In our March 16, 2020, post, we discussed the issue of suicide, and the Federal Communication Commission’s efforts to create a suicide hotline. We discussed the problem of assisted suicide or euthanasia in our February 24 and 25 posts. The March 20 issue of The Week magazine carried an article (page 11) titled “The Spread of Assisted Suicide.”
In addition to the data showing how much assisted suicide has increased, the article in The Week points out that assisted suicide is now available to people for various reasons. It is being made available to those who are in psychological pain, those who don’t want to go into a nursing home, and to minors with their parent’s permission. This is a significant problem with large numbers of people involved. In the Netherlands alone, there were 6585 assisted deaths in 2017.
Our biggest concern in this growing trend is the misinformation that the public is receiving. Dignitas, which is a Swiss organization assisting in suicides, says that assisted suicide is “far preferable to letting ill people make a lonely, risky suicide attempt.” Those are not the only choices available to a person who is depressed, in pain, or fearing dementia.
As life expectancy continues to climb, more and more people will struggle with emotional and physical pain. Our focus needs to be on solving those issues, not just in finding ways to destroy the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Yesterday we discussed the push for euthanasia in secular society.We have received a massive reaction to the euthanasia article. Several people have asked what states in the U.S. allow assisted suicide. In addition to Washington, D.C., those states are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
We received information about Professor Theo Boer, a Dutch ethicist who was a major supporter of the Netherlands’ 2002 Euthanasia legislation. Boer wrote to the British House of Lords in 2014, “We were wrong, terribly wrong. Assisted dying in the beginning was the odd exception, accepted by many including myself as a last resort.” He pointed out that what happened was that many patients who received euthanasia were patients who were depressed, lonely, or in bereavement. In Switzerland a woman paid to be euthanized because she no longer felt pretty. He concludes by saying, “Public opinion has shifted dramatically toward considering assisted dying a patient’s right and a physician’s duty.”
In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide was legalized in 1997 “for cases of suffering from terminal disease.” In 2018 a followup study found that 75% of the people who died by assisted suicide said their pain control was adequate, but over 50% were concerned about being a burden to their families.
We also received a story of Karen Welch, who was a missionary in Belgium. During a routine surgery, blood was cut off to her brain resulting in a stroke. After several days, doctors told her husband that her MRI showed dead brain cells and that there was no hope for her recovery. “Your wife will be a vegetable,” Mr. Welch was told. The medical establishment recommended euthanasia. To make a long story short, Karen Welch eventually walked out of the hospital, and that December, she played the piano and sang at the Belgium School Chapel Christmas program.
As we said in our original article, euthanasia is a highly complex issue. The reaction to the euthanasia article we posted indicates that people are concerned about the issue. Until you are involved in a personal situation where euthanasia is offered as a simple and inexpensive solution, it is easy to give simplistic answers. The critical thing to remember is that humans are not just animals. We are created in the image of God, so we must treat every human life as special.
One of the spin offs of the approval of abortion has been the advancement of euthanasia. In virtually every country that has approved abortion, there has been an eventual acceptance of euthanasia, allowing a doctor to administer fatal drugs to a patient.
Abortion was instituted in Portugal in 2007, and in February 2020, Portugal’s parliament approved euthanasia for terminally ill people. Portugal now joins six other countries in sanctioning euthanasia – Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. In the United States, medically assisted suicide is permitted in which patients administer the lethal drug themselves.
The issues involved in the advancement of euthanasia are very complex. No one wants a loved one to continue suffering when eventual recovery does not seem to be possible. I have a family member who is in that situation. Prostate and Bone cancer have progressed to brain cancer, and the burden to family caregivers, the expense, and the level of pain present are all huge issues. In the progress of the disease, who would decide to administer euthanasia? The patient may not be able to make it. Family members may not want the emotional strain of making the decision, and who would trust the decision to the state? Other factors include when did the patient realize they were going to die? How important is closure for those left behind, especially children? Can doctors be wrong about a terminal diagnosis?
