Give Me Liberty, And Give Me Death

I was listening to a semi-debate — a discussion really — about assisted suicide and assisted death, and whether there should be a legal option for one or both.  I think the distinction is an important one.  Generally speaking assisted suicide would be the aiding of a person to take their own life.  Usually, this person is in some sort of severe pain unrelented by means of medication, but is not necessarily dying from the condition.  Assisted death, or euthanasia, is the aiding of a person to take their own life who may or may not be in severe pain but they are dying of a terminal illness.  According to Euthanasia.com, 34 states have statutes explicitly criminalizing assisted suicide; 9 criminalize assisted suicide through common law; 3 have abolished the common law of crimes and do not have statutes criminalizing assisted suicide; 2 have no clear law prohibiting or permitting assisted suicide; and 2 permit physician-assisted suicide.

There are three possible positions one could take.  Criminalize both assisted suicide (AS) and assisted death (AD).  Legalize one but not the other.  Or legalize both.  Sometimes it’s not easy to differentiate between declaring something morally good with something that is immoral but should be legally permissible.  Many actions, while morally wrong, should not be criminalized; and legalization of an act is not a moral endorsement.  This, I believe is a major barrier to many people with many issues.

My first impression is to criminalize both.  There is just something wrong with helping a person take their own life.  On the Christian view — my view,  man is made in the image of God and therefore, his life is valuable and should be protected and encouraged.  Taking one’s own life runs contrary to its purpose, and in some fashion takes for themself the role of the One who gives life and takes it.

On the other hand, we do not legislate according my sensibilities, and it’s difficult to not have sympathy for someone who is suffering from a terminal illness who has endured as much as they believe they can.  I am prone to believe that the anticipation of death is worse than death itself, especially if it’s accompanied by severe pain for which there is no relief.  And in so much as one’s liberty does not infringe on another’s, a person’s autonomy should be respected.

While there is a case to be made to legally protect AD but not AS, I think the distinction is not so clear when it comes to protection.  Of course, certain requirements could be made before allowing such a decision to be actualized.  Such as mental and emotional competency evaluations, and a medical diagnosis by more than one physician.  It would be essential to have assurance that the patient is of sound mind, free from coercion, and certain of their prognosis.

I have read and heard both sides of the issue, and unfortunately, I find both sides compelling.  This is an issue that I can be persuaded in either direction.  I lean towards legal protection for liberty’s sake, but prohibition for the sake of morality.  That is not a comfortable feeling for me, I like to know where I stand.

Comments

  1. I won’t make a distinction between assisted suicide and assisted death.

    I will only say that if death is a certainty from the condition (ALS for instance, stage four pancreatic cancer, etc) then the current practice of keeping people alive for the sake of delaying the inevitable borders on cruelty.

    Helping those with an end-stage terminal illness leave life with minimal pain and in a predictable way, ont ehir terms, allowing for goodbyes and last moments of reflection seems a far more humane, dare I say, Christian, thing to do.

    • I am making a distinction because advocates make a distinction. Functionally, I don’t consider them to be all that different.

      I actually do not find dignity in taking your own life. And as far as justified, I don’t necessarily think it is in the same way taking someone else’s life can be justified.

      But even having said that, I do not really know whether assisted suicide should be legal. Like I said in the post, I can be persuaded, I am not firm in either camp.

      Additionally, it would not be the Christian thing to do. There are proper justifications for taking life, and pain and suffering isn’t one of them. In fact, the Bible teaches (in both Testaments) it is a good thing to keep your faith through adversity (Job, for example). Even though I get your point, the Christian thing is — by definition — the biblical thing. Not what seems nice, or what maximizes happiness or comfort, as some would have you believe. Don’t take that as a challenge, just a tangential clarification.

  2. This is an interesting discussion, and I hope all of your readers, regardless what age they are and certainly if they are over age 40, get a Living Will / Advanced Directive so their family doesn’t have to make any of these decisions for them. Remember, there’s pain, comatose states, permanent brain damage, dementia, locked-in syndrome, and other situations to account for, not just death.

    I was hoping for more Biblical references to the idea of suicide, AS, and AD. What scripture are you referring to when you talk about the “Christian view – my view” about suicide and the sanctity of life? Is a physician guilty of murder in the case of AD (or AS)? I’m assuming Christians don’t see pain, dementia, impending death, or other physical degeneration as a ‘suggestion’ that their life is over.

    From the secular viewpoint, these are difficult issues because only with recent medical advances have lives been so well preserved in the face of terrible illnesses, injuries, and disabilities. Before modern medicine, people just died. What that means is society really needs to come to terms not just with finding ways to extend our one short life, but also when to call it quits (even if we could eek out a few more good years).

    Helping someone voluntarily end their life in the face of continuous suffering and/or impending death should be a relatively simple question. The more difficult question here is identifying when the individual does NOT have the right to assisted suicide (depression, financial loss, divorce, loss of limb, etc).

    For the primary secular promoter of these issues, you might be interested to check out http://www.finalexitnetwork.org/

    • There is not a lot of explicit commentary in the bible on the issue. We can point to certain concepts:

      Man is made in the image of God and is therefore human life is of great value.
      There are proper justifications in which taking a human life is permissable, pain and suffering are not listen among them.
      Every place a suicide is mentioned it is not glorified or painted with the idea of being dignified.

      Perhaps the example of Job is the best model. He had nearly all of his family suffer and die, all of his livestock, he was riddled with pain and illness. And his wife urged him to punch the clock early, but he responded with contempt for that idea. (job 2:9-10) 9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

      So it would seem that even though one might be in pain and despair, God is the giver and taker of life.

