Delawareans: Oppose HB 160 legalizing Physician Assisted Suicide

I sent this to my legislators. Feel free to share:

I strongly oppose the passage of HB 160, the “Death with Dignity” act, which allows terminally ill patients to request physician assistance in ending their lives.

I work for an agency which is heavily focused on suicide prevention and life promotion, particularly among those with mental health disorders.  I feel that supporting this legislation would be counter to my personal values and the mission of my work, and would send a harmful message to those who are already struggling with mental illness and may be contemplating suicide.

In working on suicide prevention, we want everyone to understand that their life has value.  We say that we are being compassionate by extending the right to die to those suffering from terminal illness, but isn’t everyone who is thinking about suicide experiencing great pain and suffering? Isn’t everyone who is considering ending their life moving towards their inevitable demise anyway, as we all are? Isn’t saying that people who are dying faster or sooner have more of a right to kill themselves, implying that their lives are not as much worth living as those who are young and healthy, in other words that they are not as valuable? Isn’t it sending the message that if we are suffering (as most anyone with thoughts of suicide is), life is not worth living?

A 2015 study was published by British scholars David Jones and David Paton demonstrating that states where assisted suicide is legal have seen a rise in overall suicide rates — assisted and unassisted — in those states. The study show that, after controlling for demographic and socioeconomic factors and other state-specific issues, physician-assisted suicide is associated with a 6.3 percent increase in total suicide rates. For individuals older than 65, the effect was even greater, at 14.5 percent.

The legislation uses the term “die with dignity” over and over again. This phrase represents a true shift in values, suggesting that allowing others to care for you at the end of your life is less dignified than taking your own life, which places undue pressure on those who cannot care for themselves to choose death. Many disabilities advocate groups oppose physician assisted suicide because persons living with disabilities or chronic disease are already all too familiar with the implicit and explicit pressures that they face every day.

Most of us hate to see people in pain, and so it is completely understandable why this legislation may be popular. But being compassionate does not mean that we have to sanction suicide. It means caring for people enough to consider their lives precious regardless of illness, age, life expectancy, class, creed or culture.

It is a myth to assume that ending your life early affects only the individual. None of us live in a vacuum. Every action that we make influences others around us, at the very minimum by sending an implicit message. What message are we sending about the value of life for the aged and/or sick when we give them special permission to die?

In all 50 states it is legal for anyone dying in discomfort to receive palliative sedation, wherein the patient is sedated to the point at which the discomfort is relieved while the dying process takes place peacefully. It is also legal to refuse medical care to extend life in many cases. This means that there are legal solutions that already exist and do not raise the very serious risks that this legislation would raise.

Thousands of people make the choice to die by suicide every year. We already have the power to take our own lives if we truly want to. While this type of legislation claims to give more power to the individual, it actually creates a mechanism for the government and medical establishment to enter into decisions as to who lives and who dies, and this is dangerous.

Assisted suicide is the cheapest treatment for a terminal illness. This means that in places where assisted suicide is legal, patients can be steered towards that option simply by being denied the more expensive life-extending treatment that they may desire. There are already multiple examples of insurance companies offering people assisted suicide in lieu of chemotherapy, right here in the United States.

Additionally, while safeguards have been written into the bill to protect those with psychiatric illness (where suicidal thoughts are often a symptom of the illness), these do not actually offer protection, as can be demonstrated by multiple cases. Those who have a history of depression and suicide attempts have already received lethal drugs in the US (for example, Michael Freeland).

In places where physician assisted suicide has been adopted for some time, such as the Netherlands, increasingly permissive laws have cropped up. Currently, patients in the Netherlands may receive physician assisted suicide as children, for psychological distress without physical illness, and for chronic but not terminal illnesses. Dr. Herbert Hendin, who conducted research there, writes in the Psychiatric Times that there have been thousands of cases of involuntary euthanasia (called “termination of the patient without explicit request”).

Thoughts of suicide are sometimes a part of dying, but can be overcome. Like healthy people who become depressed, terminally ill individuals can recover emotionally with the support of antidepressant medications, a good psychologist, a caring spiritual counselor and/or the care of their loved ones. They often find meaning, even in the face of dying, using their final days to reconcile old hurts, tell others how much they mean to them, pass on wisdom that they have acquired in their lives, and appreciate the kindness and compassion of those who care for them.

As a person whose life’s work involves supporting those in psychological distress in the journey toward recovery and psychological wellness, I must oppose legislation that may pressure them towards a decision of despair.

