I feel for Hans Küng, Roman Catholic author and theologian. Besides fading eyesight, he is losing his physical abilities due to Parkinson’s disease. Understandably, he grieves the mounting losses that may already merit the label, “disability.”
A story from Reuters quotes Küng’s recently published memoir, “I do not want to live on as a shadow of myself . . . I also don't want to be sent off to a nursing home.”
It must be terribly frightening to see one’s abilities slowly fade. I do not yet live with losses like this, so I do not want to speak lightly of them. But many, many other people do live joyfully with disabilities of various kinds, including loss of eyesight and Parkinson’s.
Sadly, this creative and controversial theologian suffers from a lack of creativity with regard to his own life. He prefers death to disability, imagining that the changes disability will bring into his life will be unbearable.
Therefore, Küng says that he would either like to die suddenly or to take his own life, “surrounded by his closest colleagues at his house in Tuebingen or in his Swiss home town of Sursee.”
I have not read his memoir, but if this story reports Küng’s views accurately, then he suffers from the perspective that his life has value only in his independence and productivity. In his memoir he asks, "How much longer will my life be liveable in dignity? . . . A scholar who can no longer read and write - what's next?"
It seems that he has so identified himself as a scholar that he cannot imagine any other identity for himself. Yet, the Bible teaches that our identity comes not from what we can produce but from the simple fact that each of us bears the image of God who created us to be his friends.
Küng’s stature as well as his public advocacy for assisted suicide could do great damage to people who live with disabilities. His open support for assisted suicide implies that any life lived with disability is not worth living.
Once again, I feel for Hans Küng. I too will grieve deeply someday if disability takes away my ability to write or to see the face of my beautiful wife. I pray that God will sustain him day by day. I pray that God will bring about in him a change of heart, in which he will recognize that his identity, value, and even his dignity stem from what God has done for him, not from what he can do. Finally, I pray that he’ll be able to write about that change of heart before he loses that ability.