Article Mar 9, 2017

Explainer: How to reject physician-assisted suicide

The movement to legalize assisted suicide has been growing in slow but measurable acceptability in the United States. This year, the District of Columbia joined Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont in legalizing the practice. The federal government has oversight of governing decisions of the District, but such oversight is rarely used.

In response to the new D.C. law, members of Congress proposed resolutions of disapproval in the House and Senate, respectively. The Senate failed to take up the measure within the 30 day period allotted to respond to new D.C. laws. One Senator told the ERLC that, in conversations with Senate colleagues, even pro-life Republican senators reacted with indifference when asked their position on physician-assisted suicide.

How would you respond to the question?

The following is not a comprehensive explanation on physician-assisted suicide, but here  are some of the simple, primary objections to the practice.

Pro-life citizens affirm the dignity of human life from womb to tomb. The pro-life movement affirms the inherent dignity of human beings from the moment of fertilization to natural death and everywhere in between. This compels our advocacy on behalf of vulnerable human beings, including those approaching the end of life. (Gen. 1:26-30, 2:7, 9:6)

Pain and suffering call for compassionate treatment, not euthanasia. Pain and suffering are serious and complex problems. Neither require death. Pain (physical, medical) and suffering (emotional, psychological, spiritual) are each treatable given proper diagnosis and care (Matt. 25:35; Luke 4:18-21; James 1:27; 2:8). Ethical principles from Judeo-Christian and Hippocratic traditions provide compassionate methods of care in hospice and palliative care.

Physician-assisted suicide is not healthcare. Don’t confuse assisted suicide with ethical practices in hospice and palliative care. Americans rightly grieve death, particularly suicide. Taking a life doesn’t suddenly become healthcare by adding medical personnel to the process.

Physicians ought not be complicit in a patient’s suicide. Southern Baptists provide the following compassionate and ethical recommendations.

  • We commend medical science in its efforts to improve pain management techniques, thus removing one major impetus toward assisted suicide.
  • We call upon physicians, nurses, hospice workers, individual Christians and local churches to prioritize emotional, psychological and spiritual care of suffering patients, thereby relieving feelings of isolation and abandonment.
  • We call upon federal, state and local governments to prosecute under the law physicians or others who practice assisted suicide.

Don’t be deceived by euphemisms. “Death with dignity.” “Physician-assisted.” “Medical aid in dying.” Assisting suicide is to be complicit in taking life. The practice of medicine is and ought to be about healing.

Resources

Special thanks to C. Ben Mitchell for his writing in this field and his guidance to helpful resources. Dr. Mitchell is Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University and editor of Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics.