After a short absence, we pickup our moral dilemma dialogue feature with a film that many think of when they consider moral dilemmas in the movies: Million Dollar Baby. This film garnered 7 Academy Award nominations from 2004, winning 4 of them, including Best Picture. Hillary Swank’s performance as Maggie Fitzgerald earned a second Oscar for her as best lead actress. It became Clint Eastwood’s second Oscar win for best director, and believe it or not, it earned Morgan Freeman his lone Oscar victory for best supporting actor. It achieved all that in large part due to how it setup, and delivered upon the moral dilemma in question; assisted suicide.
If you have not yet seen this film I might suggest stopping right here, as we will be diving into specific elements from the movie as it pertains to this issue of assisted suicide.
Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) is a 32 year old woman who has dreams of becoming the female boxing champion. She seeks out and eventually gets the help of one of the best trainers in the business, Frankie Dunn (Eastwood). The two build a strong professional relationship. Frankie takes her fully under his wing as a daughter of sorts, teaching her to always protect herself as he vicariously lives out some fatherly moments he has missed with his real daughter. In the championship fight, Maggie is injured to the point of full paralysis. She is restricted to a respirator for the rest of her life. In the months ahead her legs are also amputated due to lack of movement and blood circulation. Frankie sticks by her through all of this, but it is at this point when she asks him to do the unthinkable: end her life for her.
Frankie must now choose whether to assist her in her suicide or not. This is the dilemma that Nate and Gene will be examining. They will each present opposing sides of the argument as though they were in Frankie Dunn’s shoes. For this dilemma they’ll each try to present scripture to support their conclusions as they try to maintain a Christian perspective on the issue. Please keep in mind the positions either Nate or Gene take herein are not necessarily the views they personally hold. They are given here to encourage discussion and hopefully come to a clear understanding of where God’s word leads us in the issue of assisted suicide. We hope you examine each side with an open mind, and of course give us your take on it afterward.
Nate – FOR assisted suicide from a Christian perspective
Here is the dilemma as I see it. Maggie’s body is shutting down. Her spinal injury is at C1-C2 which means she cannot move from the neck down, she cannot breathe without a ventilator, and her numerous skin ulcers will kill her if not treated (as a matter of fact, doctors have already amputated one leg). The unfortunate reality for Maggie is that she cannot live naturally without constant medical intervention. So when Maggie asks Frankie to help her end her life (in what is referred to as “voluntary euthanasia”), she is doing so in the face of these horrible physical conditions.
Please note: Voluntary euthanasia, in Maggie’s case, is allowing her to die at her request. She does not have the ability to continue living under regular conditions conducive for human thriving. In other words, since Maggie cannot breathe on her own, her request to die is simply a matter of removing medical equipment attached to her to keep her alive. This is a different enterprise from someone smothering another human being who can breathe normally. This may seem trivial but it actually trades on an important distinction when considering the moral implications of Frankie’s actions.
Now, the pat Christian response to voluntary euthanasia (sometimes referred to as “assisted suicide”) is that it is morally wrong under all circumstances; and Scripture is usually cited in defense of that position. However, that voluntary euthanasia is morally wrong is not at all clear from a Christian perspective and I will be using Scripture as well to defend the view that voluntary euthanasia is morally acceptable under certain conditions.
As I mentioned, Scripture is usually cited to argue against assisted suicide. The reasoning behind this is: suicide is morally wrong. The problem with this assertion is that there is no explicit biblical commandment forbidding suicide. As a matter of fact, a number of Old Testament figures, like Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Samson (Judges 16:28-31), and Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), commit suicide and no moral judgment is given for them. By the way, these men were not in the severely compromised physical condition that Maggie finds herself in. They committed suicide to either save face or, in the case of Samson, do something good for God.
Now, some might say, “The Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Bible either.” That is true. So let me clarify: I am not saying that, just because something is not explicitly taught in Scripture, we should not believe it. (I am a Trinitarian, folks!). But, as with the Trinity, we must ensure that the biblical passages we are utilizing add up to what we’re interpreting.
I often hear 1 Corinthians 6:19 cited against the notion of suicide. Here it is: “[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” So, the argument goes, Paul’s words here entail smoking, drinking, and most definitely suicide. However, that is not what Paul is talking about in the verse. In the lead up to v. 19 it is clear that Paul is specifically referring to sexual immorality. In v. 16 he asks this important question: “[D]o you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her?” Out of that context comes the rest of the passage. So it is a stretch to insert other ideas into Paul’s comments here when that was not his original intention.
Look, there are many passages that speak highly of our prosperity and going to heaven.
Philippians 1:23-24: “[I, Paul,] desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.”
2 Corinthians 5:8: “[We] prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9: “God has not destined us for wrath…”
Jeremiah 29:11: “[but] to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Therefore, when a fatal calamity falls upon us we should not be obligated to remain in this world, but to leave it. Remember, in Maggie’s case, she cannot breathe on her own without a ventilator. In other words, her natural death is being postponed by medical equipment; and if she chooses to let nature take its course (i.e. ask Frankie to remove her medical equipment so she can stop breathing and die) then she is not morally wrong to do so.
Part 2 of this moral dilemma dialogue, in which Gene presents the position against assisted suicide, is written as a stand-alone piece and not as a rebuttal to Nate’s arguments here. To continue in this dialogue and read that piece, click here. Otherwise, please feel free to comment here with your thoughts on Nate’s handling of the issue so far.