Explainer  Life  Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide and all Euthanasia Efforts  End Of Life Issues  Suicide

Explainer: The state of physician-assisted suicide in the U.S.

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In the first seven months of 2023, four states have liberalized their assisted-suicide laws. Vermont and Oregon have dropped the requirement that people who receive a lethal prescription must be citizens of the state, thereby allowing “suicide tourism.” Washington and Hawaii have expanded those eligible to prescribe a fatal dose from physicians to other healthcare providers. 

Responding to recent developments in state laws, Miles Mullin, ERLC vice president and chief of staff, commented to Baptist Press,

Life is precious from conception to natural death. It is a travesty that some political leaders think that making suicide easier and more accessible is an acceptable answer to the pain and suffering of their citizens. It is the state’s job to protect life, not encourage taking it. Politicians should do the hard work of coming up with better solutions that will support life. . . . [The ERLC] will stand for this Christian ethic, work to cultivate a culture of life and stand against a culture of death that encourages vulnerable, suffering people to seek their own death.

Here is what you should know about the practice of medically assisted suicide in the United States.

What is medically assisted suicide?

Medically assisted suicide refers to the process where a licensed medical professional provides a patient with the means (typically in the form of lethal medications) to end their own life. The patient then administers the lethal agent to themselves. 

Usually, before a patient can be provided with the means for assisted suicide, they must meet specific criteria, including:

  • A terminal diagnosis with a prognosis of six months or less.
  • Mental competence to make and communicate healthcare decisions.
  • Multiple requests over a specific timeframe, indicating a consistent desire.
  • Consultations with at least two physicians who confirm the diagnosis and prognosis.
  • Once these conditions are met, the physician can prescribe a lethal dose of medication, which the patient takes on their own, without the medical professional’s assistance during the act of ingestion.

This practice differs from voluntary euthanasia, wherein the medical provider directly administers the lethal agent. The federal government and all 50 states prohibit euthanasia under general homicide laws. State laws legalizing assisted suicide also violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

How does medically assisted suicide differ from physician-assisted suicide and “medical aid in dying”?

Physician-assisted suicide was the common term used when lethal medications for suicide were provided solely by doctors. But over the past decade, some states have eased the requirement to allow other medical health providers who are able to write prescriptions, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to provide the lethal dose. For this reason, the term ​​medically assisted suicide is often more accurate. 

However, the phrase “medical aid in dying” has been promoted to obscure the fact that the procedure is a form of suicide. Suicide has always been defined as the act of deliberately killing oneself. But because of the negative connotations associated with the term suicide and the general opposition to having the medical community involved in suicide, the euphemism has been offered to remove the stigma. Some medical organizations such as the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the American Academy of Family Physicians now use the the term “medical aid in dying.” 

In which states is medically assisted suicide legal? 

The locations within the U.S. where medical assisted suicide is legal includes:

  • California,
  • Colorado,
  • Hawaii,
  • Maine,
  • Montana,
  • New Jersey,
  • New Mexico,
  • Oregon,
  • Vermont,
  • Washington,
  • and Washington D.C.

However, Vermont and Oregon do not have a state residency requirement, which means that patients can travel to those states and receive a legal lethal prescription to take their own life. (It’s been reported that Vermont allows the procedure to be done remotely, but currently, travel to the state appears to be required to obtain the prescription.)

What should Christians think about medically assisted suicide?

Medically assisted suicide is the intentional act of taking a human life for the purpose of relieving pain and suffering. Christians should reject suicide because it denies the inherent dignity that God has given human beings and seeks to take the place of God in determining the end of life.  

While those seeking medically assisted suicide and those participating in the practice may want to eliminate suffering, what they are doing is actually undermining the objective value of life. Although the Bible does not speak about the practice directly, it teaches that we must regard life as belonging to God and approach issues of suffering with a critical and biblically-based approach. 

As Kathryn Butler has written,

Anguish afflicts those with terminal illness, and we must minister to our dying neighbors in tenderness (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34–35). But Scripture points us to the sanctity of mortal life, and to our imperative as God’s image bearers to protect life and commit our days to his glory (Gen. 1:26; Exod. 20:13; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rom. 14:8; Acts 17:25). Compassionate intent doesn’t change the fact that in cases of physician-assisted death, demise is artificially—and intentionally—hastened. This is true even while terminal illness broils in the background, and even when death’s purpose is to alleviate suffering.”

See also: How would you counsel someone interested in assisted suicide?

euthanasia


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