When Is It Right to Die?

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since she was injured in a diving accident in 1967. She went through a long period of depression, during which she arrived at a religious understanding which has enabled her to cope with her pain, dependency, and confinement. As founder and president of an organization called Joni and Friends, she is now active in counseling other people with serious disabilities.

No one can mistake her obvious sincerity and deep concern for the suffering of others. Her book is full of anecdotes about people she has helped through counseling. Some were suffering from severe pain and depression and seriously considering suicide; others had loved ones who were comatose or terminally ill and were considering some form of “assisted dying.”

In the opening chapters, Tada discusses the whole hotly debated issue of the so-called “right to die.” She withholds her own views until later in the book, when it becomes apparent that she takes a Christian fundamentalist approach. She quotes extensively from the New Testament and frequently refers to the Devil as the enemy of mankind who is responsible for tempting people to end their lives as a way to escape suffering.

Her whole philosophy can be summed up by these words in her final chapter: “Be patient. Don’t give up. This life’s not over yet. It will get better. One day you will enjoy the most perfect final exit.”

Readers who are attuned to Tada’s conservative religious views will find their beliefs supported by her arguments and examples. Others may feel the book is a one-sided approach to the growing controversy over legalizing suicide and euthanasia. Tada’s only concession to the right-to-die advocates involves the use of life-support technology. She believes there is a time when it is morally permissible to “unplug” the dying because there is a difference between helping people die and prolonging the act of dying.

Tada is the author of many best-selling inspirational books, including her autobiography JONI published in 1976. WHEN IS IT RIGHT TO DIE? contains a complimentary foreword and an afterword by the patriarchal former surgeon general, C. Everett Koop.