked about issue: the desire to die.

Unfortunately, the tendency is to charge headlong into such a discussion with little more than one’s personal opinion or, worse, personal condemnation of anyone who doesn’t share our own belief, paying little if any attention to those actually struggling with this desire. Neither is helpful.

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Given that the individual involved is likely facing some unbearable physical condition,  or the crippling thought that their life is not worth living, it’s compassion, not someone’s opinion, that’s most needed.

Compassion moves the conversation from the public arena into a more personal and ultimately helpful exchange; one that includes a genuine desire to eliminate the fundamental fear that permeates the individual’s struggle.

Of course, that may be easier said than done.

For Mary Baker Eddy, a woman who struggled mightily with tragic loss, poverty, and chronic illness for the first half of her nearly 90 years, the answer came through pure inspiration. After a decades-long study of the Bible, she came to the conclusion that there simply is no death, that life goes on, and that we all stand to benefit from this insight, not only in the hereafter but also here and now.

“When it is learned that disease cannot destroy life, and that mortals are not saved from sin or sickness by death, this understanding will quicken into newness of life,” she writes in Science and Health. “It will master either a desire to die or a dread of the grave, and thus destroy the great fear that besets mortal existence.”

Eddy considered her revelation a veritable “tree of life” that enabled her to triumph over her own challenges and to help others overcome theirs.

But what of the situation with Brittany Maynard and others like her? Should we just leave well enough alone and simply pray that we never have to face such an ordeal, or that someone we know personally never sees death as their best or only option?

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And what if our own reading of the Bible, or any other spiritual text for that matter, leads us to an entirely different conclusion and result than Eddy’s?

Rather than start yet another debate over what should or should not be done, what may or may not happen, perhaps the best course of action is for each of us to take whatever steps seem most reasonable and most inspired at the moment, and to at least be willing to look at life and death in ways that we may never before have considered.

Maybe then the conversation will shift from the so-called right to die to our right – and our innate desire – to live.

Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.

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