IN THEORY:Right to die a slippery slope -- or not

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, reportedly will try and block legislation that would outlaw physician-assisted suicide in his state — the only one in the union that allows such a measure, which the Supreme Court has upheld.

Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's bill would prohibit doctors from prescribing drugs that would help a patient die.

Society's moral conventions become murky when the law allows death in the name of "medical treatment," Brownback argues. And the chronically ill and vulnerable may end up viewing such measures as acceptable, he added.

Wyden argues that the government should not intervene to override an individual's wishes and values.

What do you think?

 

Charleton Heston cries, "Soylent Green Is People!" in the 1973 movie "Soylent Green," where the infirm and aged are euthanized and converted into nutritional biscuits to feed the younger, more valued members of society.

After pre-Nazi Germany had already embraced euthanasia as morally acceptable, Hitler euthanized 275,000 handicapped citizens and began the extermination of 6 million Jews, labeling all as "useless eaters."

It's a slippery slope making the deliberate killing of individuals a societal good, whether they've personally expressed desire for it or not. If it's the belief that human existence is only as valuable as some cultural definition of "the good life," then none of us are safe, and God is surely flouted.

"What is the meaning of life?" That has been the perennial question. May I propose that the meaning is found in mere existence and in the One who provides it? Non-existence is of no value, whereas being alive lays open everlasting possibilities, whether they are personally or culturally experienced, and God alone possesses the prerogatives of life and death; not we. Everything is His, and He insists, "the world is mine, and all that is in it" (Psalm 50:12).

You remember "It's A Wonderful Life," where George Bailey wanted to commit suicide because life was too hard and his own had perceivably contributed nothing to the world? He was obviously wrong, was he not?

Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, which swears — "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion." It seems that the oath makes only hypocrites, as unscrupulous medical professionals and politicians pursue supplementary income and expediency.

Let's not make "Logan's Run" America's future, but dignify the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).

THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM

Senior Pastor

MontroseCommunityChurch.org

The most pronounced Biblical examples of suicide are King Saul, who forsook God, and Judas, who betrayed the Lord Jesus.

Saul, fatally wounded in battle with the Philistines, told his armor bearer, "'Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and pierce me through and make sport of me.' But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it." (1 Samuel 31:4).

This last, tragic decision was the climax of a reign that had been fraught with poor moral decisions and failure to fear the Lord. Here the armor bearer is the good moral example — fear of God and refusal to become an accessory to a desperate and demented man.

Webster's defines "medicine" as a science and art that deals with "the maintenance of health and the … cure of disease." "Murder" is "willful and premeditated … committed with atrocity or cruelty." The practice of medicine is thus by definition antithetical to both homicide and suicide. Let's not be naive: "physician-assisted suicide" is simply the politically correct term for "accessory to murder." And in our country, that's still a crime.

PASTOR JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church

Burbank

I believe in the sanctity of life and, at the same time, believe in personal freedom to choose what one feels is right for oneself. So, I come down on the side of being in favor of assisted death in certain situations.

I would put a lot of ifs in the equation: If the person is certifiably near death. If the patient has the mental capacity to know exactly what is involved. If pain has become unmanageable. If the person has discussed the issue with loved ones and encourages them to understand the decision. If a doctor or another responsible person is willing to help the terminal patient.

If I thought about it longer, I could probably come up with even more ifs.

No one gets a say in birth timing. Many do not get a say in the timing of death. Some certainly deserve the right to have a say in the latter, under the most carefully considered circumstances.

As for whether it is religiously correct to have such a say, let's let God sort that out. I do not believe an absolutely good God wants any of his children to suffer needlessly and will welcome someone into his kingdom who has opted for assisted death just as surely as he will welcome any one of his children who has lived a good and decent life.

I do not believe this is a religious issue anyway; it is an issue of personal freedom.

THE REV. THOMAS E. WITHERSPOON

Unity Church of the Valley

La Crescenta

In the Bahá'í teachings, suicide is not condoned, but an individual who takes his own life does not cease to be a Bahá'í.

An attitude of compassion and forgiveness is present in the Bahá'í writings for such souls. Recognition is given to the fact that some people are under such extreme pressure of anguish, that they may feel there is no clear option but to take action to end their own suffering. Still, religious teachings are in place to discourage such actions, and to guide decision-making in situations where illness causes abject misery. As with many moral issues, lawmakers face the challenge of both applying ethical thought and respecting citizens' privacy when deciding how societal norms become law.

As Bahá'ís, we would respect such civil laws, but would observe our own teachings by declining to make use of allowed suicide. Medical science has at its disposal the means to assuage suffering by the use of drugs and other palliative measures. Methodical suicide should not be confused with the use of such comfort measures, and with decisions to withhold or withdraw life support and resuscitative efforts, when such efforts would be futile or would prolong suffering. While Bahá'í law states clearly that suicide is not allowed, it leaves decisions concerning treatment of pain, and how aggressively to continue medical support, up to the individual, his family and physicians.

BARBARA CRAMER

Secretary

Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís

Glendale

Life, whether it lasts for 100 years or a split second, holds infinite value. It has an essential, inherent worth that is mystical and incomprehensible. The quality of life during any one moment does not alter its core value, which is why we are commanded to preserve and cherish it to the last breath.  Judaism even requires that if need be, we violate all 613 laws of the Bible (except for murder, adultery and idolatry) to save a life - for all the sacred teachings are worthless without living humans to follow them.

Regarding euthanasia, Jewish law maintains that taking a life, under any circumstance, is murder.  Just as we don't differentiate between the life of a powerful chief executive officer or that of a person committed to an asylum for the mentally ill, anyone who commits murder against one or the other of them would face equal justice. 

The same is true for helping with the suicide of a terminally ill patient.  The fact that the patient is in unremitting pain and pleads for assistance in ending his life doesn't change the law: murder is murder.

Proponents of euthanasia argue that terminally ill people should be allowed to decide that life is not worth living.  I question how we can determine the worth of life. Is it only an incurable cancer patient whose life isn't worth living? How about a 23 year-old manic-depressive who feels that life is unbearable? Should we offer him the option of assisted suicide?  How about those who argue that mentally handicapped people are a burden on society and their families and may not be worth supporting?  How repulsive, you may think - but again, why stop at the terminally ill?  Where do we stop?

And that is the extra danger that comes with legalizing assisted suicide.

In addition to being immoral in itself, legalization could also lead us down the path of deciding whose lives are worth sustaining and whose are not.

Such a judgment is not ours to make.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

 

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