Malcolm Muggeridge and Alan Thornhill wrote a powerful anti-euthanasia play back in 1982 which enjoyed only a brief run in London's West End. "Sentenced to Life" was an engaging, artful and very fair presentation of the sanctity of life issues which surround the care of the profoundly sick and disabled. And yet, because the message of the film was unmistakeably Christian, it was dismissed as propaganda, preachy, and simplistic.
Meanwhile, on a stage across town, another play dealing with euthanasia was being enacted. It was "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" But, unlike the Muggeridge/Thornhill effort, this play was very well received by critics and public alike. It was a great success and was eventually turned unto a popular motion picture.
But "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" is every bit as much propaganda as "Sentenced to Life." Indeed, it is much more "preachy," substantially less balanced, and allows for much less of a credible presentation of varying points of view on euthanasia than does the Christian play. It is, on several points, an inferior drama than "Sentenced to Life."
Why then the reaction of the critics and the play-goers?
In fact, truth does more than hurt. It challenges. It provokes. It convicts. The Christian message, regardless of the form in which it comes, illuminates those very areas which we prefer to keep dark. And especially in this post-Christian era -- when the entire culture is set on hailing such evils as abortion, euthanasia and fetal experimentation even as it derides traditional morality, the sanctity of life, marriage and the home, and the simplicity of Chirist's gospel -- one can be sure that the truth will be marginalized and, if possible, dismissed altogether.
But the Christians in our living room last night who discussed "Sentenced to Life" together are well aware of the challenge of living for Jesus Christ in the midst of a decadent, de-constructing culture. We are, after all, Christian pro-life activists. And so we were able to not only appreciate the brilliant artistry of the play but to willingly apply its lessons.
And that means that we love those confronted by life's difficulties; that we sacrificially give the respect, the care, and the time needed for those suffering; that we humbly, hopefully minister to the aged, the disabled, the lonely, the confused, the sick and the alienated.
This is the primary message of "Sentenced to Life", that we care enough to help people live out whatever time God gives them (and under whatever circumstances) rather than do the expedient, self-centered thing; namely, help them to die and get out of our way.
And Christians serve the suffering in the light of their Savior and by His power. As they do so, they lovingly build a culture a life. And that is the best argument of all to the culture of death.
This is perhaps why the drama critic for the New Scientist back in 1982 ended his review of both plays the way he did. For after characterizing "Sentenced to Life" as "passionate propaganda" that drags along with an obvious religious theme and then praising "Whose Life Is It Anyway" as wittier, livelier, funnier with the audience reveling in the ending, the critic nevertheless had this to say in his final paragraph -- "Strangely, though, it is the Muggeridge-Thornhill tract that leaves the more lasting impression, and the feeling that that the authors are right..."
"Sentenced to Life" isn't an easy to obtain play but it can be found by looking through old book stores on the web. Believe me, you'll find it worthwhile. And, if you're fortunate enough to have a few friends to read and discuss the book with you like we have in Vital Signs' Book It! meetings, you're better off still.