First Corinthians 3:16-17 tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The context of that passage and others is that God uses His children to reach out through His Spirit to help others. Paul, in Philippians 1:20-30, talks about being ready to die. He wrote, “For I am in a strait between the two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ which is far better. Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” He talks about how he can help others and, for that reason, wants to continue to live.
One of the banners carried by protesters in Portugal says, “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.” That is so very true. It isn’t the end of suffering for family, for friends, for those you have tried to teach, for those considering their own lives. In this day, there is no reason for physical suffering because medical science has ways to stop the physical pain. Ending life prematurely will generate pain for others. How long will it be after euthanasia is accepted before the state will determine who should survive and who should be euthanized?
The fundamental factor in the advancement of euthanasia centers around the value of a human being. If we consider humans to be special and created in the image of God, then human life is sacrosanct. Animal life does not have that same image of God, and survival of the fittest is in control in the animal world. If humans are just animals, then killing a human is no more of a problem than killing a bug. In that case, inconvenient or unfit humans, like all other animals, can just be eliminated. This is not a trivial issue, but one that deserves thoughtful attention.
Every Wednesday morning I take my son Tim, who is 57 years old, out for breakfast. Tim is mentally challenged, blind, and has a mild form of muscular dystrophy. He also has cerebral palsy and schizophrenia. All of this has left him wheelchair-bound and with trembles that affect his ability to hold a cup to drink. Various government programs for the disabled have supported Tim since he became of school age. Some people have told me they resent their tax money being used to prolong my son’s suffering. I regularly receive brochures from pro-euthanasia groups promoting legislation that would terminate those who have “a low quality of life.” That brings up the question, “Is it worth the price?”
I suspect that we could reduce the massive amount of government deficit spending if we euthanized everyone in a mental hospital or care facility. We could expand that to include any prisoner who will always be incarcerated. We could also add anyone who is in a vegetative state due to brain injuries or congenital problems caused by disease, injury, stroke, or inadequate care. From an atheistic standpoint, the euthanizing of all of these individuals makes sense. Putting human life on the same level as animal life would allow involuntary euthanasia. The champion of this kind of thinking is Australian Dr. Peter Singer. He is the Ira W. Decamp Professor of bioethics at Princeton University. He is also the Australian Laureate Professor of Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.
From a Christian standpoint, these proposals are repugnant. To be clear, we are not talking about allowing a dying person to refuse a life support machine with no hope of ever being free of the machine. Christians do not view a human as “just another animal.” The Christian view is that ALL humans are created in the image of God. That means they have a spiritual makeup which is unique to humans. Christians reject the view that a human, a dog, and a pig are of equal value.
But is it worth the price of caring for those whom Singer and others would eliminate? There are a large number of objections to the views of the euthanasia advocates. Here are a few:
1) The handicapped historically have made significant contributions to all disciples of human activity. Would those who promote involuntary euthanasia suggest that Stephen Hawking’s life should have been terminated when he could no longer function without help? How many great musical composers have had major handicaps? Many times a handicap has led to a unique talent that blesses the lives of others.
2) How do you determine a “low quality of life”? My son has many things that bring him joy. He enjoys food and knows about the different foods of various cultures. He gets great pleasure from hearing about various religious beliefs. He enjoys music and loves to feel different textures. He does not agonize over his blindness or complain about not being able to play sports. He looks forward to my daily phone calls and loves eating out. From his perspective, his quality of life is very good.
3) Ignoring the spiritual dimension of life means not understanding what brings joy to many people. Galatians 5:19-25 describes the physical “works of the flesh,” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” The physical things are animal responses that involve the physical body. Verse 22 lists the fruits of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance..” My son has all of those. Not only does he have them, but he brings them into the lives of others.
Citizen Magazine reported in August that over 50% of “Christians” approve physician-assisted suicide. As we get older, we have relatives and friends who no longer want to stay alive because their quality of life is poor and they see no hope of getting well. The question really is a matter of alternatives.
