In “Brain cancer will likely kill me, but there’s no way I’ll kill myself” — a 2014 commentary that addressed the plan of terminally ill newlywed Brittany Maynard to end her own life — Dr. Maggie Karner acknowledged the fears and uncertainty of living with a stage-four glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor.
She and Maynard, she wrote, shared not only that frightening diagnosis and its prognosis of future suffering, but a “spunky” spirit and love of travel.
But unlike Maynard, who ended her life Nov. 1, 2014, in a much-publicized “assisted suicide,” Karner rode out her illness to the end, which came Sept. 25.
“As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me,” Karner wrote in that commentary, published by The Federalist Oct. 10, 2014. “The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.”
“Maggie Sattler Karner went peacefully to be with her Savior last night, with our family surrounding and holding her,” wrote Mary Karner, the eldest of Karner’s three daughters, on Facebook. “We are rejoicing in the knowledge that she is finally in the arms of Jesus for all eternity and we are anxiously awaiting the day we can join her.”
Visitation will be from 4-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Funk Funeral Home, 35 Bellevue Ave., in Bristol, Conn., and a funeral service is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 154 Meadow St., Bristol.
A memorial service will be held in Kramer Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3.
Karner, 52, who stepped down as director of LCMS Life and Health Ministries in January because of her illness (diagnosed in spring 2014), had served the Synod since 2003. Over the years she was a prominent voice in the church body for life, mercy, health care and religious freedom — spearheading sanctity-of-life programs (including crisis-pregnancy centers in Russia and Malaysia), life education and pro-life resources. She served as editor of the quarterly newsletter Notes for Life (available at https://www.lcms.org/enews) and wrote and spoke about life issues (she won a second-place award from the Associated Church Press for her 2009 Reporter commentary “Rethinking our pro-life mission“), including embryonic stem-cell research, adoption and end-of-life issues. She was a member of the National Pro-Life Religious Council in Washington, D.C., and chaired the LCMS Sanctity of Human Life Committee.
She took part in the nation’s annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and helped organize the two LCMS Life Conferences in Arlington, Va.
She led the Synod’s Health Ministry, overseeing — and often leading — its international Mercy Medical Teams (MMTs) that provide free health care in developing countries such as the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Uganda. Those who serve on MMTs (doctors, nurses, other medical professonals as well as pastors and laypeople) typically return home “surprised that they received much more through service than they felt they were able to give,” Karner said. “They also come home with a renewed sense of passion for their vocation of healing both body and soul.”
Karner also helped produce curriculum, training videos and other resources for the Synod’s 400-plus parish nurses nationwide.
She spoke out alongside LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison on life, health and religious-liberty issues, and drew cheers and multiple standing ovations when she spoke at the March 27, 2012, “Rally for Religious Liberty” at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City. As the only woman among the speakers (which included St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Director Dr. John Yeats), Karner said she felt a unique responsibility to address the federal regulation requiring most health plans to provide free coverage for contraceptives — even those that cause abortions. The ruling, she said, was “not about women’s issues at all,” but “concerns all of us American citizens and our constitutional rights.”
Karner received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa degree from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., during a surprise tribute on Jan. 23. (See Reporter Online story here.)
“As president of CTS-FW, I have had the opportunity to serve with many faithful servants of Christ, and Maggie stands prominently among them as a selfless hero of the faith,” said the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. “What a joy and privilege it is to present this honor in recognition of a life well-lived and to acknowledge that Maggie, indeed, is a teacher of the Church.”
At the time, Karner said she felt “humbled that an academic institution that brings the Gospel light to the whole world, that has taught seminary students around the world, has honored me. This is right up there with the coolest days of my life.”
Prior to joining the Synod’s national staff, Karner helped establish the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Lutherans For Life (LFL), spearheaded a fundraising project for the national LFL and worked with a crisis-pregnancy center in Fayetteville, Ark. A graduate of Purdue University, Karner also formerly worked in marketing and public relations in the health-care industry.
Survivors include her husband, the Rev. Kevin Karner, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Bristol, and three daughters: Mary, Heidi and Annie.
Memorials to support the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty — made payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” and designated for the “Maggie Karner Memorial Fund” — may be sent to the LCMS, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861. To give to this fund online, click here.
Memorial gifts also may be sent to Immanuel Lutheran Church, 154 Meadow Street, Bristol, CT 06010.
See related Reporter Online story, “ONM’s Day releases statement on Maggie Karner.”
Posted Sept. 27, 2015 / Updated Sept. 28, 2015
Maggie was an inspiration to us all in the prolife movement. As a member of the LCMS and Lutherans for Life I express my sympathies to her family.
I served on a Medical Mission team to Kenya with Maggie in July 2009. Maggie Karner you will always be my “Rock”. Well done good and faithful friend!
As a husband (like Pastor Karner) whose wife went to be with her Savior in December of 2014 at the age of 54 (cancer, as well), I want to encourage everyone to remember that Maggie did not lose the battle with cancer; she won the victory over sin and death by grace, through faith, in Jesus her Lord!