Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

October 13, 2014

Dying a Holy Death

You and your students have likely heard of the story in the news of Britany Maynard, a 29 year-old woman who learned she had brain cancer earlier this year shortly after she was married. The disease is terminal and Maynard has said she will end her life on November 1 with the administration of lethal doses of medication. She has also spoken and written of expanding the rights for "death with dignity." Her website is linked here. An article by Mary Rezac, "Can death be beautiful? A response to Brittany Maynard" offers a broader Catholic view of this situation.

Additionally, you may wish to use this opportunity to share the following reference points about the meaning of Christian death (taken from Foundations of Catholic Social Teaching: Living as a Disciple of Christ, Ave Maria Press, 2015). Ask your students to comment on these two points:

  1. A cultural climate that sees no value in suffering; in fact, the culture views it as the worst of all evils.

When people abandon God, they often see life as simply the pursuit of pleasure. If pain enters the picture, and death looms on the horizon, then hastening death seems like the best choice to be free from suffering. Also, Pope Benedict XVI noted that it is more common for elderly people to be alone “even in moments of serious illness and when approaching death” and that these situations can lead to hopelessness and increase pressures toward euthanasia.

 Not all suffering is meaningless. When suffering is united to the Lord, especially in the last moments of life, the person can share in Christ’s Passion. He or she can join Christ’s sacrifice offered to the Father as an offering for his or her sins and for growth in holiness. A dying person should view impending death as a chance to say good-bye to one’s loved ones and to prepare to meet the Lord Jesus.

Offering your suffering to the Lord is heroic. However, the Church recognizes that a person is not required to do so if suffering needlessly. Therefore, Church teaching authorizes the use of painkilling drugs even though they may hasten death or cause unconsciousness. The intent in these situations is to relieve pain, not cause death.

  1.  People who neglect God often think they have sole control over life and death.

Excessive individualism and the belief in an absolute right to freedom can influence godless people to believe they are the masters of death. Advances in medical science can contribute to “playing God” in life-and-death situations. Also, contemporary culture has a preoccupation with efficiency, and people may judge the old and infirm as unproductive and therefore dispensable.

Additional Ideas:

  • Assign the students to read and report on this case.
  • Pray for Brittany Maynard. Pray a novena with the intention of Brittany Maynard having a change of heart prior to her death.
  • Invite a local hospice representative to visit your class and share information about their ministry.

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