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I want to pull the plug – is that suicide?

I wrote about Maswane’s sad life in a blog last month. Today I received the news that she has died at 19 of AIDS. When she was five years old she was raped. That’s how she contracted HIV.  She was raped again when she was seven and has never once consented to sex with a man.  One …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
I wrote about Maswane’s sad life in a blog last month. Today I received the news that she has died at 19 of AIDS. When she was five years old she was raped. That’s how she contracted HIV.  She
was raped again when she was seven and has never once consented to sex
with a man.  One of the men who raped her has died, and the other is
free, he escaped to South Africa.  Her virginity as well as her life
has been brutally ripped away.
Maswane lived her last years in constant pain. Morgan Mckeown wrote this blog yesterday as a testament to it. She described her visit to Maswane’s bedside: “Soon after we entered she started whaling in agony, her piercing
screams filled the hut.  Seeing her writhe in pain and hearing her tortured
scream was heart-wrenching.  We all started to pray and she was
visibly calmed, her body stopped shaking and slowly uncurled while
her breath deepened again.”
Who can understand such pain?  I don’t get it. I’ve tried to get my arms around it in these blogs, but my theology still falls short. And for some of you reading this, pain is an everyday reality – you know what I’m talking about. Words just seem so flimsy in the face of pain like yours.
Three years ago I wrote a blog about a friend of mine who we didn’t expect to live. As long as I’ve known him, he’s had to struggle with all kinds of illness. Like Maswane, he’s lived a life of perpetual pain. Through the heroic efforts of his doctors, he’s survived up until tonight. But tonight he is on a breathing machine, in pain and exhausted. He just texted me, “I want to pull
the plug so God can take me – is that considered suicide?”
This scenario actually happened to him once before about a year ago. They pulled the plug, expecting him to die, and instead God miraculously let him breathe on his own again. The doctors didn’t know what to make of it.
So, he’s asking me for advice – what do I tell him? Is it OK to pull the plug?

Comments (14)

  • St. mark of the Cross

    I believe that we can take ourselves off “machines” of any kind…whether it is medical, emotional, or whatever and say that we trust our lives into God’s hands. He can asked to have it removed and trust the Lord – if he is to live, the breathing machine is not what is keeping him anyway. Jesus holds to keys to death and hell…not a machine or any other created thing. Trusting God does not depend on man’s ability to come through…it is all about looking to the author and perfector of our faith..and trusting him. I would sit right next to our beloved brother and help him trust God…knowing that our Father will never hurt him, and Jesus is praying right now for his decision. I do however have no desire to push my “faith” on anyone…just sharing my heart…

  • Oh boy, that’s the most heart breaking and tough question. I certainly don’t hold with the traditional historical church view that suicide is the unforgiveable sin. Only God can truly see and feel from the inside what a person is going through and “His understanding, who can fathom?”

    Personally, I urge the choice of life. While there’s life there is always the possibility of miracle or change. No-one knows tomorrow and no-one knows what God will do.

    God is still sovereign and life and death are in His hands. Sounds like your friend is thoroughly exhausted and discouraged – so understandably. But God is merciful. He can take him home, but I would let God do the choosing on the timing. I would ask God to take him home and God is compassionate. I’ve seen so many people for whom the moment was only right in retrospect – something happens, someone needs to be there, something still needs saying.

    Yet I do wonder if sometimes our medical advances mean that people are kept alive who should be dead, who would have been dead only 50 years ago in the same circumstances. Is that always God in the machines that sustain life when life has really gone? When the body is too worn out or diseased to sustain life? I just don’t know. But still in there, my heart says having a DNR is fine, but choosing to die……..it just doesn’t feel right somehow.

    Huge love to you and your friend. Answers are not easy.

  • Seth, this is the most heartwrenching story. It saddens me yet fires me up to get violent for the Kingdom of God. Morgan is amazing! I can’t think of a better person to be by this lady’s side… or yours!

    Morgan, I love you and am so proud of you! May Jesus reign and rule you heart with the peace that surpasses all understanding, especially in these times. My goodness, you are faithful!

  • On the day that Jesus heard of the ill health of his dear friend Lazarus He sat back for two days until the man died. He arrived when Lazarus was already decomposing. Jesus said this was for the glory of God. He later proved it.

    I’ve thought about the faith of Lazarus’ two sisters Martha and Mary in sending for Jesus to come heal their brother. I’ve tried to imagine the pain of Mary; she was the one that poured expensive perfume of Jesus in preparation for His burial. But Jesus let their brother die for God’s glory to be revealed.

