Tuesday 26 July 2011

SPUC's Anthony Ozimic reflects on assisted suicide, rebellion and theology

Baader-Meinhof gang insignia
Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's communications manager, has kindly sent me his recent personal theological reflections on assisted suicide, below.
"Suicide is a hallmark of rebellion against the divine order" by Anthony Ozimic

May 2011 marked the 25th anniversary of the suicide of Ulrike Meinhof, one of the leaders of German communist group the Baader-Meinhof gang. Meinhof, along with the group’s other leaders, had been convicted and jailed for a series of terrorist acts which had outraged West Germany. Increasingly isolated by her fellow leaders, Meinhof descended into self-neglect, culminating in her hanging from a bedsheet. The other three revolutionaries killed themselves two years later following a failed attempt by terrorists to free them.

That anniversary highlights the close association between the acceptance of suicide and a failure of resignation to life’s visissitudes. In some pagan societies, such as ancient Rome or medieval Japan, suicide was seen as a way of avoiding a perceived indignity, such as defeat in battle. St Augustine, in "The City of God", gives an unfavourable verdict on such suicides when compared with the patient suffering of the early Christians. For St Augustine, suicide is a cowardly flight from life’s misfortunes. And for St Thomas Aquinas, suicide is a rebellion against the providence of the benevolent God.

In the context of modern terrorism, suicide appears to be being justified, by at least some Islamist groups, with reference to 'martyrdom operations'. Cherie Blair famously tried to explain the self-destructive bombings of Palestinians in the context of despair among the youth of the Occupied Territories. The organisers of 9/11 bolstered the terrorists’ resolve by assuring them that their self-wrought deaths would deliver them from this life into a paradise of bodily comforts. Here again we see an association between the rebellion of revolution and a rebellion against life’s realities. Self-destructive terrorists have refused to accept that less violent yet more difficult means are the nobler ways to achieve their political goals.

How are the suicides of Stoics, the samurai and some modern terrorists relevant to the current debate about assisted suicides for terminally-ill modern Westerners? Are not the proposals of Lords Joffe and Falconer, of Margo MacDonald and Debbie Purdy framed in terms of respect for law, order and civilised standards? Yet it is this very respectability which hides the objective reality of suicide. Suicide in Nazi Germany (whether for the ill or of Nazi officers) was commonly practised within a State which was anxious to give (at least outside) respect to legal forms and administrative efficiency. Yet Nazism was at its heart a revolutionary movement which totally rejected the sanctity of human life. There is a greater Judge, Who forbids His creatures to disobey His higher law protecting life from the insurrection of suicide.

It has been quite fashionable for modern commentators to describe our Lord as one of the first revolutionaries. One peer even claimed in a parliamentary debate that the Crucifixion was an assisted suicide. Yet, as St Paul tells us, “Christ was made obedient for us unto death, even death upon a cross.” His submission was the very antithesis of the despair and rebellion in the face of failure and suffering which marks so many suicides throughout history. It was not for nothing that on the Cross He said: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”; for the psalm He was reciting (Ps. 22) continues: “He hath not slighted nor despised the supplication of the poor man”, and ends: “My soul shall live.”

To recognise that suicide is a hallmark of rebellion against the divine order is not, however, to refuse compassion to those tempted to commit suicide for whatever reason. Rather, that recognition serves as a basis upon which we can explain that suicide is not part of God’s loving plan for His children in this vale of tears. Our lives are always worth living, not least because the Author of life “hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Is.53.4) By His example on the Cross, Jesus the suffering servant proved Himself to be the King of love. We must pray that all those who feel indignity, resentment, suffering or misplaced revolutionary zeal will exchange the rebellion of suicide for a hope-filled, life-affirming humility.
Comments on this blog? Email them to johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk
Sign up for alerts to new blog-posts and/or for SPUC's other email services
Follow SPUC on Twitter
Join SPUC's Facebook group
Please support SPUC. Please donate, join, and/or leave a legacy