A Few Post-Election Thoughts (Gag)

I know everyone is sick of these posts, but I have to say my piece, and be done with it.

I’m going to go ahead and talk about my feelings after the election, so if you’re at the point where anything containing the words “election” and “feelings” make you gag, go ahead and stop reading now. But to make it more bearable for the three of you who choose to continue, I’ll go ahead and type “gag” every time I type “feelings.”

I’m going to talk about why I felt the way I did, and why I think it’s important. Then I’m going to talk about what I think we ought to do now, assuming we want to ameliorate some of the division happening in our country and our church. I am directing this toward evangelical Christians..

I am, obviously, disappointed about the results of the election. I am disappointed in my country’s choices, but I have felt that way since the primaries.

After Trump actually won though, something changed. It actually really surprised me. I realized at about 2:30AM on November 9th, how personal and overwhelming my feelings (gag) were of being betrayed by my own demographic – evangelical Christians, who exit polls showed voted for Trump in record numbers.

I’m not angry at any individual for the way they voted, because this was a tough choice and there are myriad, complex reasons why people made the choices they did. And because I’ve had some time to process my feelings (gag). And because my evangelical pastor directly addressed the fear that people like me are experiencing in a loving and affirming way, and because I believe that most of the Christians I know prayerfully, painfully, and carefully considered their decisions, and reached a variety of conclusions.

What I am talking about here, is the broader demographic of evangelical Christians throwing their enthusiastic support behind a candidate whose character is so clearly antithetical to basic Christian values.

I thought that at least a wide margin of Christians would vote against Trump, and I was painfully disappointed when the opposite happened. I didn’t expect tons of them to vote for Hillary Clinton, but I did expect many of them to vote for a person of character even if that person couldn’t win. I even had a very far fetched fantasy of so many people voting third party that neither candidate could get the necessary 270 electoral votes. Because you know, America, if we all voted for people we actually wanted that could really happen.

Anyway, as the wife of a Mexican immigrant, and as a woman, it sort of just felt like my own tribe simply must not care all that much about me or the people that I love. They care that my children will be born and not aborted, which I do appreciate, but after that, apparently they can be mocked, belittled, groped, sexually assaulted, threatened, stripped of birthright citizenship, and deported. And hey, if they were on the other side of the world they could be bombed, and that would be just fine too.

I realize this sounds extreme to some of you, but I’m simply stating my initial feelings (gag) here, and I know many others who feel the very same way. It’s not about a republican winning. It’s about a person winning who has attacked certain groups of people in a very personal and demeaning way.

Don’t get me wrong: I am pro-life. I think that abortion is a huge moral blind spot in our society. But you know what other issues the Bible addresses at least as clearly if not more so? Welcoming the foreigner in your midst; Defending the weak and vulnerable who are walking among us; God desiring mercy over sacrifice; The fruits of the spirit including kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control; The importance of leaders living upright and godly lives; The equality of all people, made in God’s image; A man’s words reflecting his heart; The necessity for every one of us to ask forgiveness for our sins.

So whatever justifications we have (and there are many, ranging from the legitimate to the bizarre), I’d say it is fairly clear that Trump, who has consistently demonized the foreigner, mocked the vulnerable, displayed a lack of the fruits of the spirit, used words that embolden and condone violence against minorities and women, and never asked for forgiveness, is not the type of candidate we would expect “Bible-believing” Christians to support. So I was particularly struck with a feeling (gag) of dismay when I saw that a whopping 81% of evangelical Christians who voted, voted for him.

Based on my own post-election sentiment, I think that our support of a clearly un-Christian candidate has probably alienated many individuals in communities that have been belittled, objectified, or directly threatened: People of color; Muslims; Women who have been sexually assaulted; Immigrants; Refugees; LGBT folks, People with disabilities, and others. If I, a committed Christian and white person, woke up the day after the election having the initial feeling (gag) that I wanted to convert to a more loving denomination (and I did have that feeling [gag], for a little while), I’m sure anyone in these communities who wasn’t already a Christian did not exactly have the burning desire to go join an evangelical church. In that way, we have damaged our witness by supporting an ungodly man. Regardless of how noble our intentions may have been, this is a real consequence that I believe we ought to consider.

