Stephen Hawking and the Dignity of the Human Person


Last week I saw the movie “The Theory of Everything,” the story of the great British scientist, Stephen Hawking.  As a young man out of college, Hawking got the shocking news that he has what is now known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  The movie has an emotional scene where the doctor explains to Stephen Hawking the bad news.  The doctor tells him he has no more than two years to live and he can do nothing for him.  Hawking, not only has a brilliant mind, a genius, if you will, he has lots of courage.  He is not defeated.  He gets along as best he can.  He marries, has children, and becomes one of the world’s best scientists.  The disease takes its toll on him, rendering him completely paralyzed and unable to speak.  He not only did not die in two years, as the doctors predicted, but 50 plus years later is just as prolific a scientist as ever.  He is still alive today.

While watching the movie I could not help but think of the recent case of a young 29-year-old woman, Brittany Maynard, who committed suicide via euthanasia in Oregon, after moving there for this purpose.  Brittany made her case very public and indicated that she chose this path voluntarily, with no regrets.  Doctors had given her six months to live.  Who is to say, that something could not have happened in the next six months that would have mitigated her condition, as unlikely as it was?  Certainly, Stephen Hawking’s condition was just as serious.

The question that we must answer is, do we have the right to take our own lives?  Why or why not?  I would want to err on the side of doing the right thing.  Committing suicide, under any circumstances, does not seem to me to be the right thing.  Who gave us life?  Those of us who believe in a supreme being, believe that it was God.  It then follows that only God can take a life.  Indeed, in the 6th Commandment, God orders us not to kill; this includes ourselves, in my view.

In an earlier piece on this blog, I wrote a piece on “Pascal’s Wager.”  In short, Pascal’s Wager, is a hypothetical bet.  If you bet that there is no God and lose, you’re finished.  If you bet that there is a God and it turns out there is, you end up on the right side and save your eternal life, if you lose the bet, you’re in darkness forever.  When it comes to ending a life, I want to bet on the right side of things and not on my own understanding or ease of things.

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