Living to Fight No More Forever: How Pro-Euthanasia Rhetoric Parallels Jim Jones’
On June 17, 2016, Bill C-14 was made law by the Canadian government. The bill, which focused on physician-assisted “death with dignity,” was made possible by the Canadian Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Carter v. Canada, which overturned the ban on euthanasia. Other nations and states who legally endorse this sort of behavior include Belgium, the Netherlands, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
In America, the issue has been gaining traction in popular culture throughout the past year. Two prominent cultural products which exemplify the glorification of euthanasia include the movie Me Before You and the newest season of Netflix’s show Gracie and Frankie.
What advocates of this horrific agenda fail to realize is that their logic is not novel or original. In fact, it’s been utilized before. One example is Jim Jones and the tragic, inhumane events that occurred at Jonestown.
Jonestown was a communal settlement which was established by Jim Jones and his congregation from the Peoples Temple in the early to mid-1970’s in Guyana, a small South American country. He was a charismatic preacher who blended charismatic Christianity with secular socialist thought. Once his followers arrived at the commune, Jones and the leadership confiscated their passports, effectively imprisoning them. No one could leave, and those who spoke out were tortured, publicly ridiculed, and harassed during group meetings.
In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to Jonestown to investigate the settlement at the behest of some concerned family members who had received reports about the extremist practices of the commune. His investigation proved many of these reports to be correct, and he planned to rescue some dissident members by bringing them back to America. However, one Jones loyalist snuck into their party and attacked the group before the plane took off from the airstrip. He killed the congressman and five others, while injuring nine others.
At the same time, Jim Jones had the rest of his congregation in a meeting where he was proposing the group partake in “revolutionary suicide.” Eventually, all the congregants, including many children and infants, took Flavor Aid (a British version of Kool Aid) laced with cyanide. A total of 909 people died.
The audio tape, recorded by Jones, of the commune’s final meeting is disturbing. He is a man clearly under the influence of drugs and devoid of any hope—manipulating his followers into following his self-destructive behavior. Also disturbing is how similar the rhetoric of those who advocate for physician-assisted suicide is with Jones’ as he is persuading the members of his cult to poison themselves.
First, they each assume a pessimistic outlook on life. “Death is not the fearful thing,” Jones told his followers, “It’s living that’s treacherous.”
Meanwhile, in her article, “How Shall We Die,” former president of the Hemlock Society, Faye Girsh states, “At the Hemlock Society we get calls daily from desperate people who are looking for someone like Jack Kevorkian to end their lives which have lost all quality.”1
Their second similarity lies in the implicit devaluation of life based on external circumstances. Jones claimed, “Living you’re looking at death. Living is much, much more difficult. Raising up every morning, and not knowing what’s going to be the night’s bringing. It’s much more difficult. It’s much more difficult.” Similarly, the ACLU’s Amicus Brief in Vacco v. Quill claims:
The right of a competent, terminally ill person to avoid excruciating pain and embrace a timely and dignified death bears the sanction of history and is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. The exercise of this right is as central to personal autonomy and bodily integrity as rights safeguarded by this Court’s decisions relating to marriage, family relationships, procreation, contraception, child rearing and the refusal or termination of life-saving medical treatment.