I realize that a lot of Christians stayed home because they didn’t feel they could, in good conscience, vote for either candidate. I realize that a lot of Christians voted for Trump because they felt the alternative was more frightening. I realize a lot of folks who identify as evangelical Christians, probably aren’t practicing Christians who put a lot of thought into the religious aspects of their vote. Finally, I realize that Trump is not a caricature, but a person (and a showman for that matter), so no one really knows what is going on underneath those downy, champagne locks. But regardless, we are perceived as having put a hateful man in office, so the onus is on us to show the love of Christ to our neighbors (particularly our neighbors who are disturbed about the election) in clear, tangible ways.

I also know that America is frustrated. I know that rural and small town Americans, particularly in communities where poverty abounds because all the jobs have been replaced by technology or gone overseas, feel hopeless and forgotten by the media and the government, because they are. Otherwise, we would have had a clue about what was going to happen with the election. We know that things are bad in the inner-cities, and sometimes we talk about it in all the wrong way, but at least we talk about it. For these forgotten people, Trump is a big orange middle finger raised to the establishment, and maybe they deserve it.

And there are other, varied reasons that people voted for Trump, that have nothing to do with racism or sexism or any other isms. Some people wanted supreme court judges who care about the constitution. Some people feel that their religious liberty is being threatened. Some people are desperate for change. Some people see abortion as genocide. Some people may not have liked the candidate, but they liked the republican platform. A lot of people felt a combination of these things and/or just had really major concerns about Clinton.

For those of us who feel horribly offended by all things Trump, we can’t just paint all these people as “deplorables.” For one thing, we know where that got Hillary. The left’s tendency to disregard anyone who disagrees with them as ignorant and ethnocentric is a big part of how we got here.  For a second thing, it simply isn’t true. And thirdly, it’s hypocritical. We can’t ask people to listen to our point of view while blithely dismissing theirs.

We keep saying that God is in control, and that is true. But we also know that sometimes God allows suffering. And I think some of our most vulnerable people could be in for some suffering as a result of this election. And fear is a natural reaction. So if you encounter people who are in pain or fearful, and you want to show them love, please listen before you tell them to relax because God’s got it covered. Resist the impulse that we all have, to believe that your experience is the only one that matters, or the most important one, and try to empathize. We need to stop dismissing one another.

Let me say that again: We need to stop dismissing one another.

Oh, you voted for Trump? You must be a racist misogynist. Oh, you’re upset about the election result? You must be a snowflake crybaby.

We have lost the art of respectful dialogue, and nuanced thinking. I don’t know if it’s our collectively shrinking attention span, or just too much looking at tweets and memes and too little conversation. But we seem to be lacking in the ability to respectfully disagree and truly consider opposing viewpoints. Maybe it’s just easier to be dismissive.

So here is what I think we ought to do now. If someone feels forgotten by the government, and worried about losing the moral foundation of our nation, we should listen to them. If someone is afraid because of the blatant racism that has been exposed and emboldened by this particular election, we should listen to them. Maybe we haven’t walked in their shoes, and maybe we won’t change our opinion about the issue, but we can still seek to respect and understand one another. (As a quick aside, I’m not saying we indulge nastiness, name-calling, etc. That stuff is not worth a response.)

We should let people know that we care about them in ways that are personal, and seek out friendships (not just facebook friendships) with people who are different from us. That is how we take some of the rancor out of this event. It sounds simple, and it is, but it’s hard work, and no president is going to do it for us. So let’s get started.

 

 

Life Lessons 1-10

I was at a doctor’s appointment the other day, and I filled out all the forms, writing my age as “31.” Then a few hours later, I said, “Wait a minute,” remembered the year of my birth, did some counting on my fingers, and realized I’m 32. I’ve reached the age where I can no longer remember how old I am.

Since I plan on living till I’m 96, I’m really only a third of the way through life, but I have learned a few lessons along the way, so I’ve decided to write one of those “I’m old, so I can give advice about life” lists. Here it is, in no particular order:

1.) Stop trying to gain self-worth from other people’s opinions of you. Promiscuity, perfectionism, and people-pleasing are just different paths that begin at a very desperate place of insecurity and unworthiness, and lead to a place of a whole lot more insecurity and unworthiness. It becomes easier to get off of those paths when you realize that you are already more loved than you can imagine.

2.) Commit yourself to God. You’re never going to solve all the mysteries of the universe, or maintain a constant feeling of joy and peace. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore and accept the tenants of your faith. There is nothing irrational or inauthentic about committing to something bigger than yourself simply because you can’t always feel it, or understand all aspects of it. If you could, it wouldn’t be bigger than you.

