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Multiple sclerosis patient chooses life over assisted suicide option

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The contrast between two multiple sclerosis patients was highlighted in a recent Kansas City Star feature, drawing the line between life and death. In spite of overwhelming challenges, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty wife Gina Merrick has chosen life. But Lee Summit, Mo., resident Patricia Smith ultimately chose death with the aide of the man whose name is synonymous with assisted suicide — Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
In the March 28 article, reporter Malcomb Garcia related the stories of the two Missouri women. Both were nurses, mothers, and active members of different Baptist churches. But unlike Merrick, Patricia Smith chose to end her life on Aug. 22, 1996.
Diagnosed with MS in 1979, Merrick said in the article, “My doctors told me that MS may shorten my life span, but it is not a terminal illness like Lou Gehrig disease. That’s totally different.”
They told her that she could live a fairly normal life and have children. She was a skier and cyclist and walked with a slight limp until 1991 when she began walking as if she were intoxicated.
Within five years Merrick couldn’t walk at all. Now this mother of six has limited use of her hands and uses a motorized wheelchair. In spite of her disability, she has taught her children at home. Her oldest son, 26-year old Chip, serves in the U.S. Coast Guard with fireman second class rank, while 19-year old J.J. is a graphic artist at Midwestern Seminary and a local printing firm.
Teaching the children gives meaning to her life, she explained. Without that, she would have to find something to invest her life in, she added. Even though the two women did not know each other, Merrick feels a kinship to Patricia Smith. She suffers from the same debilitating form of MS as Smith, that, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, affects 15 percent of all MS patients.
As she read about Kevorkian’s trial and conviction, her thoughts turned to Smith. Even though the suicide was more than two years ago, Merrick still wonders what went through her mind and how much she suffered.
When Patricia Smith was diagnosed with MS in 1987, she was told that many people do not become severely disabled from the disease. But by 1995 she was bedridden, unable to swallow, losing her vision, and unable to control her bowels. She received conventional treatments and even tried bee venom and New Age healing.
When nothing helped, she contacted Kevorkian, but did not tell her husband until she was accepted by the famous doctor as a patient.
According to the Kansas City Star article, the couple had a lot of discussions about the ramifications of suicide. “It was what my wife wanted and I came to accept her decision,” the newspaper reported husband David Smith as saying.
The experience of meeting Kevorkian in Pontiac, Mich., discussing the method of suicide, seeing him stick a tube in her arm and then seeing her limp body, having her pronounced dead, and watching Kevorkian’s calm demeanor, almost as if nothing had happened, is still vivid in David Smith’s mind.
The Merrick family feels fortunate to have supportive family and friends. The seminary’s Faculty Wives Club prepares stews, casseroles, and lasagna which are labeled and stored in the freezer on a monthly basis. A friend has bought groceries and a pen pal has provided clothing.
Yet, medical expenses mount up and when a wheelchair part breaks, the bills can be devastating. After the Star article ran, a Muslim man called and volunteered to pay for a recent wheelchair repair. “I’ve always told my kids that God provides from the most unlikely places,” Merrick says. “We don’t receive any government assistance. It’s not easy but God provides.”
Merrick’s husband Bruce dresses her before he goes to work and manages her personal care. As her condition has deteriorated, life has become much more difficult, but she would never consider suicide as a way out.
“It’s my Christian conviction. God is in control. It’s all in his sovereign will,” Merrick explains. “He didn’t say it would be easy. But then, what Christ suffered on the cross was no party.” She believes that suicide would be selfish and would cause her family to suffer the consequences. “To commit suicide is to say you’re more powerful than God.”
To anyone considering suicide she would say, “Study God’s Word and know what it says.” She cites the advice offered in the True Love Waits curriculum, as students are told to make a decision before any emotions are involved.”
There are organizations that help MS patients fulfill their dreams. “Those are not the kind of dreams I’m chasing,” she says. After studying T.W. Hunt’s curriculum on prayer called The Mind of Christ, Merrick says her dream is “to meditate on Scriptures day and night the way King David did.” That’s what fulfills her desires.

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  • Ingrid Patterson