Imagine a scenario where a loved one is suffering from an incurable condition and unimaginable pain. And yet, antiquated laws have prevented her from finding peace once and for all. Shouldn’t they be changed to allow a medical professional to compassionately put her out of her misery?
This is the argument posed by physician-assisted suicide (PAS) advocates, and it has successfully changed numerous laws in the United States. But is death the only way to end pain? And do laws which allow PAS affect others in unexpected ways as well? Furthermore, could the legalization of PAS be abused?
First, let’s examine the facts. PAS is legal in many westernized countries today, such as Canada, the U.K., and Japan. But the country with the most PAS data is the Netherlands–one of the first countries to legalize the practice. Shockingly, PAS accounts for over four percent of all deaths in the Netherlands today, and the percentage is probably larger, since many such deaths go unreported. Furthermore, many euthanized were either unaware or incompetent to make this decision for themselves. Even children as young as twelve can be euthanized under the law. People can also be euthanized for depression in the Netherlands; eighty-three people were put to death for psychiatric conditions in 2017. Because of these facts, many Dutch citizens worry about being euthanized against their wishes. In fact, it is estimated that 10,000 Dutch citizens carry a “do not euthanize me” card just in case they become incapacitated.
Sadly, the United States is following in Holland’s footsteps. Already ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized the practice of PAS and the number of states which will legalize PAS in the future is expected to grow.
But what are the risks of legalizing PAS? Physician bias is always an issue. One only needs to find one doctor who is willing to approve nearly any request for euthanasia, and numerous unneeded deaths will be the result. Furthermore, as the price of health care increases, the possibility for coercion grows. Families will decide, often for economic reasons, that it’s best to end a loved one’s life rather than pay for long-term treatments which might result in financial collapse.
Is PAS even needed to control pain? One of the positive movements in recent decades has been the growth of the hospice movement and its effort to provide palliative pain care. The truth is that most pain conditions caused by life-threatening diseases can be alleviated using analgesic medications, including opioids. Indeed, proper hospice care has been able to extend life in many cases, even above the expected longevity of undergoing additional treatment.
Ultimately, as Christians, we need to understand how PAS does, or does not, fit into God’s plan for our lives. And as with any moral issue, Gods’ Word has to be our final guide.
One of the problems with today’s society is that there is no perceived value in suffering. Everything is solved with a pill. But God’s Word tells us otherwise. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul reflects on how the Lord told him that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul writes, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Our illnesses teach us about the kind of humility we need in order to have an honest relationship with the living God.
We must leave the power of life and death in the Lord’s hands. After his entire family was killed, Job wrote, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” We need to leave our mortality in the hands of God because we have a bright and shining future waiting for us – even after we die. At the end of time, “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Rev. Dr. Dennis Di Mauro is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church (NALC) in Warrenton, VA. He also teaches at St. Paul Lutheran Seminary and the North American Lutheran Seminary.