Active Euthanasia & Death with Dignity Implications

Brittnay Maynard, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, chose to end her life on November 1, 2014 via lethal drug. She was an advocate for the “right to die” or “death with dignity” movement.

This decision has very dangerous implications if accepted.

A few years ago, I debated the subject of euthanasia (a very similar topic). It is something I feel very passionate about, and due to recent events I have felt compelled to share a few excerpts from my debate paper.

Active euthanasia is morally wrong and in violation of biblical principles. A great debate has surfaced today—should active euthanasia be allowed? Active euthanasia is the physician implemented drug or lethal injection to speed up the process of death. I do not believe that active euthanasia should be allowed because if is not approved in the Bible, it devalues human life, and it takes advantage of the helpless. Active euthanasia literally means “good death”.

There is nothing 'good' about ending one's life prematurely.  Pain and suffering are real and I am in no way attempting to minimize what individuals and families experience during such times.  However, there is nothing good about devaluing human life.  While assisted suicide (the means which Brittnay Maynard chose to end her life) isn't euthanasia, it is a similar method which actively ends one's life prematurely.

Active euthanasia is not approved in the Bible. While the Bible does not directly speak about euthanasia, biblical principles can be used to show that God does not approve of active euthanasia (Slick). First we see that God grants life to man. Job 33:4 says, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” God also has appointed a time for man to die. Hebrews 9:27 says, “…and as it is appointed unto man once to die…” and Job 14:5 says, Since his days are determined and the number of his months is with you….” This illustrates that God, not man, is in control of life. The Bible however, does give authority to man to take a life in a few circumstances. The Bible supports the government’s practice of capital punishment and of just war.

Job’s decision to live also shows us the appropriate response to pain and suffering (Shafee). Job said in Job 2:9-10, “’Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’” Job knew that pain and suffering make an individual stronger and more dependent on God. Even though his friends gave him poor advice and his wife told him to give up, Job saw the blessing of life. He knew that life is precious to God and that it was not his right to decide when he should die.

This is important for us to recognize.  It is not the government's job to decide when someone should die (outside of capital punishment or war).  No law can justify the taking of someone's life outside these parameters.  Sadly, this biblical principle is being broken daily (murder, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, suicide, 'death with dignity', etc.).  Let us follow Job's example of when it comes to suffering.  Job didn't know why he was suffering.  He even questioned God why (like many of us have/would).  But God reminded Job, He was still in control.  That God would be glorified.  We may not understand, and we may never truly understand; however, actively ending one's life does not glorify God.

While pain and suffering are a terrible thing for humans to experience, active euthanize devalues human life. Pain and suffering are a natural part of life. Everyone experiences pain or suffering whether it is physical, psychological, or spiritual. An individual who is in intense pain or suffering from a terminal illness does not give justification to taking the life of that individual. God never approves of treating pain with taking one’s life. God never approves taking another individual's life to alleviate him from suffering. However, Proverbs 31:6 states that we are to “give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter.” Today we have a wider medical knowledge. We can provide pain medication to help alleviate the suffering of an individual. This should be our desire, to do everything we can do alleviate pain and suffering; the rest is and should stay out of our hands.

This is not saying that medicine alleviates all suffering and all pain.  I understand that many are suffering in pain that medicine cannot cure.  However, that fact does not justify the active ending of one's life prematurely.

F.B. Sumner states, “One of the most pathetic and curious facts of human existence is the tenacity with which most persons cling to life, however tragic…and however painful in the last stages the patient fights for his life.” Sumner is implying that an individual has reached the point of dehumanization. This cannot morally be done. Sumner has not comprehended the fact that life is precious to humans.

Here lies the problem with advocates such as Sumner.  Sumner states that it is a PATHETIC fact that humans "cling to life, however tragic".  Those who are advocates of the "death with dignity" movement imply it is undignified to choose to fight.  Sumner had the audacity to verbalize that implication.  He finds it PATHETIC when the "patient fights for his life".

Legalizing active euthanasia, and further legalizing assisted suicide will devalue human life because it will create a slippery slope to many immoral consequences. These consequences could potentially include: involuntary euthanasia, a lethal pill sold at the supermarket, and ignoring the sanctity of life.

The first consequence of legalizing active euthanasia could potentially be a slippery slope leading to involuntary euthanasia. Edmund D. Pelligrino wrote that “In a society as obsessed with the costs of health care and the principle of utility, the dangers of the slippery slope…are far from fantasy…So, too, is voluntary euthanasia a half-way house to involuntary and nonvoluntary euthanasia. If terminating life is a benefit, the reasoning goes, why should euthanasia be limited only to those who can give consent? Why need we ask for consent?" (procon.org).

