Thursday, April 15, 2021 : By Nathan Skates
New Mexico recently became the ninth state and the tenth jurisdiction to legalize physician-assisted suicide, but Connecticut isn’t far behind, with its legislature now considering a bill that would also put doctors in the business of ending lives rather than healing them.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the state’s medically assisted suicide bill on April 8. Under this law, a physician and another licensed provider must agree on the patient’s terminal diagnosis but hospice patients need just one provider to decide their terminal status. After that, any provider, including osteopathic physicians, nurses, and physician assistants, can prescribe a lethal dose of medication for terminally-ill patients who are deemed capable of self-administering the dose.
Matt Vallière, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, said that amendments weakened the New Mexico bill but that “legalized assisted suicide in any form will only make it even harder for people with disabilities, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged to obtain quality medical care.”
Still, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe argued that the law is “the worst in the nation,” as it also requires that “all patients in hospice care be offered assisted suicide as an option. This as we struggle to dissuade our young people from taking their lives when they are struggling with depression and despondency.”
Under the Connecticut bill, entitled “An Act Concerning Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Patients,” adult patients who have received a terminal diagnosis — defined as having six months or less to live — may also request medication to preemptively end their lives.
The bill puts some safeguards in place: The patient must make the request for themselves and must be deemed competent. That request must take the form of two oral requests and one written request, and the second oral request can be made no sooner than 15 days after the first request. Moreover, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker must determine that a patient is mentally competent and that their judgment is not impaired by depression or any mental illness.
However, while a patient is deemed competent based on “counseling,” the law does not require actual counseling of a patient, only that a physician advise the patient that counseling is available.
Dr. Joseph Marine, professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has stated that assisted suicide, “is not medical care. It has no basis in medical science or medical tradition…. The drug concoctions used to end patients’ lives … come from the euthanasia movement and not from the medical profession or medical research.”
Opinion E-5.7 in the American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics says,
“It is understandable, though tragic, that some patients in extreme duress — such as those suffering from a terminal, painful, debilitating illness — may come to decide that death is preferable to life. However, permitting physicians to engage in assisted suicide would ultimately cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”
Some medical professionals think that physician-assisted suicide should not be called suicide at all. For example, the American Association of Suicidology issued a statement in 2017 that explained,
“[S]uicide and physician aid in dying are conceptually, medically, and legally different phenomena … including intention, absence of physical self-violence, the physician’s assessment that the patient’s choice is not distorted by mental illness, a personal view of self-preservation versus self-destruction, and by the fact that the person who has requested aid in dying does not typically die alone and in despair, but, most frequently, where they wish, at home, with the comfort of his or her family. In fact, we believe that the term ‘physician-assisted suicide’ in itself constitutes a critical reason why these distinct death categories are so often conflated, and should be deleted from use. Such deaths should not be considered to be cases of suicide.”
When Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the 1990s, critics claimed that it would further devalue life and expand beyond its narrow practice. Those warnings have come true over the last decade as now eight additional states and the District of Columbia have now codified the right to die with the aid of the medical profession, and now several other Western countries are growing its use. Canada is working to expand its existing euthanasia law to include those with mental illness and physical disabilities, and Spain recently joined three other European countries in legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
What should the Christian view of physician-assisted suicide be? Christians may arrive at different conclusions, but there are several reasons to oppose such measures.
First, there are pragmatic objections, and perhaps chief among those is that of the “slippery slope.” Right now, these laws are presented as providing compassion and relief for those who are suffering and expected to die soon anyway. But for how long? Opening the door to physician-assisted suicide paves the way for euthanasia and for ending lives for other “health” reasons, particularly as governments seize greater control and American healthcare becomes more socialistic. If citizens accept medically assisted suicide, it is easier to begin providing euthanasia.
For example, Canada has socialized medicine. As the nation sought to save money on healthcare costs, a study was done to find out what the savings would be if physician-assisted suicide was expanded to older patients who were sickly but not near death, since it’s well known that healthcare costs are disproportionately high later in life. The study found that the nation would save $86.9 million in expanding the practice.
The Connecticut Freedom Alliance submitted written testimony saying that the current bill under consideration in the legislature represents “the ultimate slippery slope.” They explained,
“In places where assisted suicide (the more accurate title for this legislation) has been legalized, unimaginable horrors have ensued. The Netherlands allows children as young as 12 to end their lives through euthanasia, and in 2017 alone, 6,585 people legally died this way in the country. In 2014, Belgium became the first country to remove any age restriction on assisted suicide, so that children of all ages may now elect to end their own lives. And just two years after Canada legalized assisted suicide for adults, doctors at the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto are now calling for legislation that would allow children to end their lives without parental knowledge or consent.”
Another pragmatic reason is that there are many cases where patients have improved and drastically outlived their prognosis.
The primary reason why Christians must oppose physician-assisted suicide is reverence for life. Christians believe that human life is sacred and that each person is made in the image of God. Scripture makes it clear that God is grieved and angered with the taking of a life outside of the appropriate context such as war or capital punishment.
Moreover, God uses suffering and His timing to fulfill His will and purposes. For example, hospice nurses, doctors, and chaplains have written countless books about the blessings and miracles they’ve seen while providing end-of-life care. Terminally ill patients who linger often repent and surrender to Christ, reconcile with estranged family members, and share life-changing experiences, stories, and advice that greatly impact those around them. Allowing medical professionals to interfere and prematurely end people’s lives would deny these and other blessings and benefits.
By allowing for physician-assisted suicide, America furthers the culture of death already in place through abortion. In America, life is cheap. Only the strong, the elite, or the favored are valued while unborn babies, the disabled, the terminally ill, and the elderly are viewed as expendable.
Either life is precious or it isn’t. If life isn’t inherently valuable and sacred, it is meaningless. The chasm between preserving the sanctity of life and physician-assisted suicide is expansive and the space between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia is only an interstice.
Ours is a culture that already throws away life in the womb if it is inconvenient. How much longer until the old and infirm and “problematic” with expensive healthcare costs are treated the same way? How much longer until patients and their families are made to feel guilty for “selfishly” taking up more than their fair share of “resources?” How many will be pressured into performing their “moral duty to society?”
It is heart wrenching to see someone in physical pain and emotional duress — no one can see this and not feel tremendous sympathy for those going through it. But the Scriptures are clear in word and example that the decision to end the life of one made in God’s image is not ours to make — not as individuals and not as a society.
Society tries to frame physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia as a loving and compassionate act, but don’t be fooled: It is just one more way that humanity is attempting to interfere with and usurp God’s sovereignty.