“I’m a nurse, and I’ve seen children suffer senselessly. It’s far more merciful to allow them to die than to suffer.”
“If we humanely euthanize pets, why can’t we do the same for people? I see nothing wrong with this.”
These, and other, statements reverberate in my mind in the aftermath of the recent Belgium child euthanasia headline. At one point in my life, I would have been tempted to believe these points. Admittedly, I didn’t see suffering as anything other than ugly, painful, and unnecessary.
When my daughter, Sarah, was born with a rare craniofacial anomaly, I only saw her flaws at first. Each time I held her, I noticed her fused fingers and toes or her scrunched up face. And every time I honed in on these imperfections, I was horrified and troubled by the sufferings she—and our family—would endure.
Sarah’s first surgery was at the age of six months. She had to have her skull cut open, because it had been prematurely fused and wouldn’t otherwise allow her brain room to grow. This surgery terrified me. It was gut-wrenching to watch an innocent baby undergo such an unfathomably gruesome procedure, and in my helpless condition, I uttered a prayer I’ll always regret: “Lord, it would have been more merciful if you had taken Sarah to Heaven while she was still in my womb.”
Shamefully, I thought that her suffering—because of her innocence as a newborn—was without merit and senseless. I’d never felt so helpless before in my entire life, and all I wanted was to assuage her pain. It was the gravest injustice I’d ever been privy to witness, but shortly thereafter I realized all of the world’s injustices that I’d somehow been blinded to before—childhood cancer, horrendous poverty, carnage, racism, etc.
But in that piteous rage, I chose to seek God. I knew His perfect will had nothing to do with the horrific tragedies we see on a daily basis in the news—the race riots, murder-suicides, earthquakes and tornadoes, floods and famine. But I also knew that His permissive will allowed suffering to exist—even in a child.
Is it sufficient to say that no one truly knows why. We can surmise that the Lord may want to teach us something in the midst of such fiery refinement as the crucible of suffering, which is true. But it never seems fair, and in fact, appears to be cruel punishment. All for what?
The temptation remains that obliterating suffering, especially for young children, only seems merciful. If we can euthanize animals, why not people? Why not end the pain before it becomes too unbearable?
But we are not merely dogs and cats. We were created in God’s image with an immortal soul, so we must handle human life more carefully than we do other forms of plant and animal life. If we always view suffering as punishment or ugly, then we will miss the opportunity to recognize the hidden treasure that exists on the Cross.
Each of us is called to greatness, to great acts of love. How can these be fully accomplished without the purgation that suffering offers each of us? We cannot comprehend, much less live, a life of love without first knowing what it means to sacrifice our comforts and sensory pleasures for the sake of another.
This often begins when we meditate on the Passion of Jesus. If we are able to insert ourselves in this mystery, our hearts unfurl to the truth that love is incomplete without sacrifice. Even in guileless, blameless infant, the mystery of redemption can unfold. Much of this involves total surrender and trust in God’s unfailing goodness, knowing that even in the midst of excruciating suffering of small and innocent children, we can witness the fulfillment of love.
My Sarah loves Jesus. Yes, she cries when she has surgeries, and she is afraid. She wants her mommy and daddy and winces during post-operative care. But Sarah’s eyes reveal wisdom—and love—far beyond her three young years. She knows what it means to love, because she knows what it means to suffer.
If only we could all maintain this perspective when we are tempted to adopt the world’s fallacious statement that merciful “euthanasia” exists. God is the author of life and death, suffering and celebration. If we truly believe that all things work together for the good of our souls, and if we realize that our sufferings—when united to the Cross, even when manifested in the smallest of children—can change the world, perhaps we would complain less and be more grateful that we have been given the opportunity to learn and live a greater love than the world has to offer.
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Text Copyright 2016 Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.