"Choosing the time you die is a human right."
That is according to the partner of a healthy 75 year old who recently decided to end her own life rather than face the "indignity" of ageing. The story is, from my perspective, desperately sad - but it makes complete sense. If life is my possession, then I can give it up when I choose. If I have a right to life based on nothing more than my own individuality, then I surely have a right to die.
This morning, as most mornings, I said Morning Prayer, and as usual prayed: "as we rejoice in the gift of this new day..." Today is a gift. My life today is a gift. But that can only be true and meaningful if there is a Giver, and if he is good. Even a good day is only a gift if it is generously given by Someone. And a bad day - the sorts of days which presumably Gill Pharaoh was imagining when she chose to die rather than to live through them - could only be a gift if it came from a Giver who was able to take our suffering and do something positive with it. And of course one day we will die, and that day of my death could only be a gift - a day I could rejoice in receiving - if it came from the hand of a Giver who was able to redeem even death.
In other words, if and only if the gospel is true - if Jesus died and rose - then life is a gift, every day is a gift, and nobody has a right to choose to die (though they certainly do, following Jesus, have the 'right' to give up life for another or for Christ - but that is a different thing).
It strikes me also that the gospel has something to say about the supposed indignity of old age. Wherein is the indignity felt to lie? Ms Pharaoh said "I simply do not want to follow this natural deterioration through to the last stage when I may be requiring a lot of help." Is there any inherent indignity in requiring a lot of help? I think I know what she meant; it is not a nice thought that one day I might be reliant on others for basic functions like toileting and eating. But the gospel does tell me that my dignity as a human being, far from being contradicted by my need for 'a lot of help', derives from being helped. I am a person Jesus died to help. I am utterly, utterly dependent on him for everything - and existing in that relationship of dependence is what being really human means.
All in all, I am struck by the contrast between a culture where life is a random eruption from a sphere of death, and can collapse into that sphere again at a whim, and the gospel, where life is a gift to be treasured because it can be fulfilled in Christ. And I am reminded that my only comfort, in life and death, is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.