Kara Tippetts and Brittany Maynard: Does suffering open a spiritual door?

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Kara Tippetts — dying from metastatic breast cancer at age 36 — is no Brittany Maynard.

Maynard made international news last fall as the 29 year old who chose to die by taking a legal lethal prescription rather than lose her mind to an aggressive cancerous brain tumor.

Maynard starred in tear-inducing videos circulated by the right-to-die lobbying group, Compassion & Choices. There is no record of any mention of a religious or spiritual superstructure underlying her reasoning. Even as she touted her right to choose the day of her death, the newlywed spoke always of loving life.

Compassion-427x285Tippetts, the Colorado wife and mother of four, has now ended all treatment and rests at home awaiting death. She has become the poster face of an opposite view, one that sees that physician assisted dying as a betrayal of love, God and faith, not an act of loving life.

Just as Maynard became a media flash, Tippetts’ book came out addressing death, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s HardShe was already known to many believers through her blog, Mundane Faithfulness.

The Maynard publicity blitz was the altar-call, so to speak, for wider access to physician assisted dying, currently legal in only five states. She wanted her legacy to be millions of living advocates lobbying the other 45 state legislatures. This horrified believers who stepped out in blogs and op-eds to offer an alternative vision – Kara Tippetts.

In calm and elegant posts, Tippetts’ evangelical Christian faith wraps her in spiritual comfort. Take a recent one, “By Degrees — Dying and living.”

“My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live.”

Tippetts wrote an open letter to Maynard in October. It began with gratitude.

I think it is good for our culture to know what is happening in Oregon.

It’s a discussion that needs to be brought out of the quiet corners and brought brightly into the light. You sharing your story has done that. It matters, and it is unbelievably important. Thank you.

Brittany Maynard, who died Saturday, advocated for other terminally ill people to be able to choose their day of death as she did.

Brittany Maynard, who died Nov. 1, advocated for other terminally ill people to be able to choose their day of death as she did.

But, Tippetts wrote:  “Dear heart, we simply disagree …  hastening death was never what God intended.”

The letter is a quilt she offered to wrap Maynard warmly in evangelical love.

Jesus, she told Maynard, “overcame the death you and I are facing in our cancer. He longs to know you, to shepherd you in your dying, and to give you life and give you life abundant- eternal life.”

Tippetts offers the altar call of traditional Christian belief, one in which suffering has meaning, to the dying reader. Her last December blog post concluded with an invitation:

“Will you trust Jesus that He knows the moments, He holds the moments, and He will take me away to the land of no more tears at exactly the right moment- and He will also shepherd and love my people after that last breath.”

On her Facebook page Dec. 31, where she mentions she has now turned to hospice care, Tippetts writes that in God’s time… “Doors will appropriately open and close.”

When Maynard died, I wrote in Faith & Reason about what her choice to set her day of death says about the meaning of suffering. She saw no spiritual gift in it.

Tippetts does.

Maynard wanted to rally the troops to give everyone the same option. Tippetts sounds the rallying cry of those who say this is a sad and sinful road.

Ross Douthat, who opposes assisted suicide (he uses the hot-button vocabulary of those oppose the neutral word “dying” for an act they say is not neutral) wrote in the New York Times:

The future of the assisted suicide debate may depend, in part, on whether Tippetts’s case for the worth of what can seem like pointless suffering can be made either without her theological perspective, or by a liberalism more open to metaphysical arguments than the left is today.”

What do you say?

(Note: If you comment, please make your point -– once — then step aside for others. No cyber-smacking around people who disagree.)

  • Larry

    You are not going to find a sane response to those seeking assisted suicide by invoking religious arguments. They come off as callous, simplistic and in some cases a bit sadistic. The argument is God hates suicide. Well that is all well and good for your sect, but it is hardly a universal argument nor likely to have traction if one wants a well reasoned answer*.

