[6]        Death: Euthanasia & Suicide

Background:

The proportion of elderly people continues to increase rapidly, thus putting more pressure on heath expenditure. The proportion of people aged 65 and over is: 8% in 1970; 12.5% in 2000; 21% in 2025.

In 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the “sanctity of life” over “the right to die” and prohibited assisted suicide. In 1995, a Senate committee recommended against euthanasia after lengthy public hearings.

Voters in Oregon approved doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in 1994. In 1996, two US circuit courts of appeals (California & New York) struck down laws prohibiting assisted suicide (which exist in 33 states). But they were unanimously (9-0) reversed by the US Supreme Court in 1997.

Euthanasia is practised in the Netherlands (officially 2-3% of all deaths, actually 19%).

27.  What is euthanasia?

a.   Euthanasia is the act to cause or hasten the death of a human being. “Euthanasia” comes from two Greek words meaning “good death”. Such connotation of benevolence is quite misleading.

b.   While euthanasia usually means the killing of sick and dying people. It can be extended to “mercy killing” of healthy people to alleviate emotional and financial burden on relatives.

c.   Types of euthanasia:

·         Active (direct) euthanasia: killing a person by committing some action such as injecting a poison

·         Passive (indirect) euthanasia: killing a person by withholding some action that indirectly causes death, such as terminating medical treatment such as life support or surgical operation

·         Voluntary euthanasia: killing a person who expresses a desire to die by euthanasia

·         Involuntary euthanasia: killing a person who did not express a desire to die by euthanasia

28.  Can Christians support euthanasia?

a.   The norms involved are:

(1)  “You shall not murder” (6th Commandment, Ex 20:13).

(2)  One has “the right to die”.

o        Humanists believe that man has sovereignty over his/her life including the “right to die” which is to be exercised when the “quality of life” is too low and dignity is lost (such as in sickness and pain).

b.   Arguments against euthanasia:

(1)  For Christians, one does not have the “right to die”:

o        God has sovereignty over our lives. We are only stewards of life (Ro 14:8). Determining the moment of death is God’s prerogative (Dt 32:39; Job 14:5; Ecc 3:2; Jas 4:14-15). We do not have the “right to die”.

(2)  The “quality of life” argument cannot justify euthanasia:

o        The “sanctity of life” is above the “quality of life.”

o        The measurement of “quality of life” is always arbitrary and subjective, with no fixed standard.

It can include comatose people, mentally retarded people, physically disabled people.

 (3) Suffering is not equivalent to loss of dignity.

o        Pro-euthanasia people perceive a loss of physical or mental dignity when a person suffers intractable pain. However, when a person can overcome his fear of both death and pain, and accept them with a deep peace at the end of his life, that is true dignity. Dignity is lost if a person lives in self-pity and fear.

With the advance in pain management, modern pain killers can suppress practically all physical suffering.

(4)  Slippery slope (or wedge in the door) argument:

o        The argument is that once you step onto a slippery slope, you cannot stop the downward sliding. Once a moral justification for an immoral action is accepted, wider immoral actions will be justified.

o        Once euthanasia is legalized for certain conditions, a widening the scope of killing will be inevitable.

o        The legalization of euthanasia will likely lead to abuse in two directions:

Acceptance of more kinds of euthanasia: eventually end up with forced involuntary active euthanasia

Increase in the scope of people designated for euthanasia: including infants with birth defects, mentally retarded people, physically handicapped people (the crippled, the blind, the dumb, etc.)

(5)  Other considerations:

o        Euthanasia is irreversible. If a mistake is made, there is no remedy. Doctors may err in diagnosis.

o        A cure for the terminal disease may be found in time or God may heal with a miracle.

o        Over half of patients judged to be in “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) eventually regain consciousness.

o        With euthanasia, the trust and respect relationship between doctors and patients will be lost.

c.   Christians must not support euthanasia. However, Christians with a terminal and irreversible illness can sometimes refuse excessive or heroic medical treatment. This is not euthanasia.

o        The medical treatment is excessive if it would only cause pain and would lengthen the person’s lifespan by a modest or insignificant amount (of up to a few months).

o        The reason: sustaining life is an obligation but prolonging dying is not.

d.   The use of pain killers that shorten life is permissible.

o        The principle of “double effect” can be applied. If the primary purpose of a drug is to relieve severe pain, and the shortening of life is an anticipated side effect, giving the drug is permissible.

e.   The solution to allow a dignified death is not euthanasia but “hospice”.

o        Hospice is a facility to provide support and care for persons in the last phases of an incurable disease so that they might die as fully and comfortably as possible.

29.  Can what happened on euthanasia demonstrate the slippery slope argument?

·         Dr. Jack Kevorkian claimed to have assisted suicides of over 130 people. Based on autopsy of his victims, 75% were NOT terminally ill. In 7%, autopsies could not find ANY physical disease.

·         Holland -- the clearest example:

o        1973: A case of euthanasia only got a probation sentence.

o        1993: The Dutch Parliament passed laws allowing euthanasia under certain circumstances.

o        1994: The Dutch Supreme Court ruled that physician-assisted suicide justifiable for mental patients.

o        1999: A study found 20% of active euthanasia took place without the patient’s express request.

o        2000: Holland formally legalized euthanasia in which a terminal illness is not a requirement.

o        NOW:

Death-on-demand and infant euthanasia by lethal injection are now practised.

Patients are now pressured to accept euthanasia. 68% of all elderly Dutch citizens feared that they would be killed without their consent or without their knowledge; 90% of them were against euthanasia.

The number of nursing homes has decreased more than 80% in the last 20 years. Most elderly people in Dutch nursing homes will only drink water from faucets out of fear of being poisoned.

80% of Dutch doctors have admitted killing people deliberately through active euthanasia.

30.  How should Christians view suicide?

·         Christian arguments against suicide:

o        God has sovereignty over our lives. We do not have the “right to die”.

o        The “sanctity of life” is above the “quality of life.”

o        Deciding whether life is tolerable or intolerable, worthwhile or worthless is arbitrary and temporal (situations change with time). Killing oneself based on an arbitrary and temporal decision is unwise.

o        Suicides injure others. The family may blame themselves for the death.

31.  How should Christians react to a different world view in the society (such as the secular belief that man possesses the “right to die”)?

o        No matter what the society believes, Christians have to practise God’s principles (Ac 5:29).

o        Christians should try to convince others by using arguments based on general accepted principles.

o        Christians should resist legislations that conflict with God’s principles through social action.

32.  Can Christians use cremation as a means to bury the dead?

o        Some Christians argue against cremation. The reason is that there will be no physical body or skeleton for resurrection to eternal life. But God will give us new bodies, not using old skeletons. Some Christian martyrs were burnt. Some Christians died in accidental fires. Therefore, cremation is allowable.