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EncourAGEnet: Going Gracefully



width=850Going Gracefully

We’re getting older. America is aging. People are living longer than ever before thanks to medical advancements and safety enhancements. Because of declining fertility rates, the average age in this country is increasing. The populous Baby Boomer generation is entering retirement and life’s twilight. We have more and more elderly neighbors and loved ones among us. We may even already begin to feel decline setting into our own bodies.

With this comes the opportunity to contemplate. Many of us will have the vocation of caring for parents. Many of us already have the privilege of helping students and their families understand and accept loved ones suffering and dying. How will we handle chronic impairments, terminal illnesses, and physical mortality? What responses will we develop to the psychological sorrows and spiritual distresses that often accompany them?

Death never amounts to less than an enemy. But our dear Savior, Jesus Christ, has chained and tamed even this ultimate nemesis for us by His crucifixion and resurrection. The comfort of our heavenly Father’s forgiving grace and the hope of everlasting life in His paradise carry us into and through the valley of death’s shadow. Especially in these moments we experience His blessings and reflect on the courage and compassion they give to those around us.

Devil, world, and sinful flesh suggest we ease the anxieties with attempts to control. They urge us to arrange treaties with the enemy. They pressure us to view and use death as a solution to the difficulties we and our neighbors face. So legislatures in ten U. S. jurisdictions have decriminalized physician-assisted suicide (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Washington D.C., Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and New Mexico). Canada also began the practice in 2016. And advocates continue to propose enabling it in almost every other state.

Devil, world, and sinful flesh suggest we ease the anxieties with attempts to control. They urge us to arrange treaties with the enemy.Assisted suicide happens when someone helps a person takes their own life. In an assisted suicide, the patient takes the fatal action, whereas if anyone else initiates the final act that causes death—via injection, for example—it’s euthanasia. Declining ineffective treatments does not constitute assisted suicide, nor does withholding therapies that increase suffering or withdrawing life-supporting machines, since these measures do not cause death (the underlying condition does). Alternatives such as hospice care and palliative care prove effective in nearly all circumstances. Palliative care manages pain and other symptoms alongside or apart from efforts to cure. Hospice care provides pain relief, nourishment, and hygiene, along with companionship and comfort.

In fact, reasons other than health have the greatest influence for people seeking assisted suicide. Public records indicate that of those who undergo it, vast majorities do so because they fear loss of autonomy and no longer enjoying formerly pleasant activities. Only about a third have concerns about unbearable pain or lacking control of bodily functions. But physician-assisted suicide actually compounds risks for complications. As many as 80 percent of patients have no health care provider present to witness ingestion, prevent coercion, or intervene to alleviate anything that goes wrong. Only 40–60 percent of patients were offered or enrolled in palliative care. Physicians refer fewer than 5 percent of cases for psychiatric review, even though laws require them to do so before prescribing the poisons if they see any reason to suspect emotional disturbances. And studies show that assisted suicides can afflict family members or friends present at death with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Settling for assisted suicide spreads death like a contagion. The number who end their lives this way has gone up every year in every place that accommodates it. At first, laws limited it to terminal illnesses, physical pain, and voluntary cases. But they’ve broadened to include chronic conditions, psychological suffering, and nonvoluntary situations, even infants. Allegations of elder abuse, general suicide rates, and physicians admitting to hastening death without explicit request have also multiplied in areas where assisted suicide is available. No wonder that the overall public, disability rights groups, and most medical associations—including the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization—oppose it.

A neighbor’s suffering calls for community. Community brings benefits even better than autonomy. For that matter, assisted suicide doesn’t actually deliver the freedom it promises. Instead it creates further duties for providers, further pressures against elderly, disabled, or depressed persons, and further occasions for manipulation. Our Almighty Maker invites us to entrust decisions about how to live and when to die to His wisdom. He has pledged and proven to work abundant and everlasting life for us even amid afflictions. And He has designed humankind to delight in needing each other and depending on one another.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ guarantees great gifts await us in aging and suffering and dying.A neighbor’s suffering calls for assurance of purpose. Purpose gives even more comfort than painlessness. (For that matter, assisted suicide doesn’t treat any ailment or resolve suffering’s root causes. Instead it puts the hurting one to death and shifts the agony to the survivors.) The body of our Lord affirms that God draws near to us in suffering. His blood empties any punishment or payback from our pain. And His ministry redeems our discomforts to become sacrifices that serve the survival and salvation of others, so that the outcomes exceed the costs.


  • What messages or beliefs do you sense from our culture about death? What ways do your peers or colleagues think and talk about it?
  • What concerns you most about the end of life?
  • What actions will you take to broach the subject with aging loved ones?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ guarantees great gifts await us in aging and suffering and dying. This goes not only for our own but also for our loved ones and our neighbors as well. Deliberate on how you would face the end of life. Visit and assist parents and elderly relatives frequently. Discuss preferences and formulate plans with them. Gather information about healthcare and hospice providers—and their regulations and strategies. Draft specific Christian advance directives, and update your family and physicians about your convictions. Urge life-affirming sermons, Bible studies, and dialogues in your congregation, and seek a pastor’s counsel during disease or dying. Engage in public discourse and civic decision-making that affects the sanctity of every human life. Lutherans For Life has many free resources to assist.

Above all, affirm the company and the contributions of all ages and abilities. Celebrate the lives God has given—including ones impaired or ending. Enjoy getting older!

Pastor Salemink has served as Lutherans For Life’s Executive Director since 2015. His prior parish experience includes a decade at a large congregation with a vibrant day school and lots of catechism classes, chapel services, and Bible studies. A father of three boys, fan of sports and music, and avid runner, he writes regularly and speaks nationwide—including at youth gatherings and teachers’ conferences—equipping Lutherans and their neighbors to be Gospel-motivated voices For Life.

Photos © iStock/piksel, eclipse images.