We have had several personal experiences with a person approaching death that brought up the issue of assistance in dying. One of the cases in our family involved a loved one dying in an Asian country. The belief in that country was that life is all there is, so a person should be kept alive at all costs, no matter what. Our loved one was in enormous pain and begging to die, but his Asian wife refused to allow him to receive any drug that might shorten his life. Drugs such as morphine can relieve pain, but they can also shorten life, so she did not allow those drugs.
There is also a medical treatment called palliative sedation, which renders a person unconscious until they die. In the United States, hospice offers palliative care but does not hasten death. Individuals can use VSED, which is “voluntary stopping of eating and drinking.” The decision is difficult, and when the person loses consciousness, family members can override it.
Ten states and the District of Columbia now allow medical assistance in dying. Doctors in those states can prescribe a lethal dose of a drug if requested by the patient or their power of attorney. The states are Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and New Mexico.
Several of our church friends have faced the issue of assistance in dying. Our current issue is our son Tim who is mentally incapable of deciding for himself and is in a pathetic condition. COVID-19 has activated his cerebral palsy complications and especially his muscular dystrophy, so he is bedfast and barely able to communicate. He is making no visible progress, and because of blindness, he has very little quality of life. I read to him daily over the phone. He can only eat pureed food because he can’t chew and swallow hard foods. He is cut off from friends or family because it is virtually impossible to understand his speech.
What do you do in a case like my son Tim? He is a physically strong person, so he may remain in this state for a very long time. Having a doctor inject him with a lethal dose of drugs might seem to be the merciful thing to do, but that is pure euthanasia and assumes he will never make any recovery. Who has that kind of knowledge?
We share this with you to underline the issue of assistance in dying. As our population ages and as medical care advances, this issue will only get more complex. Join us in praying that God will lead us to know how to deal with this new problem facing humanity, which is especially difficult for believers in God.
John N. Clayton © 2021
For two different views on the assistance in dying issue, you can turn to the websites of Compassion and Choices and the National Right to Life Committee.