      But keep in m ind that living wills do not guarantee the deceased’s wishes are carried out. Families petition all the time (many times successfully) to have wills not carried out, even “pulling the plug” When families make the claim “but they changed their mind the last time I talked to them” Judges are reticent to err on the side of death. I agree that the person’s wishes should be made known.

      However, that situation (pulling the plug) is different than assisted suicide. In AS and AD the patent is not being kept alive. They will continue to live unless intervened upon. Whereas “pulling the plug” the patent is for all intents and purposes dead, and being artifically being kept alive. They are allowed to die. AS and AD the patents are actually killed, by their own hand with someone elses help. And that is the defining difference.

      So now the question is whether there should be protection for people who want to actively kill themselves (as opposed to passivly being allowed to die)?

  3. Marshall Art says:

    The consequences of legalization must be considered. Such can be studied where these things are permitted. In some foreign countries where assisted suicides are legal, there are stories involving people being talked into suicides for the convenience of it for others. Said another way, the practice is abused and without safeguards against such abuses, there is far more for voting against than for.

    My father-in-law died from ALS. His deteriorating condition was such that he decided he could no longer bear being a burden on his family, especially financially, by trying to be kept alive. Thus, he decided to disconnect from the devices meant to help him live, and he basically allowed the disease to take its course. In his case, he did not so much kill himself as end all assistance meant to extend his life. A fine line, perhaps, but quite distinct from a moral perspective, because of the very outside chance that he was still able to survive without the machines (VERY outside chance). The question here would be whether or not it is immoral to stop fighting for one’s life. Frankly, I’m not sure.

    As far as one’s condition, and how certain the outcome, medical advances do not necessarily include prevention of the very diseases from which people might suffer and thus come to believe there is no better choice. As long as alternative methods of treatments are dismissed and prohibited by the mainstream medical industry, supporting AS and/or AD seems to make one all the more complicit in the deaths that would take place. The suffering is needless in most of the cases and didn’t have to happen in the first place.

    • I appreciate all the discussion. Yes, abuse, brainwashing someone into AS is a real threat. But is it wide spread enough to be a meaningful objection? I honestly have no idea.

      But I want to focus more on AS, where the person isnt necessarily dying, but in a state of pain where it is unbearable. Even AD where they have a terminal illness, but aren’t being kept alive, per se, and actively take their life.

      I am not opposed to allowing someone to die by removing support, and its because of the distinction you and I made. You arent actively killing someone, you allow them to die. In AD and AS you are actively taking the life. Morally, that makes all the difference in the world on this issue.

  4. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    I’m sure you can guess where I stand.

    And if not, then just read the post I wrote a few weeks ago or so.

    I’m for assisited suicide. I was in the medical field immediately following H.S., and I can say without hesitation that it’s unspeakable to allow people to simply wither away. Can you imagine how I felt the first time a patient begged me to kill him? It’s more common than you think. And then I have to say that I can’t help him. Or try to reassure her that science is making great strides and maybe, just maybe, they’ll have a cure for her cancer tomorrow, or the next day.

  5. what good is the pursuit of happiness if you can’t die when life stops being happy and has limited to no prospect of being happy again?

    what good is liberty if you do not have the option to control your own death if you see the need to?

    liberty and freedom means being able to make choices about your life

    Christianity is really anti-American – no matter how much the puritanical descendants claim American for their own – America was not founded for or based in this or any particular religion. America was founded so that people could be genuinely free from everything they had known before.

    To be in charge of their own destiny.

  6. In pre-christian sources from northern cultures such as germanic speaking, slavic or fenno-ugrian speaking cultures of Europe, suicide is seen as the right of the individual. It is also seen as a honourable way out of a dead end situation. In the areas where those language groups are still dominant it is still seen as such traditionally. Even the form of christianity dominant in those areas – Lutheran church – does not condemn a person who has made suicide to end up in Hell for eternal torment, though this is a common dogma in most cultures that hold christianity as an ideal. However, it is illegal to help anyone in it even in the countries in that area. This just as a cultural comparrison example, to the Bible which is pre-christian source of a completely different tribal culture and that tells the story of semic people in completely different nature, conditions and political athmosphere.

    As Jason Torpy pointed out, this is a growing problem in the western society. Therefore societies need to make a choise and have a clear line of logic on which the decision is based on.It would seem natural for the western societies to make that decision on the basic values of chrisianity, as it is the major religious movement in western countries, but that is a problem. Whose christianity it is, that is chosen when decisions such as this on moral issues are made? After all there are different biblical interpretations of almost all the moral issues mentioned in the Bible and everyone who has one, likes his best and claimes others are “heretical”. If we start to count votes from different groups claiming to be christian, then the decision has not been made on the base value of a religion, but rather a distorted democratic process, where people who are not christian, but live in western countries and are affected by the laws, are excluded.

    Perhaps it would be wise to use a nother even more ancient western tradition, than christianity, to solve this sort of ethical problem, by voting or by parliamentary decision making process. If nations would vote, it would be every adult person according to their own personal ethics and morals. If parliamentary representives would vote it would be according to their own personal ethics, morals and the understanding that they have about their voters views on moral issues. Of course there is the danger that some fanatical religious groups, for example, would try to influence people or the representatives, but I think this is such a personal question, that outside influence would not dramatically change the result.

    Personally I am pro-choise in this matter as whith a couple of other “moral” issues. I intend to end my life when it is no longer worth living, but anyone of us might end up in a situation where we would choose to end our misery, but could not do it without help. Ethically, when the continuation of life is more harmfull to the person than death, there is no question wether the person has the right to ask help to end it. Who is better judge about our own lives, than we our selves are? As Terrance H. very well puts it, emphaty for the suffering tired dying person overweights any other reasons.

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