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What Brittany Maynard teaches us

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The Maynard and Apple/Facebook stories share a very common theme: they both appeal to a natural desire to exercise autonomy over one's life.

Msgr. Paul V.

Last month two stories captured headlines at about the very same time. A young woman named Brittany Maynard posted a video on YouTube in which she declared that she would end her own life at the beginning of November in order to avoid an inevitable, slower and more painful death due to her terminal brain cancer. Her video went viral and at this writing has been viewed by over 13 million people.

In the same week that Brittany's video made the evening news, Apple Computer and Facebook announced that they were adding a special benefit to their employee benefits package. From now on, these two high tech giants will pay for their female employees to freeze their eggs. The rationale behind this decision is to give their female employees more options when it comes to raising a family. Rather than having to jump off the corporate ladder to have children, Apple and Facebook employees can exercise greater control over the timing of starting a family.

The Maynard and Apple/Facebook stories share a very common theme: they both appeal to a natural desire to exercise autonomy over one's life. Brittany Maynard is being celebrated by the "death with dignity" crowd who applaud her "courage" in exercising ultimate control over her destiny. Her abject fear of the dying process is glossed over and trumped by her radical choice to end her own life on her own terms. In the Apple/Facebook benefit, we see the same kind of desire to exercise control over life, only in this case, it is control over life at the very beginning. Biological clocks and corporate ladders are rarely in sync for female employees, so the solution is to take greater control over the timing of bringing children into the world. The Orwellian dimensions of the Maynard and Apple/Facebook stories are overwhelming.

Sadly, Brittany was never introduced to hospice care and on Nov. 2 followed through on her decision to end her own life. While being lionized by those who would like to make physician assisted suicide the law of the land, Brittany's death is a modern tragedy that has been aided and abetted by a secular atheism that has no room for God. At the other end of life, the Apple/Facebook benefit implicitly assumes that the role of God in the creation of new life can be usurped by boardroom decisions. Both developments should invite us to see how this brand of autonomy is a challenge to our faith at the deepest level.

While the universe that we live in may have come about through a Big Bang, Pope Francis has reminded the world that this does not eviscerate the notion of God as our Creator. As creatures of a loving God, we owe God everything. Jesus gives this simple insight enormous definition in his teaching, but most especially in his death and Resurrection. In the words of St. Paul and the early church, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but rather emptied himself in taking on our human form and handing over his life on the cross. Jesus becomes the paradigm for Christian living. He becomes and is the example of what both faith and reason should dictate.

The fundamental challenge of the Christian life, therefore, is not about exercising autonomy but rather about surrendering ourselves to God. John the Baptist said it best: He must increase, I must decrease.

As a journey of faith, life is really all about letting God dictate the direction of our lives. Shrouded in mystery, life is a journey that we walk by faith and not by sight. And we are only able to do so because we have ultimate confidence in the person who loves us more than we love ourselves and who has promised us something beyond our wildest dreams.

May Brittany rest in peace but may her story embolden us to resist the efforts of those who want to mask her despair with glory and pretend that God does not exist.

Msgr. Paul V. Garrity is the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Norwood, Mass.

Msgr. Garrity is pastor of St.Brigid and Sacred Heart parishes in Lexinton.

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