Brittany and Dennis: Same Disease; Different Story

Posted on Nov 3, 2014 in Wisconsin Family Connection Transcript


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2014 | Week of November 3 – #1070

The very first public hearing I attended in my work with Wisconsin Family Council was in late 1997. The bill would have legalized physician-assisted suicide in our state.

The bill was authored by State Senator Fred Risser, a Democrat from Madison and then-Assembly Representative Frank Boyle, a Democrat from Superior. These two authored this bill every legislative session from 1993 until Frank Boyle retired from the state legislature in 2008. Fortunately, the bill always died—and it should never be revived.

The recollection of that first hearing came back in a rush as I learned of Brittany Maynard’s death over the weekend. Oregon’s laws made it easier for Brittany to take her own life. In fact, Oregon was the first state in the country to allow a physician to prescribe a lethal prescription and dosage of medicine for a terminally ill patient.

In the midst of this reflecting and the processing of what Brittany has done, I saw a post on Facebook from a long-time Wisconsin friend whose story needs to be told right now.

Dennis is a young 50; he and his wife Ellen celebrated their 11th anniversary this summer. In early 2012 they adopted Brooklyn, a beautiful little 6-year-old girl from China. They were ecstatic at the goodness of God to them—in their marriage and in their new daughter.  In June of that same year, they learned Dennis had brain cancer.  It was a grade4 glioblastoma—the same cancer as Brittany Maynard—and it has a horrible prognosis. It’s nearly always fatal.

Dennis and Ellen are devout Christians. But a diagnosis and a prognosis such as the one they received still shook them. They prayed, sought counsel, and trusted God. Unlike Brittany, they decided on aggressive treatment—even some treatments that are still in the testing phase. Twenty-seven months later, with all the treatments behind them, it’s not looking good for Dennis. He’s now on hospice.

Ellen blogs and posts updates on Facebook frequently. She’s been honest about how hard this has been—and about how, in the midst of this great trial, their faith in God has grown, about how blessed they have been by friends who have been by their side to help in all sorts of ways. Ellen recently wrote that on the day of Dennis’s first surgery he said to her, “God can be glorified in this too.”

As difficult as this journey has been and as difficult as the days ahead will be, that’s been their attitude—to trust God and to seek His plan and His glory in the midst of it all. What I haven’t heard and I know I won’t hear from Ellen is any talk of physician-assisted suicide. Is that because they are denying what appears to be reality? Is that because they are hoping against hope a new cure will show up? Is it because they are just hanging on paralyzed by fear? No—a thousand times no. It’s because they have a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus and recognize their times, their plans, are not in their hands. Their days and their plans are in God’s hands, and they will trust Him, as hard as it is at times to see Dennis suffer and to meet the demands of caring for a loved one so desperately ill.

I believe Brittany Maynard’s decision was about control, ultimate control, and fear—fear of pain. She wanted control of her days and her end. After all, she asserted, she had a right to die and a right to do so with what she called dignity. What a lie from Satan himself!  As mere mortals who are the creative work of an all-sovereign God, we are not in control of our days. God is. What dignity did Brittany have in giving up, in robbing her family of more hours and days—maybe even months and years with her?  What right did she have to take the life God gave her? I’m amazed that she didn’t fear death without God far more than she feared suffering in this life. Tragically, I suspect she had bought another lie that death is just nothingness. By now she knows the truth. I can only hope she accepted the Lord before she took that medication.

Brittany’s story. Dennis and Ellen’s story. Two stories; same disease. But I can assure these are two completely different outlooks and two completely different endings. Our culture is so besotted with the idea that humans are gods that we now believe we have the right to kill ourselves—and we’ve convinced the medical field they should help.

The story that should be grabbing the media’s attention and melting the hearts of the public is the story of Dennis and Ellen who are facing this exact same situation with real dignity because their lives are not about them but about God and their trust is not in themselves but in our great and loving God—the Great Physician and the Author of Life.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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