Like the ACLU, Jones advocated for suicide as a means of being a “free” actor in the face of what he felt was impending persecution from the United States government after the murder of the senator, “Did you not have some sense of pride and victory in that man, that he would not subject himself to the will and whim of people who tell that they are gonna come in whenever they please, push into our house, come when they please, take who they want to, talk to who they want to…that’s not living to me. That’s not freedom. We win when we go down.”2
In looking at Jones in the fatal last moments of the Jonestown experiment, the link to euthanasia logic is clear:
For God’s sake, let’s get on with that…we’ve lived as no other people have lived and l loved. We’ve had as much of this world that you’re gonna get. Let’s just be done with it. Let’s be done with the agony of it…It’s far, far harder to have to watch you every day die slowly and from the time you were a child to the time you get gray you’re dying…This is a revolutionary suicide. This is not a self-destructive suicide.3
The advocates of euthanasia also insist that it’s not self-destructive because it’s “death with dignity.” They fail to see this as the realization of Jones’ ethic which is clarified when he says, “The person’s a fool who continues to say that you’re a winner when you’re a loser.” It’s a culmination of the secularist death drive which expresses itself in euthanasia. It’s a revolutionary attempt to gain absolute autonomy through suicide. To them, there is no redemptive value to pain. A terminally ill person who decides to end it has understood they are a “loser” and will “live to fight no more forever.” This is the irony of the liberal agenda: it claims to advocate for the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised However, through pro-choice, pro-drug, and pro-euthanasia policies along with laissez-faire sexual ethics, they erase the very people they so passionately support.
Nowhere has this contradiction been more pronounced than in the recent film Me Before You (which is based on a novel of the same name by Jojo Moyes). In it, Louisa, a young woman, finds a job as a caretaker for a young man named Will who is confined to a wheelchair because of an accident which left him paralyzed. Despite her attempts to persuade him otherwise, his parents take him to Switzerland for euthanasia because he is unsatisfied on account of his disability. Like Jones, he lives to fight no more forever.
The problem with the pro-euthanasia movement extends even further than its parallels with Jones and its hypocrisy towards those it claims to care for. It represents a fundamentally failed answer to the problem of pain. It adopts an inherently deterministic perspective so that the suicidal act becomes a protest against inevitability. Using vaguely theistic language, Jones pontificated, “It’s the will of Sovereign Being that this happened to us. That we lay down our lives against what’s been done. That we lay down lives in protest of what’s being done.”
Classically, in the Christian tradition pain has two main functions (if you’re interested in seeing a discussion on the topic of pain and suffering, check out this month’s Round Table). First, it makes us aware that the world is not as it should be. David Bentley Hart makes this point by saying:
The Christian should see two realities at once, one world within another: one the world as we all know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish: and the other world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply ‘nature’ but ‘creation,’ an endless sea of glory radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty but as glimpsed through the veil of death; it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days.4
This view allows one to be realistic (i.e. by recognizing the reality and gravity of pain) without succumbing to the nihilistic mentality that allows for euthanasia.
The second purpose for pain within the classical tradition of Christianity is that it is a means for improvement. On a natural level, this is the mechanism of evolution but on a spiritual level, it is the progression of sanctification. St. Paul reminded his audience in Rome (Romans 6:6), “We know that our old self was crucified so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved by sin.” Sanctification can be painful but it’s an important component of the Christian life. Even for those who are not Christians, pain can be important. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis demonstrates that pain can get the attention of the non-believer because it acts as “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The idea of “death with dignity” blatantly rejects both points. Instead of placing humanity within its proper place in creation, it advances a radical humanism. The act of quietus in this context is a definitive judgment that pain has no redemptive potential.
Too often, secularists obfuscate the issue at hand. They emphasize that this is a “complicated issue” and that “individual decisions should be respected.” This is problematic for three reasons. First, it crowds out out any rational opposition to the ethics of the matter. Second, it represents an inherently pessimistic outlook which systematically devalues life, making it disposable for convenience. Third, it represents a rebellion against the divine. While in the Hebrew Bible, Job questions God’s wisdom on the grounds of his circumstances, those who support euthanasia reject the possibility of divine wisdom working through earthly circumstances with chilling finality. Hopefully, the juxtaposition of their flawed worldview next to something so morally catastrophic as the mass suicide at Jonestown will cause some to rethink their position on this question and embrace a higher view of life.
1The Department of Religion at San Diego State University, “Q042 Transcript, FBI Transcription,” Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple, accessed September 7, 2016, http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=29081.
4David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), 60-61.