Pastor F. William Darrow
Notes From The Adult Classes 2006 Evening Vacation Bible School
WEBSTER’S DEFINITION: 1. An easy or painless death; 2. the method of affecting it; 3. the putting of a person to death painlessly, especially one in a hopeless condition.
The concept usually is related to those who are terminally ill and desire to die rather than continue suffering.
We live in a wonderful age. We can get into an airplane and in a few hours fly around the world. We can get into an automobile and drive in comfort with air conditioning or heat. Thus, we could go on and on about the amazing comforts in which we live. In the medical field we have learned to treat so many ailments and diseases that longevity of life has actually been extended a few years. While this seems wonderful, it has also created a lot of problems. Because we can treat ailments and diseases that used to be fatal we now have to decide when to continue to treat illnesses or to allow a person to die. Thus, with the high cost of medical treatment and the high cost of nursing homes it has caused some to think there is an easy way out. It is called Euthanasia and along with it is Assisted Suicide. In this paper we will attempt to address both, relating the problems and, hopefully, the Biblical answers. Many in the medical field have attempted to step into the shoes of God.
Much of the following information is taken from Vital Signs by Mark Blocher.
There are 2 distinct concepts involving euthanasia – passive and active. Doing nothing or withholding medical treatment so that the individual dies brings about passive euthanasia. Thus, the person is not killed by direct action but by deliberate neglect. Active euthanasia is when an individual is directly put to death in order to eliminate further suffering. Active euthanasia is also called MERCY KILLING. Therefore, euthanasia can be defined as withholding treatment for the purpose of bringing about or hastening death, or taking deliberate steps to end life when that person is not imminently dying.
THE RIGHT TO DIE
Some believe that every individual has the right to control his own life and that extends to the RIGHT TO END IT, or as some would say, the RIGHT TO DEATH UPON DEMAND. It used to be that the right to die meant the right to die a natural death without burdensome medical care, but not so anymore.
In modern day with the ability of medical equipment to sustain life, it is possible to overtreat. Therefore, the right to die is to withhold life support. The desire to die of "natural causes" rather than prolonging the process by technology is what most people mean when they talk about the right to die.
If the right to die upon demand does exist, one’s health or life expectancy has little to do with the decision. If this is true even a healthy individual could choose to take his own life if life to him did not seem tolerable. But the Judeo-Christian teaching holds that suicide is self-murder and is prohibited by "Thou shalt not kill". Exodus 20:13
Let us consider several Biblical arguments against the claim of a right to die.
DEATH WITH DIGNITY
For the most part, there is no dignity to death. Death is the consequence of sin. Genesis 2:17 "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Every observance of death, whether it is a dead animal in middle of the road or a human corpse in a funeral home, it reminds us of the terrible price of rebellion against God. Any effort on man’s part to make death dignified attempts to hide the consequences of sin, thereby denying a need for salvation in Christ.
We must never forget that hell is a real place and is a place of eternal torment. It is a separation from God for all eternity for those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 20:15 "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." What is dignified about that? Suppose someone does have a terminal disease and they are encouraged to "die with dignity". They will wake up in hell. Whether it is family or friends that encourage them to "die with dignity", they are sending that person to hell. Or if a doctor assists in the action they are sending that person to hell. As long as someone is alive there is always a chance that there may be a little window where they can get saved. On the other hand, if a believer lives out his life letting God make the decision when to take him home to be with Him, that is dying with dignity. 2 Corinthians 5:8 "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."
The term "imminent death" refers to an individual’s impending death. It simply means that death could happen at any time judging from the medical conditions. Usually that means that death can be expected within hours or days. Some in the euthanasia movement want to apply the term "imminent death" to a person diagnosed as "terminally ill". Here is the problem, how certain is the prognosis? Many people have survived such dire predictions, which shows that the concept of imminent death is not definitive nor is it an absolute fact. Some have been told they had less than a year to live, only to survive for many more years. It still comes down to this; man is trying to play God. By redefining terms, those who want euthanasia will say a "terminally ill" person is facing "imminent death", thus he should be allowed to take a pill and die with "dignity". Not only is this not letting God be sovereign, but it could mean cheating a person out of several years on earth if man’s prognosis is wrong.