3.) Cut back on the drinking. We all struggle with moderation at times. Unfortunately, if you drink heavily enough, often enough, your regular self will start looking more and more like your drunk self, until eventually you become a stranger. When we are drunk, we numb our real feelings. We trade authentic connection and our powers of reasoning for sloppy, artificial sentiments and unnecessary confusion. We trade our treasures for trash.

4.) Don’t do drugs. See above.

5.) Feel your feelings. We don’t like to feel things like disappointment, guilt or anger, but feelings tell us important things. Guilt tells us when we need to change certain behaviors. Anger or fear tells us when we need to protect ourselves from further hurt or turn down our stress levels. Sadness tells us we have lost something we loved, and we need some time to grieve. I’ve done crazy things to ignore reality, and not feel my feelings. It has never led anywhere good, so I’m learning to walk through those valleys, knowing that eventually those things that feel unbearable now, will become bearable, and then become merely uncomfortable, and eventually they will become wisdom.

6.) Understand that love is not a feeling. Falling in love is easy. All it takes is some romantic music, a sexy outfit, and plenty of alcohol – just watch The Bachelor sometime. But actually loving someone is hard. It’s hard when there are little ones running around, and jobs, and so much to do, and it’s hard when someone acts unlovaScreenshot_2016-04-07-13-29-13ble, as we all do from time to time. And it doesn’t always feel worth it, either, despite all our platitudes. But then again, actual love isn’t a feeling, is it? It is actions and service and sacrifices and forgiveness and choices. And sometimes it is in those painstaking, daily decisions to act in love (even when you don’t feel like it) that feelings of love are rekindled.

7.) Practice forgiveness. It’s easier to forgive than to hold on to bitterness, which is incredibly painful. Not forgiving is a way of holding on, of keeping the hurt close, and forgiving is letting go, so that it no longer occupies your mind and your heart. It doesn’t mean that you have to forget, or that your relationship with the person who hurt you has to stay the same. It does mean you have to understand that you are also forgiven.

8.) Savor the moment. Even though we hear it all the time, it’s hard to accept that we can’t change the past, and that the future holds no guarantees. But once we accept that, it’s easier to enjoy the moment. And that sunset won’t last forever. You won’t always be able to enjoy a cup of tea with your grandparents. And some day that child will not want to sleep with his arms in a vice grip around your neck and his face smashed against your ear, so you might as well enjoy it now.

9.) Understand that everything is not going to be OK. People get sick, and they don’t get better. People do their very best and still don’t obtain the desires of their heart. People hurt each other in profound ways. People give up. Sometimes life is far more painful than we expected, and at some point, we will all face deep disappointment.

10.) But then again, everything is going to be OK. We see such a tiny fraction of space, and hear just a millisecond of the story. Human beings are tremendously resilient, especially when they harbor a belief that there is always a reason for hope, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. While I will never fully understand the complex interaction between free-will and divine providence, I believe that God can take our biggest hurt, our greatest failures and even our most asinine decisions and still make something beautiful. And if we look for it, sometimes we are fortunate enough to see it.

 

Clinging to a Mustard Seed

The night is hurtling towards the early morning hours but I lie awake with my mind spinning. A sleepless night with no distractions is my enemy. I push away memories like ping pong balls in my head, only to have them return, jolting, distorted, as soon as my body begins to relax.

And so I seek desperately for a solution to an unsolvable problem. My heart aches and my mind turns round and round for a resolution, an answer, relief, but there is none. Time (and work) heals all wounds, but I am impatient. I am tired of feeling.

My husband touches my elbow. I am pulled back, as if from outer space, to the present moment. To a half-asleep caress. To a bed, with soft pillows and warm blankets. We have so much. Our home is quiet and at peace in this moment. For now, the past is blown away in the sound of a stormy wind. I am sheltered in a warm home.

As the wind picks up, a whimper from the little one’s room turns to a wail. After a moment, I go to her. She settles immediately, like she just missed me. We rock a little while in our hand-me-down rocking chair. The stuffed and faded arms are scratchy, and it squeaks softly with each rock.

Soon her weight is limp in my arms, her fat, velvety cheek squished against my chest. I rock slower, then I stop rocking.

Be still and know that I am God.

