Why the death with dignity movement is troubling

New York proposes problematic legislation

July 10, 2019

Decisions had to be made. He was a proud man, active and strong. He would not have wanted to live like this. What is his quality of life? How can we afford his care? How will we care for him? These were only a fraction of the questions that raced through our minds as dad lay unconscious.

End-of-life decisions are not vague abstractions for my family. Within a 36-month period, we were confronted with the death of two parents—both suffering from illness. We all had to decide how they would handle suffering. Therefore, as I consider the arguments for the death with dignity legislation, specifically in New York where I live, I do not approach this as spectator in the cheap seats. I have been up close to end-of-life decisions.

Nobody wants to suffer, and nobody wants to watch a loved one suffer. Amidst all of the joy and beauty in life, suffering is a sober reminder that the world is broken. Nevertheless, the death with dignity movement is troubling for several reasons: 

First, death is not dignified; it is dehumanizing. This is why death is such a haunting enemy. Death changes the state of the human body—the body releases fluids, all movement stops, and the flesh decomposes. Death is ugly, and there is nothing humans can do to change this.

I have seen death firsthand in multiple venues. I have watched people die quietly in hospital beds, and I have watched them die peacefully in their own home. I have been up close to a violent death at a public shopping center, and I have seen people die in auto accidents. There is nothing dignified about death, regardless of the circumstance.

Second, it assumes that humans can dictate the terms of our own suffering. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argues that the ultimate act of humanity is the power to create. According to Nietzschean philosophy, the power to create is interwoven with the power of choice. In his worldview, human dignity and value are entwined with one’s ability to make choices. It is no wonder Nietzsche concluded that God is dead. If individual choice is transcendent, then there is no need for a transcendent God. Consequently, the power of individual choice takes on God-like qualities.

The argument for death with dignity possesses several concealed problems. First, when individual choice takes on transcendent-like qualities, what criteria are used to determine suffering? For instance, if someone struggles with depression, anxiety, or fear of big pink elephants, might they not be able to choose death to escape suffering? I have counseled many people who would do anything to get out of the black cloud of depression. Of course, I realize that this legislation (for now) only applies to terminal illness. But if the premise is based on one’s individual choice and their autonomy to decide how they will suffer, how can we infringe upon one’s choice to stop suffering of any form?

Others will contend that the family physician and the state will determine what suffering qualifies for terminating life. But does this not undermine the entire concept of individual choice itself? If the final decision lies in the hands of the family physician, then how does the individual have the power of choice? One’s doctor (or worse yet, the state) is the final arbiter. Moreover, what if prescribing a death pill violates the religious conscience of the doctor? Will doctors be coerced to take one’s life because the patient demands it? Placing the decision of who lives and who dies in the hands of humans is always a treacherous endeavor.

Finally, it romanticizes death. When death is perceived as an escape from life suffering we promote a society that diminishes life. Our culture already has an unhealthy fascination with death. Death consumes our video games, television screens, and music. Our fascination with death has become so normalized that we can watch the metamorphosis of the language of suffering in this legislation. It was once called doctor-assisted suicide, then it progressed to Right to Die, and now the language takes on a more positive and upbeat tone in death with dignity. A society that idolizes radical autonomy and death sets itself up to slide the scales of life and death toward unthinkable horrors.

To be clear, the death with dignity legislation purposed is not the same as ending treatment when a person is terminally ill. There may come a point in our lives when it is painfully clear that using extraordinary means to forestall death is futile. When a person no longer chooses to accept treatment, they are not actively taking their life, they are merely accepting the natural process, and this process is one that will inevitably come to all of us.

However, the goal of the death with dignity legislation is to allow people to calculate and control the timing and conditions of their own death. And this is quite different than ending a treatment plan when it no longer can provide hope for life. There is a vast difference between allowing nature to take over and actively reaching for godlike actions.

End-of-life decisions are emotional, complex, and sorrowful. While technology has done wonders to extend life and improve our quality of life, it has also complicated the process of ending life. I hope our elected officials will not make this decision based on pragmatism and politics. Instead, I pray they will consider a vision that promotes life across all spectrums of society.

This article originally appeared here.

Dan Trippie

After ministering in the Southern US, Dan Trippie returned to his hometown of Buffalo, New York in 2008 to plant Restoration Church. Dan has traveled to seven countries for mission and church saturation endeavors, as his desire is to see gospel-centered churches planted throughout the world, especially in Western New … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24