ARTIFICIAL LIFE SUPPORT
No amount of medical expertise or technology can keep a person alive indefinitely when there is no spontaneous major organ function. If all major organ systems cease functioning spontaneously and initial effort at resuscitation are unsuccessful, no amount of technology can keep that person alive. What we are talking about here is the major organs. We are not talking about food, water, and oxygen.
In recent years the courts have stepped in to define what is life support and have now defined life support to include fluids, food and oxygen. They are classifying these three basic functions now as artificial medical treatment. Medical therapies and procedures are usually applied to people with particular symptoms and pathologies. However, food and water have only one purpose – to physically sustain life, whether the person is sick or not. Without nutrition and fluids, anyone’s prognosis is death. Therefore, food and water are not medical treatment. Two different cases came into prominence where the courts allowed the food and water to be withheld, that of Nancy Cruzan and Terri Schiavo. Of course, that produced death.
The medicalizing of food and water represents a radical departure from previous standards of care. Before they were considered basic care, not medical. Basically to withhold food and water to hasten death is euthanasia.
Treatment with oxygen is similar. Also known as ventilators, respirators have become an important part of intensive care and emergency room medicine. Respirators are used to sustain a sufficient level of oxygen in the bloodstream in order to maintain the integrity of major organ systems. When a person’s medical condition deteriorates to the point where he is no longer able to breathe on his own and death appears imminent, respirator support becomes artificial life support. However, the issue of removing the respirator is determined by the overall condition of the patient, not the nature of the machine. The issue is not whether the means of providing oxygen is artificial, but whether the machine is a benefit to the patient. What is the individual’s condition? Is death imminent?
WITHHOLDING OR WITHDRAWING TREATMENT
Are we required to squeeze every possible moment out of life? Is it moral to take a person off a respirator, antibiotics, kidney dialysis, or insulin?
Death is a reality of life. Hebrews 9:27 "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." That is not a principle of medical ethics but a fact of life. Death is not simply a technical matter involving the failure of the body to sustain life; it is a spiritual reality. God is ultimately in control. When medicine reaches its limit and can no longer sustain life, we must accept the fact that death will occur. Because of that, we may have to make a decision to withdraw a particular treatment or decide not to begin a new one.
Decisions concerning the withdrawal or withholding of treatment should be based primarily on the individual’s physical condition. For example, decisions regarding a mentally disabled patient’s treatment should not be affected by his disability. Medical benefit should be the primary goal. If a medical treatment would not benefit a patient, then it should be withheld or not instituted.
A decision might be made this way: Will this patient leave the hospital alive if this particular therapy is provided? If the answer is no, if death is unavoidable, then a decision to withhold the therapy would not be euthanasia. However, when treatment is withheld or withdrawn specifically to hasten or cause death, then the moral boundary of euthanasia has been crossed.
Here is where the problem comes in. A growing number of people believe there has to be a certain quality of life. A person must be able to communicate with people, have meaningful relationships, participate in the joys and struggles of life, and have the ability to be self-directed and independent. Therefore, when one is no longer capable of participating in that kind of life, the common response is that physical life should end. They would say that when a person reaches this point, he has lost his quality of life. Those who do not experience this quality of life are typically referred to as "vegetables" or "vegetating organisms".
The conclusion of this kind of thinking is that people in nursing homes or long-term care facilities are candidates for feeding tube removal. We are not talking about people who are facing imminent death. We are talking about those who are not dying fast enough. Although the proponents of euthanasia view such lives as useless, many caregivers are understandably wary of hastening anyone’s death.
It is not always wrong to withdraw or withhold a feeding tube. Here is a suggested list of when it may be acceptable to remove a feeding tube.
What about removing a respirator? When it is clear that death is near because other major organ systems are shutting down, to remove a respirator would not be euthanasia. When all brain function has ceased it will not be long before the other organ systems begin to deteriorate. The central issue concerning respirators is whether or not they provide the patient the benefit intended, which is a medical issue. If the respirator is not providing any benefit to the patient’s physical integrity and he will not survive even with support, then its removal would not be the cause of death. Respirators do not keep people alive.
DO NOT RESUSCITATE ORDERS
As believers, we do not endorse the practice of continuing futile medical treatment or multiple resuscitations just to extract a few more moments or days of earthly life. Generally speaking when a person suffers multiple cardiac arrests in succession, further resuscitative efforts may be withheld. Such an order should be indicated on medical charts. In the case of a terminally ill person who is at home, this information should be conveyed to any caregivers involved.
