In our increasingly disposable society, we have now made it acceptable—and even laudable—to throw away people. We see an example of this with a Connecticut woman named Lynda Bluestein, who was the first non-resident of Vermont to take advantage of the state’s new medical-aid-in-dying law that now allows for residents of other states to travel to Vermont to die.
On January 4, Bluestein, who had been suffering from ovarian and fallopian tube cancer, died after taking a lethal dose of medication.
And NBC article seems to hold Bluestein and her decision in high regard, saying she has been “a crusader her entire life.” Apparently she marched against gun violence and has been advocating—to no avail—for a change in medical-aid-in-dying laws in Connecticut.
When asked how she would like to be remembered, Bluestein said, “I’d like to be remembered as someone who never thought that second best was even in the realm of possibility, who always believed that you can make everything better.”
Her son supported her decision to kill herself, saying, “I’m proud to be next to her doing this. . . . [I] wouldn’t want to be any place else. It’s a gift.”
A gift? For whom? A true gift would be caring for a sick or elderly loved one until natural death. It would be walking with them through their pain and helping them see their value, regardless of how sick they are. It would be ensuring that the person never felt like a burden.
Contrast this view with how the family of Bruce Willis has rallied around him since his frontotemporal dementia diagnosis. His wife, Emma, recently posted a photo with the caption, “My love and adoration for him only grows.” Bruce’s wife and daughters regularly update fans across the globe by posting pictures and messages to help spread awareness and to encourage people to remain strong when caring for a loved one who is suffering from a similar diagnosis.
While we don’t know what the future holds for Willis, we can offer our prayers and we can use their loving actions as examples for how we should treat family members who are suffering.
There is no doubt that it is incredibly difficult to watch a family member suffer from a debilitating illness. It can be emotionally, physically, and financially draining. But love for another—especially family—commands that we treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. And that means that we must never rush them to death or act as if they are burdens.
Love is wanting only good for another person. Misguided compassion that leads to an early death is not authentic love.
Yet today we see an increase in disdain and a blatant disregard for the elderly and the sick. News stories show a culture where the elderly are mistreated, where nurses replace pain meds with water, and where “death with dignity” implies that a person needs to die in order to retain his dignity.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
We are human beings; we are not animals. Human beings never need to be put down. We do not need an early death to retain dignity. Our dignity is given to us at our creation, and we never lose it. Though people may treat others without the dignity that they deserve, that does not mean that the person lacks dignity.
While Bluestein’s son’s misguided compassion led him to think that allowing his mother to take her own life was a “gift,” we must realize that life is a gift. And caring for someone, treating them with true compassion, and loving them unconditionally is a gift we can give them, especially as they near the end of their lives.
Someday, Christ will ask us how we cared for the people He entrusted to us—our children, our parents, our grandparents, or even an elderly friend. Imagine looking into the beatific face of God and telling Him that we advocated for our loved one to take a lethal dose of medication.
Now imagine looking into His face and saying we held our grandfather’s hand, read our mother a book, or sat by our nephew’s bedside and just loved him. This authentic love is the love we should exhibit to every single person, no matter their stage in life or their ability.
This authentic love is what will allow us to someday hear those seven words we should all long to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
If you or a loved one needs help or advocacy in the later stages of life, visit the Healthcare Advocacy and Leadership Organization for assistance.
This article first appeared in the Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2024/01/09/throwing-people-away-has-become-commonplace.