She smells like milk and cookies, and feels as warm as toast. I breath in the moment. Then I lay her down in her crib and go back to bed. And there they are, still – all my worries. There on the bed, waiting for me, in a heap. Kids, marriage, job, money, home, parents, health, the state of the world, the state of myself.

Is everything going to be OK?

Some questions have no answers. The wind rattles the windows. I can see the tree branches shaking against the hazy moon. The ground will be littered with them in the morning, if they’re not strong enough.

Be still, be still, be still…5bdb5539-b0c8-4bd3-9971-67820b30e383

All things work together for good.

In this moment, the words are lost in translation. They do not make the journey from my head to my heart. But they are true, nonetheless. So I wait. I endure.

I focus on five things I can see, four things I can feel, three things I can hear, two things I can smell, one thing I can taste. I ground myself in the night. I count my breaths. I say another prayer. The same prayers, again and again. Then I listen. I remind myself that the silence does not mean that I am alone. The wind dies down. And before the sun rises, I sleep.

Want to see other stories of faith in the dark or add your own?  Click on the link.

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Self Care and the Christian Life

I grew up attending a conservative Christian school. Our skirts needed to be no more than 4 inches above the knee, and we had devotions every day and chapel once a week. I learned many of the foundational truths of my life in that school. But I may have misinterpreted some of the Biblical principals that were presented to me as a child, because my thinking remained too simple.

For example, I distinctly remember a picture that hung in the hallway. It looked something like this:

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This represented a concept that somehow crept in and took hold of me – the idea that I ought to always put my own needs last, and that if I could consistently put myself last, or think of myself as less valuable than others, I could earn joy. This is misguided on several levels, and it sets an impossible standard and also an unhealthy one. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. The idea that we are to love ourselves is assumed.

As an adult who works in mental health education, I have frequently spoken about the importance of self-care. But deep down, I didn’t really believe it. I thought it was selfish. Or that it was hippy-dippy psycho-babble.

I must have read my son the Jesus Storybook Bible five times before I noticed the simple phrase “they were lovely because God loved them.” This is in the beginning of the book, referring to when God pronounces his creation “Good.” And as it turns out, we too, are lovely because God loves us. I am immeasurably valuable because I am a beloved child of God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a temple.

My worth does not depend on how attractive I am, how much money I make, how well my children behave, how people treat me, how clean my house is, how busy I am, or even how much I give of myself. I am complete in Christ. I do not need recognition or applause to be important. I do not need a conflict-free life to be at peace, or a sorrow-free life to have joy. My identity rests in God and therein lies my fulfillment. And if I am this beloved, complete being in God, shouldn’t I care for myself?

This is not to say we should always put ourselves first. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be humble or acknowledge that we are flawed, and work to improve ourselves. But gaining humility doesn’t mean losing love and respect for oneself, and acknowledging sin doesn’t mean living in constant guilt and self-loathing – in fact it allows us to live in joy knowing that we are valuable enough that God suffered to offer us grace for sin. If we are that valuable to God, shouldn’t we treat ourselves as such?

So I’m here to tell you that I’m going to eat, sleep and exercise. I’m going to rest sometimes. I’m going to maintain healthy boundaries, even when that means saying no, or saying goodbye. I’m going to choose an apple instead of bacon… maybe. On a good day. And I’m going to love you, and love myself too, because we are both flawed, but we are both God’s beloved creation. And even if you think that the idea of self-care is hippy dippy psycho babble, I’m here to tell that it’s also sound Biblical truth.

 

Some Photos

Since my brother died in 2011, I have taken my kids to see his stone each spring, and posted pictures.

 

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It is a peaceful and lovely place for them to run around. I hope to foster an environment where we feel comfortable talking about life, death and life after death; and about health, mental health and mental illness.

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It is a time for reflection, and a time to remember Jesse’s life. I like to imagine that he is looking down on us, imagine the jokes he would make and the way he would play with the kids.

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Of course, I don’t know if he really sees us. I believe he is with God, and I don’t know why he would choose to turn away from paradise for a moment to look down at this broken place. But in my heart, I hope he does, because he would just love them.

 

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Even though I know he is in a better place, I wish he had gotten to experience the joy that the kids bring to our family. My children have brought me more joy than I could have imagined, and taught me a great deal about being a child of God.

 

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So I wanted to share their photos on my little blog, and say once again that we love and miss Jesse, today on the anniversary of his death, and always.  And to remember, simply, that life can be tragically painful, but can also be profoundly joyful. There is hope for each one of us.

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May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13