As you read this issue of Current the clock is ticking for the introduction of new legislation in Canada and some states in the U.S. to legalize physician-assisted suicide. These new laws are to grant the right to die by medical intervention if patients are under physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated. It is a gray area if ever there were one.
Many people argue, “It’s my body; therefore, I should have the right to die as well as the right to live.” It is easy to see that this is an extension of the attitude of self-autonomy that has developed out of humanistic thinking. When liberal thinkers deny that God is the sole creator of human life and when they consider men to be nothing more than higher-order animals, their logical conclusion is that they have the right to die upon their own terms.
This thinking creates many problems. The consequence of legislation that grants the right to die will put doctors in a terrible dilemma. They are trained to relieve suffering and preserve life. To ask a medical professional to use his or her skills to terminate human life is contrary to the very vocation of healthcare givers. Doctors will be called on to act against conscience, even if they may opt to offer a referral. To participate in any part of a process where medically trained people intervene to cause death or to hasten death is contrary to a Christian doctor’s conscience and that of many others as well.
In the past doctors have had “conscience protection,” but the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which governs medical practice in Ontario and disciplines doctors who fail to meet professional standards, has recently restricted this right. There are many Christian doctors who feel that the new legislation presently being written may mean they will be unable to serve in the medical field, especially in the area of palliative care. This will be tragic for the very ethos of Christianity is to minister to the suffering with utmost compassion.
In an open letter to Canadians in keeping with this spirit of compassion the Physicians’ Alliance Against Euthanasia stated: “It is a long standing commitment of the medical profession ‘To cure sometimes, to relieve suffering often, and to comfort always.’ It is a breach of that commitment to inflict death. The World Medical Association and the near-totality of national medical associations agree that intentionally ending patients’ lives is not an ethically acceptable part of the physician’s role. This opinion is shared by the World Palliative Care Alliance and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians in their assertion that Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are not now, and have never been, part of palliative care practice.”
Of equal importance is the potential for abuse of such legislation by the uncaring who have some powers of decision-making. According to one published study on the subject, most requests for assisted suicide are not because of low quality of life or pain that is unmanageable. This sobering discovery is all the more believable when we consider that our countries are blessed with a highly trained medical profession that is proficient in palliative care to provide compassionate, round the clock pain-management for the suffering. It is strange, however, that the countries with the world’s best medical systems are those at the forefront of legislating physician-assisted suicide.
Apart from the medical issues there are also spiritual issues to consider. The mindset to encourage assisted suicide ignores the intrinsic value of human life. Who among men can determine the right time to end human life? Surely, we know the value God puts upon life when one soul is worth more than the whole world (Mark 8:36). God alone has the right to end human life. The more serious question—the one that humanists are in no position to answer—is how do we know the patient will be better off dead?
Thankfully, through the knowledge of the gospel, the Christian has answers to the difficult issues of death. With God, “There is a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). We know that God’s time will be perfect. To directly and deliberately cause the death of a human life is to usurp the place of God, the creator and sustainer of life. Rather than seek death by some form of suicide, the Christian rests in the knowledge that Christ has removed the sting of death for His people through the victory of His death and resurrection. Because of His own triumph over death the Lord has promised to be with His people in their hour of death, so that, when we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death, [we need] fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4). He also promises that we “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). Let these assurances comfort the hearts of all believers in Christ and call sinners to trust in the Saviour for peace with God.
Notwithstanding the reasons for firm opposition to doctor-assisted suicide, we are truly thankful for present day medical expertise to relieve pain and suffering that can be administered to the dying. That, too, is a gift from God. There is a line, however, in medical intervention over which man may not cross. We must all bow to Job’s axiom,
“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).