We have entered a strange period in man’s thinking. Suicide itself has gone on since the creation of man. God in His sovereignty created us and it is His choice as to when and how we die. For a person to take his own life is self-murder. Exodus 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill". Basically anyone has the ability to take his own life no matter how wrong it may be.
Strangely enough with all the humanistic ideas that are being propagated today such as, "the right to die", "death with dignity", "imminent death", etc., people are rethinking suicide and are attempting to make it dignified by having a doctor administer a lethal shot or give lethal pills. This is not "mercy killing"; it is assisted suicide, which is homicide. Some would like to make it legal so that if a person has a terminal disease they would be spared painful treatments and pain in general connected with the terminal illness.
When killing is done to end suffering, it is frequently called mercy killing. Relief from suffering, not malice, is the principal motivation. Mercy killing implies that death is preferable to life. It also assumes that no other form of relief is available. Because of the advances in modern medicine most pain can be treated. Another problem surfaces here. A doctor may administer a drug for pain that can shorten life. That is not euthanasia but simple maintenance of a problem. This is not mercy killing. However, if a doctor increased those dosages more than needed to hasten death that is mercy killing.
Those who want assisted suicide to be legalized use circular reasoning. The people who want legal assisted suicide are competent patients. The assumption is that someone who wants to end his life is mentally competent, but existing law contradicts that claim. People who fail in their suicide attempts are generally admitted to hospital for psychiatric care, because society thinks a mentally healthy person would not want to die. Assisted suicide claims the opposite.
In 1991, voters in Washington State defeated an assisted suicide bill. During the campaign, supporters admitted that the right of a terminally ill, competent person to request physician assistance in dying would also apply to an incompetent person. If measures like that are adopted, physicians will be allowed, perhaps obligated, to administer lethal injections to patients who they believe would want to die if able to make that decision. In reality, why does a competent person have any more right to die than an incompetent person?
Just to show you how far reaching these things can go we note the Netherlands where physician-assisted and physician-administered death are already legal. One of every 6 deaths is the result of a doctor-administered lethal injection. Originally it was for terminally ill patients only who requested it. Now it is common for lethal injections to be administered to unconscious or incompetent patients. Ironically, those Dutch physicians are doing what their World War II counterparts refused to do during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. In his book, The Nazi Doctors, Robert J. Lifton describes how the Dutch medical community resisted Nazi orders to hand over patient records and participate in exterminative medicine. None cooperated. Many were sent to concentration camps for their refusal.
Now we have sympathizers in the USA. Suffering is common to mankind because we live in a fallen world. It is the physician’s role to eliminate suffering as best he can, but it is not his role to eliminate the sufferer. We must not give physicians the legal or moral authority to decide who live or dies.
OREGON’S PHYSICIAN ASSISTED SUIDICE
The following information is taken from Biblical Bioethics Advisor by Mark Blocher.
Oregon is the only state in the USA where physicians may legally provide patients with prescriptions for lethal medications for the purpose of suicide. It has been legal in Oregon since 1997. Since then 263 people have obtained and used legally prescribed lethal medications. Thirty-eight of those were in 2005. Since reporting by doctors is voluntary the figures are probably much higher. By law the doctor can only prescribe lethal medications to those patients who are terminally ill and mentally competent to make their own medical decisions. This is supposed to ensure that mentally unstable patients do not commit suicide with physician assistance. Is this followed?
On October 17, 2005 a story in The Oregonian told of Kate Cheney an 85 year-old woman with growing dementia. Her psychiatrists noted she could not remember recent events and people, including the names of her hospice nurses or her new doctor and her family appeared to be pressuring her. A lethal dose of medication was authorized for Cheney. This was requested by her daughter. While Cheney did not meet the state law requirements of being competent she died of a lethal dose of medication given for that purpose.
When a patient does not meet the requirements and their doctor turns them down, they search until they find a doctor who will disregard the law. Wesley Smith wrote, "Once the legal view of killing is shifted from automatically bad to possibly good it becomes virtually impossible to restrict physician-assisted suicide. It is the children of aging parents who pressure increasingly dependent parents to take this action.