    I don’t know how God gets glory from difficult cases like this, but He does. Every human challenge provides Him with the platform to express Himself and be glorified in this world as in heaven. I noticed it’s often on His terms.

    May His glory be at stack so that He’ll seize the moments as He pleases for His fame.

  • Seth this is one of the hard questions as you know.

    Watching people with Huntington’s Disease including a dad and sister has influenced my view which I think I’ll keep private for now.

    Praying for your friend.

    Love you.

  • 1.) Let God come to him in a way that man cannot. Set him free from the artificial life support.
    2.) Re: Maswane’s plight. Even worldly helpers have been summoned to shed light on the oppression of women and children in these abominable ways. “But the earth came to the help of the woman…” (Rev. 12:16). For what it’s worth, I heard a very informative interview on the radio yesterday with Nicholas Kristof and his wife. They’ve written a book called “Half the sky…” that documents many of the abusive practices that men and women around the world inflict on these innocent ones.
    And as I look on the faraway horizon where my daughter and others are being sent forth, I see these messengers boldly proclaiming deliverance for the captives, and also for the captors, in the name of Jesus our Savior.
    3.) In their radio interview yesterday, Mr. Kristof and his wife spoke in a very informative, journalistic way, about the systemic abuses of women and children in Cambodia and in many other places. They said that, in their opinion, India is the worst.
    3.) India is where our Katie’s divine commission will be manifest in a very few days. May the Lord go with her, with her team, and with the other teams as they go forth boldly into Nicaragua, Kenya, Swaziland, and all the world to proclaim the freedom from abominable abuse that we ultimately find in Jesus Christ.
    4.) And getting back to your friend on artificial life support–Thank God for the place in His presence that He has prepared for your friend. Whichever way the Lord takes him when you pull the plug–whether to the Lord’s presence, or back here for yet a little longer–God knows what He’s doing. He has shown us that already. Praise Him for His great love and mercy toward us! and for the justice that he will ultimately bring to fallen wold.

  • I agree with Carey’s Point #1.

    Horrible pain motivating suicide? I have not been there, so this may sound like armchair theology. But I believe life experiences should deepen our tender sympathies and heighten our agonizing, unrelenting cries to heaven, but not move us to take things out of God’s hands. Will we yet trust Him? We read recently of Frances Havergal’s death, and the incredible pain she endured. Yet this hymnwriter who memorized nearly 30 books of the Bible experienced the glory and peace of Christ as she went to Him.

    Whether I experience what she did, or go out cursing (I hope not), I trust He’ll be with Me and take me home with Him.

  • seth, as an ICU nurse for the past ten years, i see a lot of people being artificially kept alive on ventilators. i certainly don’t believe that “pulling the plug” is thought of by anyone with any medical knowledge as being “suicide”. keeping people alive artificially is often a big mistake, and is one of the reasons why our healthcare system is broke. (i see a lot of cases where i believe people are being kept alive just because we “can”, also there are plenty of cases where doctors are simply playing CYA medicine to protect themselves against the rampant lawsuits being filed every day)
    there is a huge difference between keeping people alive on a vent to get them through a short term illness (i.e. pneumonia) and keeping them alive to forestall the inevitable (i.e. the last stages of many diseases that are going to take that person’s life regardless)
    i pray that your friend will be able to come to peace with his decision, whatever it may be.
    pat rowland

  • Such a heart-wrenching situation but at the end of the day if we are God’s children, we are all in God’s hands. Your friend can only remove himself from the doctors’ hands, leaving himself in the hands of God to be given more life (as painful as that might be) or to be lead from this life into the next. I guess the message is ‘trust God with both life and death’

  • Pat, that’s a fantastic perspective – thanks for that. I completely agree. I’ve spent a lot of time in ICU’s and you express it superbly well. Sometimes our medical advances are lifesavers, other times they are life prolongers without benefit.

    Seth, hope things are progressing more positively for your friend. xx

  • You know what I think?
    I think, as hard as it is, if he wants to and if God allws it, he should pull the plug. Because it

  • yes, i think you should let him go. If you have, then okay. But it is difficult, if hestays. And yes, I understand pain very well. I pray for justice.

  • i can tell you that it is a blessing that she has gone on to be with the Lord. Seeing her body and watching her suffer has been one of the hardest things for me this year on the Race. And knowing that she might possibly spend another year in the condition she was in…seemed to me more unjust than anything! I am so thankful that she is whole now!! And, I will thank God continuously for the relationship I was able to build with this beautiful young woman!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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