An organization that has been gaining a great deal of support by promoting medical aid in death is called Compassion and Choices. It has been instrumental in getting state legislators to consider end-of-life options, including hospice and medical assistance in dying. This is an emotional issue that virtually all of us have faced, are facing, or will face in the future. If someone is in the final stages of dying from an incurable illness, what would God have us do?
Compassion and Choices’ promoters make a strong case that it is cruel to make a loved one face their last hours alone. They say nobody should be allowed to remain in great pain while their loved ones are also in agony listening to them scream in a nearby room.
The Bible is not silent on this subject. Proverbs 31:6-7 says, “Give strong drink to the dying and wine to those who are in misery. Let him drink and forget his misfortune.” It has always interested me that when Jesus was crucified, his executioners offered him “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23). Myrrh was a pain-killing drug, and He refused it. It is clear from the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 9:12 that He didn’t oppose physicians or the medical practices of the day. However, the pain of Jesus dying for our sins could not be diluted by using human pain-killers to reduce His sacrifice.
There is a difference between offering pain killers, counseling, support, and loving care to the dying and outright killing them prematurely. We have the capacity to make natural death quiet, dignified, compassionate, and of value without forcing our will upon God’s will. I have seen too many cases where a dying person used that moment to cement their relationship with others and with God. I have also seen a dying person bring comfort, support, and blessing to others. So-called mercy killing would not have allowed those things.
Jesus had a purpose in rejecting the myrrh. But for the rest of us, the medical establishment must provide palliative care. Compassion and choices should not mean that we deal with the crisis of the moment by using our technological ability to end life.
In June of 2016, Canada approved a law called MAID, which stands for “Medical Assistance In Dying.” It became the sixth country in the world to allow the practice, and there are nine states in the United States plus Washington D.C that have followed the Canadian model. Those who work in the field of medical assistance in dying tell us that there are three words they use in dealing with MAID. They are ACCEPT, ADAPT, and be at PEACE.
ACCEPTING the fact that you are going to die very soon is something that most people manage, but for some, it is accomplished more quickly than for others. One’s religious convictions or the lack of them can have a significant impact on when and how we accept death.
ADAPTING takes many forms and is frequently a function of how much pain we are in and how much our impending death affects those we love financially. Using MAID to avoid pain or to stop the loss of family finances is a growing adaption many people are choosing to make. A person’s medical and mental condition can affect how they adapt.
For a significant number of people, being able to donate organs to others is part of being at PEACE with one’s approaching death. An ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) victim named Fred Gillis said it this way: “ALS, you can’t take this away. We’re going to give life to other people.”
There are a wide variety of problems associated with MAID. The laws in Canada and the U.S. make it very difficult to give organs away if you are terminal yourself. If you have active cancer, you are ineligible to donate organs. If you die too slowly, you are not eligible. Even if you are on life support and you decide to pull the plug, about 30% of the time, the organs become nonviable. If donating an organ hastens your death, there is a “The Dead Donor Rule” that makes it impossible for you to donate organs. Fred Gillis was able to donate two kidneys, his lungs, and his liver when he died in April of 2018. The first 30 MAID donors in Canada gave 74 organs, which meant many lives were spared.
Medical assistance in dying is a tough issue for Christians. God gives life, and God makes it clear that the Holy Spirit lives in us. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16.) The need for organ donors is enormous, and allowing people to find peace as death approaches is also huge. It is hard to be rational when we or someone we love is facing death. It is essential to understand that a person’s death is when their soul departs, not necessarily when the physical organs stop working. As Christians, we must study and intelligently discuss this subject.