The law only requires physicians to file a report and the DHS to periodically review death certificates. The state claims to conduct telephone interviews with prescribing physicians to ascertain whether details contained in the doctor’s report correspond with information accompanying the death certificate.
One of the problems is that sometimes there are complications when a person takes the drugs such as vomiting, seizures, etc. Physicians were present in only 19 percent of the cases. Why is this important? In nearly 20 percent of Dutch assisted suicides, complications were so severe that doctors intervened by administering lethal injections. So much for dying in peace. Is this death with dignity?
The Oregon law says that lethal prescriptions can only be given to patients whose life expectancy is six months or less. In one instance a patient was still alive 17 months after obtaining a prescription and another was still alive two years later. No one can really predict when a person will die. One cannot help but wonder how many family birthday parties, graduations and weddings that person who lived another two years took in.
The doctor is in control. He possesses the power to decide whether the patient is terminally ill and mentally competent and whether to issue the prescription. No matter what you call it, assisted suicide is killing a human being. This goes against the oath taken by a doctor for medical practice. Protecting human life has been among the highest duties of the physician and the central focus of medicine.
Let me finish by saying this, I have heard many people say after a friend or loved one died that they are now at peace and suffering is over. If they were saved that is certainly true but if that person was not saved he went to an early hell. If that person had been allowed to live a few more months, maybe God would have opened a window where that person could have gotten saved. Taking a life by euthanasia is playing God and not allowing a sovereign God to take life at His choosing.
Because many in the science and medical fields accept the false teaching of evolution they dream of a concept where man will preserve the earth forever and man will be so able to control his destiny to the point that he will live eternally. God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is disbelieved and ignored. If man is going to be able to do that, he must kill everything that is imperfect and keep only the best. The more man has learned in the medical world the more complicated life has become. Man has not solved problems, but has created problems. Unsaved man will continue to push for greater longevity at any cost. Decision making at the exit gates of life will become more complex and ethically demanding. Believers need to take a stand for life.
TWO INTERESTING CLIPPINGS
Sword of the Lord, 5/19/06
POLL CLAIMS AMERICANS BACK ASSISTED SUICIDE; VOTES AND OTHERS SAY
A new poll conducted by CBS News claims that a majority of Americans favor assisted suicide. However, previous polls show the nation is at least split on the issue or opposed to the grisly practice. And what may matter most, actual ballot votes on the subject have Americans strongly opposed.
The CBS News poll asked respondents if they thought "a doctor (should) be allowed to assist the person in taking their own life" who "has a disease that will ultimately destroy their mind or body and they want to take their own life."
…56 percent of Americans said yes, and 37 percent said no…
Conducted by Angus Reid, the poll surveyed 1,229 American adults from January 20-25.
However, an August 2005 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found Americans opposed assisted suicide by a 48-44 percentage margin….
But what may matter most is what Americans decide at the polls when asked to determine if assisted suicide should be legalized.
While voters in Oregon twice approved allowing assisted suicide there, other states have shown that assisted suicide is not popular.
In Michigan in 1998, voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure to legalize assisted suicide by a wide 71 to 29 percent margin. In 2000, Maine voters defeated an assisted suicide proposal by 51-49 percent. California voters rejected an assisted suicide proposal by a 54 to 46 percent margin in 1992.
GERMAN NURSE WHO EUTHANIZED TWENTY-NINE PATIENTS TO STAND TRIAL
A German nurse who is accused of killing…29 patients, many through involuntary euthanasia, is scheduled to go on trial soon. Stephan L., a 27-year-old who has been named the "Angel of Death" in the German media, has admitted to giving lethal injections to 16 elderly patients at a local hospital and is likely responsible for 13 more.
Herbert Pollert, the lead prosecutor, said autopsies have been performed on 42 former patients at a hospital in the Bavarian town of Sonthofen, and he has sufficient evidence to charge Stephan.
Stephan now faces 16 counts of murder and 12 counts of manslaughter as well as one count of assisted suicide.
The victims all died during the 17 months Stephen worked at the clinic, and most of the patients were above the age of 75, though one was as young as 40…
Stephan has told police he killed the people out
of "compassion" for the elderly patients. But Wilhelm Seitz, an
attorney for the victims’ families, told AFP (French Press Agency)
they didn’t want to die.