In previous years there was a group known as The Hemlock Society who campaigned for and supported physician-assisted suicide. They have renamed themselves Compassion and Choices. The title suggests that we need to have compassion for the dying and allow them to kill themselves with the assistance of a physician to make sure the suicide isn’t bungled.
They have it only half right. We must have compassion for the dying. In this culture and this time of medical advances, there is no reason why anyone should have to endure massive pain as life ebbs toward its end.
Seventy years ago my paternal grandmother had spinal cancer that was causing her massive pain. The doctor severed her spinal cord in a way that stopped the pain but rendered her unable to walk or control her bladder or bowels. She lived for 15 years after that surgery. I remember visiting with her, being taught by her, playing games with her, and hearing about ancestors that I would never see. She was positive and encouraging to me.
Suicide doesn’t allow some vital things needed by those left behind. My younger brother is suffering a similar disease situation as I write. He too has had surgery on his spine that has confined him to a wheelchair. It allows him to continue to enjoy family, his grandchildren and working with his wife on family issues and problems that she otherwise would have to face alone.
The theme of the December 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation is “Understanding and Helping Those with Alzheimer’s.” The American Scientific Affiliation is an organization made up of scientists holding advanced science degrees who are believers in Jesus. This issue brings up questions regarding Alzheimer’s disease and God.
The World Health Organization reports that there are 47.5 million people with dementia worldwide. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 70% of those. The WHO also tells us that 7.7 million new cases are added each year. The National Institute of Aging ranks Alzheimer’s as the third leading cause of death for older people–behind heart disease and cancer. There is still much that science does not understand about Alzheimer’s. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga writes that “dementia including Alzheimer’s may simply be the result of our brains living beyond what they were designed for.”
The question concerning Alzheimer’s disease and God becomes whether God’s design is flawed or whether Alzheimer’s is something humans have brought on themselves. First, we need to understand that there are two forms of Alzheimer’s. One occurs early in life and is called familial Alzheimer’s. It is a rare disease accounting for less than 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases. The more common late-onset Alzheimer’s is associated with a gene called apolipoprotein E which is involved in metabolizing fats in the body. Studies have linked diet and environmental contaminants to Alzheimer’s. It now appears that Alzheimer’s is not a single disorder, but that there are many forms with many different causes. Obviously, that makes identifying the specific cause and treating patients very difficult.
The bigger question is how we handle people with Alzheimer’s. One solution is euthanasia at early stages of the disease. Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who developed a lethal injection system as a means for assisted suicide, promoted this view. The first patient he euthanized by his system was a 54-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. Peter Singer, who is the head of the ethics department at Princeton University, has promoted this view on an academic level.
Because the American Scientific Affiliation is a Christian organization, the euthanasia alternative is dismissed by the magazine. Instead, it suggests ways that faith can help patients and caregivers deal with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
One of the new problems people face today is the question of what to do when you have a painful terminal illness. Improved medical treatments have allowed us to live longer with diseases that previously would have ended life. This has led to increased interest in physician-assisted suicide.
As I write this, I am dealing with my younger brother facing the end of life due to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The disease has changed him from an active, in control, retired military officer to a man confined to a wheelchair, in great pain, and unable to care for himself. He and I have talked about physician-assisted suicide a number of times. Each time we do, the discussion gets more difficult.
Christianity Today (April 2017, page 18) reported that Lifeway Research found that 38% of the American public believes that physician-assisted suicide is morally acceptable when facing a painful terminal illness. Their study shows that 42% agree that physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives. Those numbers have been climbing, and they will continue to do so.
It is easy to give simplistic condemnations of those who choose to end their lives in this way. When we are in the situation, it becomes much more challenging. For the Christian, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Do we have any right to end the body’s life? Is a body racked with pain and twisted with a horrible disease a fit place for God’s Spirit? What effect does ending one’s life have on the loved ones? Is there ever a time when a person cannot minister to others even as they battle a horrible disease? These are all hard questions to answer.