    Btw quoting Ross Douthat is never a good idea when one wants to present a side as being worthy of consideration. The man is a dolt. His article was asinine and loaded with partisan assumptions and nonsense. Suffering does not require a metaphysical argument. Its called being a human being with a measure of empathy. The subject is not as divided on conservative/liberal lines as he would have it either.

    *I do not support assisted suicide, but my reasons are a little more grounded. People should not try to drag others (or the state) into such a personal decision. If one is capable of the decision, one is capable of the act.

  • Jon

    First and foremost:

    How one dies is a personal choice that each person must have the freedom to make on their own. I hope all rational people can agree upon that. Once someone agrees with that, they they are on the side of the right to die proponents.

    As is often the case, this issue comes down to freedom to choose vs. forcing everyone to act as the Christians say they must.

    The right to die people are not in any way saying that everyone should be forced to hasten death. They are saying that this is a personal choice that everyone in a free country must have the right to make. It is the Christian side that is, again, trying to force their views on everyone by making it illegal to choose to end one’s suffering.

    All the talk about the religious enjoyment of suffering can make a good side conversation – but only AFTER we all agree on the right to die. Before that it’s not a discussion about the merits of each, but rather a discussion about letting one group force their religion upon everyone else.

    Anyone failing to make that distinction between these two different discussions is enabling the Christians in misrepresenting their position as anything but forced suffering.

    I say we ALL have the freedom to decide FOR OURSELVES. Do you?

  • Americans want to know why the church is dying… The media has not satisfied the question yet! Let’s publish.
    Gotquestions.org says it’s because few young adults believe in Satan or that Christianity is the only true religion. Why don’t they believe?
    The primary reason for the exodus is sociological. Most young adults go to school, work, and live with diverse friends now. But the church, as always, insists that their religions are an abomination.
    This long standing precept of the church has struck a cultural nerve with most young adults. With Indians, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and middle easterners all around them, they’re quitting church because this policy is divisive and offensive to their new friends. So Americans are searching for, and finding non-discriminatory spirituality outside the church. This micro phenomenon is becoming macro, and could be the undoing of the world’s largest religion.
    Let’s talk about this and other contributing factors.
    Truly, Brad O’Donnell, Richmond, Va. Video:

  • Frank

    Only God gives life and only God has the right to take it away. Your life is not your own. It belongs to God.

  • Thank you for a balanced summary of two opinions of the how to value our lives at their end. What the path looks like that leads to each of our deaths is a scary prospect.

    I follow Kara Tippets and so appreciate her stalwart hopefulness, and believe with her that Christ will see us home. However, I sympathize with Brittany Maynard and understand her choice —

    I saw the doctor on Cspan, and subsequently read his helpful book I commend: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande – and I reviewed it here: http://autumns-garden.com/2014/12/04/a-book-review/

    Disease, old age, infirmity aren’t going away – it’s wise to think, evaluate, test and pray about what we believe matters.




  • Kate Huey

    Thank you for these thoughtful responses; I agree with many, especially Linda, who has summarized well. If I remember my graduate work in Catholic ethics correctly (it has been a few years), even that rather conservative institution supports the administration of pain meds given with the right intention, even if, as an unintended side effect, they hasten death. Forcing people to suffer more and longer is not compassionate; it’s not good news; it’s not liberating the oppressed – it’s not the gospel, as I understand it. Kara Tippetts may understand the gospel differently, and I respect her right to do so. No matter how passionately we are committed to the gospel, we don’t have a right to impose our spirituality or beliefs on others, especially if it involves their suffering, so our laws should not do so, either. (There was a time when religious people thought women should not receive pain medication during childbirth because the Bible says we should have to suffer, because of Eve’s sin.) Also, I think calling Brittany’s choice “a sad and sinful road” was most unfortunate. I believe that this is a matter on which good people can disagree. (Still, I also agree that Douthat isn’t a good support to drawn on when pressing any point.) Thanks again for this sensitive conversation, which needs to happen more and more, and might be most productively led by hospice workers, especially, but not only, chaplains.