Do you know what euthanasia is?
The first I remember hearing the term was in a cartoon. It depicted two cute children in stereotypical oriental garb. It said, “Youth in Asia! What’s the big deal?”
Well, euthanasia is a big deal. It was a big deal when Hitler pushed his Kinder-Euthanasie, the systematic killing of several thousand mentally and physically handicapped German children because they were perceived to be a drain on the nation‘s resources. (And on the inevitable slippery ethical slope, that kind of thinking made it just a short sub-human step to executing undesireables like the Jews because their financial prowess was draining the nation’s resources.)
That was then. And euthanasia is still a very big deal now. Most proponents are genuinely trying to be compassionate. They usually have very kind-hearted explanations for ending a life to alleviate pain and suffering. (After all, who wants people to suffer?) Usually the laws start only with euthanasia as an option for only those who are end-end-stages terminally ill. But euthanasia is always a slippery slope, practically and morally.
In countries who are “ahead” of the United States in “compassionate end-of-life legislation,” the noble-sounding “right-to-die” gradually and inevitably begins to morph into a utilitarian “responsibility-to-die.” “Why should your family have to bear the financial and emotional toll of taking care of your prolonged death?” And “is it good to stewardship for your country to continually invest a fortune in the care of you, a dying or disabled individual, when those funds could help so many living people – like the poor?“ Look at that last argument? How different is it than Kinder-Euthanasie? Do you see the slippery slope? (If you’re unaware of the steadily progressing policies and pressure in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, and more lately Canada, go to BreakPoint.org and search for the topic “euthanasia.“)
Now, many contend that euthanasia isn’t much different than palliative care – think “hospice.“ Hospice focuses on helping dying people die with dignity. Euthanasia advocates generally make the same claim, asking, “Isn’t it compassionate to allow a person seeking personal relief from the inevitable pain and suffering of their illness to choose the timing of their death – even if it’s a potentially prolonged period before the end is truly near. Who could argue with that, right? Aren’t both just surrendering, in one way or another, to a terminal illness? The differences may sound subtle but are actually significant: palliative care gracefully allows nature to take its course in the final stages of a terminal disease; physician assisted suicide, though, proactively advances what may (or may not) be inevitable.
And what about euthanasia’s cousin, physician assisted suicide? Again, it can be spun to sound kind-hearted. Laws supporting this usually begin with just allowing a suffering person to relieve the anguish of their own terminal illness at their own time and choosing. But the bar for what is allowed usually devolves steadily. The standard of “truly terminal” inevitably becomes alleviating the “impossible to bear.” Some maladies like severe handicaps, unabating pain, and unending depression increasingly become acceptable reasons for physician assisted suicide.
Such policies have collateral damage on a culture. For example, medical professionals and families are placed in precarious ethical and legal positions. Doctors in some places are increasingly required to facilitate the ending of lives that clearly aren’t yet ending. In other places, courts and governments require the removal of life support from people who aren’t making “adequate progress,“ forcing families to fight for the lives of their loved ones. Furthemore, as governments are normalizing suicide in terms of physician assisted suicide, all forms of suicide rise. The value of life across culture is unintentionally being cheapened.
It truly is a slippery slope. But while most arguments for “graceful endings“ can sound compassionate on the surface, ultimately euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are a usurpation of the authority of God. God creates life. God sustains life. All our days are in his hands (see Ps 31:15). And “No man has … authority over the day of death” (Eccl 8:8).
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who importantly
euthanasia and removing
life-support from a family
member who is brain-dead
or whose heart or lungs
have ceased all function.
Let me explain …
I’ve been in many hospital rooms when life support, like a ventilator, was removed. Though occasionally the person lives – for an hour, a day, a week, or many years – usually the person passes in short order. They no longer have the capacity for life on their own. And I help people say a prayer …
I adapt our traditional Lutheran stewardship prayer. When the church brings forward the day’s collected offering, the church prays: “Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love. Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
We adapt that at a terminal bedside, praying, “Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – our mother, our sister, and our friend – a sign to us of your gracious love. Receive her for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I said this recently at the bedside of my father-in-law. Grief filled the room as his ventilator was removed. But hope also filled the room of this man of faith. We miss him, but with thanksgiving we gave him back into the hand of his Father and creator.