In an incisive TV series, Edges, Christian communicator and broadcaster MAL FLETCHER takes an unflinching look at the big issues of the day. Here, Mal unpicks the thorny topic of "mercy killing".
Some people have called euthanasia "mercy killing", but is it really
the most humane response to suffering, and what will it lead to in
future generations? Euthanasia means the legal termination of a human
life by a third party, usually a doctor, at the specific request of
the patient. Supporters of current euthanasia laws try to put a
humane-sounding spin on them, but there are some real moral and social
time bombs waiting to explode. In the few jurisdictions that have
already embraced euthanasia, laws are filled with terms that can be
interpreted very subjectively. For example, they speak of "unbearable"
suffering. How do we know, though, when that limit has been reached
for an individual person? Surely, what one person will call
"unbearable" another may call
tolerable, at least for a while.
There are thousands of stories about people who've tried to end their
lives and failed. They've gone on to lead very fulfilling and
significant lives. Looking back, they've expressed relief that their
suicide attempt didn't succeed. In the same way, people who
may feel like dying today may go on to find new purpose in life and in the process change the world for others. They should not be denied that opportunity. There's a potential for tragic mistakes and crimes with these laws, too. According to statistics from the Dutch government - one of the first to legalize euthanasia - 913 people had their lives terminated in 1995 without their express consent. Sometimes, the decision is already being taken out of the hands of the patients.
Euthanasia laws will also make things harder for many of the more vulnerable people in society - the young, for example. Dutch laws allow 12 to 15-year-olds to request euthanasia, as long as their parents approve. We all know how impressionable and vulnerable 12 year olds can be. That's why we have such tight laws to protect them from pornographers. So, how can 12 -year-olds be expected to make a totally "voluntary and well-considered" decision to end their lives - especially when their thinking may be clouded by serious illness?
Euthanasia will also put great pressure on the underprivileged. Poor people may end up choosing euthanasia because it is the cheapest option, for the sake of their families. Governments may even offer financial incentives. 1 Contrary to popular belief, many people who have requested help to die have done so not because of physical suffering but because of emotional trauma. According to a study by a Dutch University, only five percent of patients who asked for assisted-suicide listed pain as the major factor in their decision. The most prominent factor was the fear of suffering. Sadly, what one generation finds tolerable the next may call normal, leading it to go even further down the same track. The next step from euthanasia may be "designer death" where consumers can choose from a "catalogue of options" how and when they want to die. Or even systematic eugenics - the selective "weeding out" of the weaker members of the human race. Euthanasia is just another step toward a culture of death, where human life is expendable.
The Christian worldview is founded on the Bible, which teaches that the life of every person, whatever their circumstances, is sacred. We don't own our lives; we are stewards or caretakers of our lives, which ultimately belong to God. On the issues of life and death the Bible is very clear: no human being should take the life of another. Euthanasia, at its most basic level, means giving certain people the right to break that divine law. The book of Genesis says that human beings fell from their elevated position under God because they believed a lie. They believed that in trying to decide their own fate they could "become like gods".
The same lie is on offer again today. The power of life and death is certainly a God-like power. However, the lesson of Genesis and of history is clear - in human hands, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When human beings try to move into God's sphere of control, they bring destruction on themselves, on their environment and on future generations.
The Bible has another problem with euthanasia and assisted suicide - that problem is a man called Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, Jesus was much more than a great humanitarian - he was the Son of God. Jesus said, "Satan is a thief who comes to kill and destroy, but I came to give life." Taking the lives of others works against the spirit of Christ, which is one of healing and life. Nobody wants to die when they've found a powerful reason to live. Jesus said that he came to "redeem" human lives, to restore to us what we'd lost, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Jesus died to give us dignity in life and victory in death - not shame in life and defeat in death.
Notes: 1 Oregon Medicaid program already pays for assisted suicide for the poor, claiming that it represents a form of "comfort care".The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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