Compassion, Dignity, and the Right to Live

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (Corinthians 3:16-17)

The Lord is my rock and my fortress. (Psalm 18:2)

Pope Francis recently denounced the right-to-die movement, saying it’s a “false sense of compassion” to consider euthanasia as an act of dignity when in fact it’s a sin against God and creation.

He echos the long-held position of the Southern Baptist Convention. And, professor C. Ben Mitchell of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, goes a step further. He recommends that a dying person’s doctors, family, and community work to alleviate factors such as physical pain and psychological despair that often drive people to consider taking their own lives.

Be on guard when anyone suggests euthanasia for an elderly loved one suffering from depression or pain.

Here’s what we know.

Depression: Most if not all terminally ill patients who express a wish to die meet diagnostic criteria for major depression or other mental conditions. Yet, treatment for depression results in cessation of suicidal ideation for 90% of the patients.

Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God! (Psalm 42:11)

Pain: Euthanasia advocates claim that assisted suicide is “needed” for terminally ill patients who face, or fear, great pain. But most experts in pain management believe that 95% to 98% of such pain can be relieved. In most cases, patients who request assisted suicide because of pain change their minds after pain management is addressed.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

Proponents of “aid in dying” cloak physician-assisted suicide in compassionate-sounding terms (eg, “death with dignity,” and “patient-directed dying”). But Mary Harned, who is Staff Counsel for Americans United for Life, warns that “Rather than ‘empowering’ individuals facing terminal illness to make their own decisions, the mere availability of physician-assisted suicide pressures sick, depressed, elderly, or disabled patients to end their lives.”

Be on guard when pressure is brought to bear or options are restricted. Sources of coercion include health insurance companies and other payers who provide coverage for suicide assistance but not for treatment of disease or palliative care. Additionally, many patients who agree to physician-assisted suicide are pressured by family members into believing they will be a “burden” on their families.

When offered personal support and palliative care, most patients adapt and continue life in ways they might not have anticipated. Very few of these people ultimately choose suicide.

Paul Longmore, a leader in the disability rights movement wrote, “Given the absence of any real choice, death by assisted suicide becomes… an act of desperation. It is fictional freedom; it is phony autonomy.” The good news is that while Oregon, Washington State, and Vermont have legalized assisted suicide, approximately half the states in the U.S. have either defeated bills to legalize it, or have passed laws explicitly banning it.

One more thing. Although it is often mischaracterized as a cause exclusively supported by religious conservatives, most current opposition coalitions include people and organizations associated with progressive politics, including many nationally prominent disability rights organizations.

We will all do better to advocate for high quality end-of-life care.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)