"Death With Dignity" A Cloak of Nessos

A few months ago, I was sitting in the food court at a local mall when a young man jumped six floors to his death about 50 yards from where I sat. More on this in a bit.

In Greek mythology, Herakles (Heracles) and his family were traveling when they came to a river and encountered Nessos, a centaur. Nessos offered to carry Deianeira, Herakles' wife, across the river, while Herakles waded across while carrying his son. After Nessos carried Deianeira across, he tried to rape her. Herakles crossed the river shortly thereafter and, seeing what was happening, attacked Nessos, leaving him bleeding by the river to die. Before he died, Nessos whispered to Deianeira that his blood was a powerful love potion and if she put it on Herakles, it would bind him to her forever. Inexplicably, she believed him and put his blood on Herakles' cloak, only to discover that the blood was, in fact, poison and burned her husband like acid. So when people refer to something as "a cloak of Nessos," they are saying that something may at first seem like a good idea but it will greatly harm you in the end.

So it is with the "death with dignity" argument. At first, "death with dignity" sounds compassionate and noble, doesn't it? At least, until I remember that there is nothing compassionate or noble about helping someone die. As a Christian, I also realize that my life is not mine to take. Life is a precious gift and must be jealously guarded at all stages of development and in good health or bad.

We must be especially vigilant to defend the defenseless, where attacks against a person come from within his own mind. A friend of mine worked for a psychiatric emergency program and he would be the first to tell you that people who suffer from mental illness are hardly in a position to make even routine health decisions, much less those involving life or death.

This leads me back to the young man who jumped to his death. He suffered from depression so acute that the only rational choice in his mind was to commit an entirely irrational act. Imagine this scenario: What if as he slowly lifted his legs over the railing, passersby noticed but said nothing and kept walking? What if, as he leaned out, his hands still clinging to the railing, they still said nothing and continued on? What if one person finally stopped, only to softly say, "It's okay, you deserve to end your life on your terms. It's okay if you feel it's no longer worth the pain and struggle. You can let go if you want to."? My friends, that is what advocates of "death with dignity" do when they help others die, particularly those who suffer from mental illness or who are severely depressed due to a serious illness. And sometimes, these people "escape" the pain of this world only to fall straight into an abyss where the pain of this world pales in comparison. But that's not all. You and I are the passersby who say nothing, because, after all, it is such a "personal" decision. It is a decision affecting a person's life -- there can BE no more personal of a decision -- and it is for this reason that we must speak up and we must speak out against the culture of death.

Christians must avoid this cloak of Nessos at all costs. We must challenge those who have the audacity to proclaim that another person's life is no longer of value. Human life has intrinsic value regardless of situation or circumstance.

(For a press release from Americans United for Life regarding a court's recent decision on euthanasia, go here.)




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