Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Death: An Enemy? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15:26

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Death: An Enemy? Reflections on 1 Corinthians 15:26

Article excerpt

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.(1)

In my work I counsel people across the United States on making medical decisions within the parameters of their Christian faith. At the time of my contact with them, words like cancer, terminal, and long-term care are already more medical jargon than they ever cared to hear. Even the legalese of medical directive statements overwhelms many at these emotional moments of life when decisions about future health care have to be made. At this critical juncture, Christians are torn between the subjectivism of their emotions and experiences and the objective tenets of their Christian faith. Such tension was evident recently in the case of Richard and Helen Brown.

On December 15, 1994, the Mizpah United Church of Christ in Hopkins, Minnesota, held a memorial service for Richard and Helen Brown. They were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in their Cadillac Eldorado, parked in the garage of their Fort Lauderdale home.(2)

On December 6, the day their bodies were found, friends received a letter from the Browns, in which they stated:

We have the means to afford the best doctors, hospitals and around-the-clock

home care to the end of our lives, but neither of us wants that

kind of life. . . . It would also consume a substantial part of our money,

which through our will and through the mission work of our church is

destined to help many young people throughout the world who may

one day be able to help many more. We have no immediate family or

heirs. In a sense, this legacy represents the final purpose of our lives.(3)

Richard Brown was seventy-nine years old and had to use a wheelchair because of arthritis and asthma. His wife, Helen, was seventy-six years old and was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. They founded the American Institute of the Air, which later became known as the Brown Institute, a school of broadcasting, which they later sold. Upon their death Richard and Helen Brown left their wealth, in excess of ten million dollars, to the charitable work of the United Church of Christ.(4)

Their former pastor said the Browns were "taking the high road to death," and though he did not know they would commit suicide, he could not fault them for doing so.(5) Another UCC pastor who conducted the memorial service said that their religion teaches against passing judgment on people who commit suicide--"our job is to remember the good."(6) The Browns obviously were touched by the needs of others. But even in the name of Christian charity, the question must be addressed as to whether their suicides were in harmony with the tenets of the Christian faith. There seems to be a growing number of Christians like the Browns who walk through the valley of the shadow of death not only without fear but in pursuit of death. Some, believing that death brings eternal life in heaven, take action to shorten their lives. Some, like the Browns, do it for philanthropic reasons so that their assets are not consumed in medical care but can be shared with heirs and others. Some, fearing the pain that may lie ahead, will opt to take that big step into the next life by their own decision. But is it right? Is it the prerogative of the Christian to shorten his life for either the reason of philanthropy or as an alternative to the futility of continued life? What are we to make of Bible passages such as I Corinthians 15:26, which says: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death."(7) Is death a friend or enemy of the Christian? More practically, should it be pursued or avoided and at what cost?

The Christian Foundation for Life Decisionmaking

This article addresses the value system that is to be utilized by Christians. Statistically, that value system should be that which is used by the majority of people,(8) but practically we see that Christians, for a variety of reasons, fail to practice their values consistently. …

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