Euthanasia Euthanasia, which means “good” or “peaceful” death, has been practiced through the ages. Doctors have always been dedicated to the task of easing pain and suffering, to make dying easier. Adding the adjective “active” alters the meaning of euthanasia. The emphasis shifts from comforting the dying to inducing death. The practice of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide would cause society to devalue all life, especially the lives of the dying, the disabled, and the elderly.
We should not understate the agonies involved in chronic pain and suffering. Nobody wants to see a loved one suffer or make the decisions that accompany medical science’s ability to prolong life. The same technology that keeps people alive today raise a host of questions concerning the nature and destiny of man himself. Comforting the dying is still preferable to assisting in their death. There are many reasons why, but the main one has to do with how much we value human life. God views all human life as sacred. He created us in his own image (Genesis 1:26,27), and it is he who has determined our days on earth (Job 14:5).
God confirms his great love for his people, a love that does not cease when we are old or ill. His command that we not kill one another does not change when we are brain damaged or comatose. Our society, however, teaches certain classes of people that they are not wanted. If a physician’s aid in dying were to become a standard part of terminal care, there is always that possibility that patients might feel the need to request death out of fear of becoming a burden to their families. The right to die could be interpreted by a patient as the duty to die. Chronically ill or dying patients may be pressured to choose euthanasia to spare their families financial or emotional strain.
Joan Farah states in the New England Journal of Medicine that the elderly are often cited as being vulnerable. If Euthanasia becomes the law of the land, how long will it take before the elderly and sick begin to feel an obligation to get out of the way? There are many complicated ethical and medical issues involved in the discussion of euthanasia. The decisions that family members must make are often as painful as the conditions of their loved ones. Sometimes the families react with wisdom and compassion. However, under stress human beings can make the wrong decisions. In an attempt to avoid such risk we dare not enact legislature that will allow murder simply to make decisions easier. Opponents contend that legalized euthanasia would force medical professionals and patients’ families to judge the worth of others’ lives.
Once a vulnerable group is denied a basic right to life, it is only a matter of time until other groups are placed in the same category. We have accepted the killing of unborn children, allowed children born with severe handicaps to die, and have ignored “mercy killing” of consenting adults. Will we tolerate or accept euthanasia just as we do abortion? There are no easy answers when a loved one faces death. Scientists must continue to seek answers and cures. Active euthanasia does not provide answers: it only tries to avoid the hardest questions.
Thomas Beauchamp, a bioethicist of Georgetown University has written, rules against killing “are not isolated moral principles,” but “pieces of a web of rules” that forms a moral code. “The more threads one removes the weaker the fabric becomes.” Allowing ourselves the liberty of choosing the time and place of death will not lessen our sense of loss. It can only erode the wonder of human life and the worth of each individual. Wekesser, Carol, ed. Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1995.