This is a very logical argument. If death is the goal and is considered the greatest good, then why should we ask for consent? However, death is not the greatest good and is not a benefit. John Hendrickson and Thomas St. Martin echo Pelligrino’s thoughts when they wrote that if we were to accept active euthanasia it “would involve climbing onto a greased slide from which no one can escape. If we can end the life of a hopeless cancer patient, then what is to stop us from acting similarly with the patient with hopeless brain damage or the senility of old age? What is to stop us from including the hopelessly mentally ill or retarded, or the bedridden who have become a burden to themselves and others?” (procon.org).

While this may seem far-fetched, it remains a reality. Some may argue that doctors and nurses would not jeopardize their licenses or reputation to perform illegal activities. However, according to a national survey in 2003, physicians were asked under current legal restraints (active euthanasia is illegal in all 50 states) if there were circumstances in which they would be willing to hasten a patient’s death by prescribing medication. The study published this report:

"Eleven percent of the physicians [1,902 total] said that under current legal constraints, there were circumstances in which they would be willing to hasten a patient's death by prescribing medication, and 7 percent said that they would provide a lethal injection... Since entering practice, 18.3 percent of the physicians...reported having received a request from a patient for assistance with suicide and 11.1 percent...had received a request for a lethal injection. Sixteen percent of the physicians receiving such requests...or 3.3 percent of the entire sample, reported that they had written at least one prescription to be used to hasten death, and 4.7 percent...said that they had administered at least one lethal injection" (procon.org).

Human life is already being devalued. Many physicians do not respect the current law. If voluntary active euthanasia was legalized, what is to stop the same physicians from performing involuntary euthanasia?

The second possible consequence of legalizing active euthanasia is the proposed idea to create a “peaceful pill” available on the supermarket. Philip Nitschke, the Director and Founder of Exit International, an Austrailian voluntary euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide organization stated that: "I do not believe that telling people that they have a right to life while denying them the means, manner, or information necessary for them to give this life away has any ethical consistency. So all people qualify, not just those with the training, knowledge, or resources to find out how to "give away" their life. And someone needs to provide this knowledge, training, or recourse necessary to anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved, the troubled teen. If we are to remain consistent and we believe that the individual has the right to dispose of their life, we should not erect artificial barriers in the way of sub-groups who don't meet our criteria. This would mean that the so-called 'peaceful pill' should be available in the supermarket so that those old enough to understand death could obtain death peacefully at the time of their choosing. It’s hard to imagine how such a development would affect society, but I believe the impact would not be as great as people fear.”

Before you scream this will never happen--this is already being considered worldwide.  Advocates for the legalization of such methods argue that in order to be consistent, a pill must be available for anyone of age.  This is completely against a biblical perspective one life.  This argument does not glorify God.  It only further devalues human life.  For Nitschke to state that the impact would not be as great as people fear demonstrates how those who advocate for these methods devalue human life.  To think of this becoming a widespread reality is frightening.

A third consequence of legalizing and accepting active euthanasia would be the human tendency to ignore the sanctity of life. By ignoring the sanctity of life, one takes away man’s respect for man. It would also refute the fact that “human life is sufficient reason for inviolability.

Active euthanasia also takes advantage of the helpless. Kluge writes, “grave or mortal illness or debilitating and chronic suffering are frequently accompanied by such severe psychological deviation that the patient may act against his natural desire for life and request death. It could be argued that because the request is the result of the patient’s profound depression it must not be in good faith be honored” (Kluge).

As I stated previously, any active method to speed up one's death is completely against biblical principles.  It does not glorify God.  It only devalues human life.  But what are we to do about suffering?  It is unbearable to watch another human suffer.  It is even more unbearable to watch a human suffer in which there is no possibility of comfort.  What are we to do about that?

Those who choose to fight for life are brave and strong.  Often they fight for family and other loved ones.  As those loved ones, we need to encourage, provide love, and support to those who are suffering.

We may not understand God's plan completely, but that does not justify ending one's life. Just as Kluge wrote, "grave or mortal illness or debilitating and chronic suffering are frequently accompanied by such severe psychological deviation that the patient may act against his natural desire for life and request death. It could be argued that because the request is the result of the patient's profound depression it must not in good faith be honored".

Instead, encourage the individual to keep fighting!

If you or a loved one are suffering with depression or the will to live I encourage you to seek advice from a counselor, minister, loved one, or call the National Suicide HotLine at 1-800-273-8255 where you will be transferred to a trained counselor at a crisis center in your area.

Life is worth living!

Remember God loves you and so do I!

-Frodo

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