Friday, March 11, 2005


Lennie's XBIP symposium is on the topic of euthenasia. As defined by Lennie, "[e]uthanasia is the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured persons in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy called also mercy killing." It is also known by some as assisted suicide. This definition doesn't touch on "perimssion" by the person being killed, so I will assume in my address of the subject that we are talking about euthenasia for both those who've given permission (i.e. those who actively ask someone to help them die) and those who haven't (i.e. those who are killed without providing consent.)

This is a subject much in the news of late, with the current cause célèbre being the Terri Schiavo case. Terri's case has also been the focus of a number of blogs, such as Wittenberg Gate. While I don't wish to address the details of specific cases, Terri's is quite compelling.

The Schiavo case is not the only such case, though, as we see the Groningen Protocol rearing it's ugly ahead again. Then there's the Oregon assisted suicide issue coming up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

So the issue is timely, and far from settled anywhere it's been debated. Acknowledging the divisiveness of the issue, I'd like to get on with answering Lennie's specific questions.

  1. Should euthanasia be legalized? If so, under what circumstances and who should regulate it?

  2. Um, no. Euthenasia should not be legalized. I'm always hestitant to stick the old slippery slope argument in wherever there is an issue of contention, but in this case it fits. If euthenasia were to be legalized everywhere, it is far too easy to see where people holding certain philosophies would try to push the line further away from the terminally ill/in pain folks who are used as poster "children" for the practice now. Frankly, I just don't trust society once we open this particular door.

    And for those who think "slippery slope" arguments are flawed, remember that certain people predicted that the outcome in Lawrence v. Texas would lead to legalized gay marriage, and from there to legalized polygamous marriage. Agree or not, those who predicted in that case that opening one door leads, logically, to opening others were spot on. In the euthenasia case, I fear similar things would happen. It is hard to stop "rights" from expanding once they are granted by the courts.

  3. Will euthanasia lead to the killing of those with disabilities, genetic defects, etc.? If so, who makes the decision?

  4. Oregon already allows this, although I believe only with the express permission of the "patient." However, in the Groningen Protocol, children can be euthenized before even reaching an age where they are mature enough to understand the issues. I do believe that once we allow someone to start making "the decision" then we'll find that people will soon try to expand the list of those able to make "the decision" and try to find ways to override the will of the patient. This may just be an irrational fear, but I don't think so.

  5. Is this a State’s rights issue, a Federal Gov’t issue, or an issue to be decided by the courts?

  6. I'm not a Constitutional scholar...nor do I play one on this blog. But, as I would read the 10th Amendment this is a state's issue. Euthenasia is not addressed in the Constitution, ergo the words "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people" would seem to indicate the Federal Government should keep out of the discussion.

    Then again, if I completely understood Constitutional jurisprudence as applied to any given case today I would likely be the only person who did. It doesn't take much reading to find cases where apparent states issues are "converted" to federal ones via a creative reading of a Constitutional passage.

    (I am a cynic, and I do play one on my blog from time to time.)

  7. Should Christians oppose euthanasia in any form? If not, when should it be supported?

  8. I believe strongly that Christians should oppose euthanasia, and this for a couple of reasons.

    First, we are created in God's image. There is an inherent dignity to human life that is not tied to anything other than being made in God's image. Rich, poor, ill, healthy, sad, happy - our place in life, and the quality of our lives has nothing to add to or subtract from this dignity. When God's word tell us suffering isn't something to be avoided in all cases, who are we to decide we've had enough? Do we know better than God? When God tells us to have compassion on those who are suffering, does He mean for us to end their lives? I think not - Jesus' compassion was evidenced by His healing, not by killing.

    Second, God is to be sovereign over death. We don't have authority to usurp this role unless He grants it to us. Insofar as God has given any people authority to end another's life He has done so only in matters of war or justice - never "mercy killing."

    Finally, I think we need to be consistent. I am pro-life in matters not relating to war and justice (that is, I subscribe to a "just war" philosophy, and have not fully developed a stand on capital punishment - although I tend to be against it.) To be consistent in protecting the right to life I cannot oppose abortion yet promote euthenasia.

Now, all this being said, I must add that it is not sufficient to be "against" something. I take very seriously criticisms that pro-lifers do not care about women, for instance, and are just out to eliminate abortions. We need to do more than just rail against euthanasia - we need to support those faced with such a tragic situation and lift them up/encourage them in making wise decisions. We need to pray for and with them, and care for them as well as we can. Yes, we need to speak out against euthanasia - especially where, as in Groningent, it is applied against people who can't speak for themselves. But we also need to act compassionately and support people in hard situations.


Jeremy Pierce said...

There are two kinds of slippery slope arguments. The better kind says that allowing one thing will, by the same criteria, requiring allowing another. That's in fact what the argument was with Lawrence v. Texas. The worse kind is saying that doing one thing will lead people to consider doing something that doesn't follow from the first thing. That's less clearly a reason to oppose a law, yet that's how the euthanasia slippery slope goes. People said it about In Vitro fertilization, and I think it was a bad argument then. People said it about illegalizing slavery, in fact. They said it would lead to denying other states' rights.

It's important to distinguish between non-voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. The former is when someone doesn't consent but can't, either because of age or no consciousness. It may be wrong, but it's not the same as killing someone against their will.

It's possible to oppose abortion but be ok with euthanasia. One way it to think consent is the primary issue. A fetus can't consent, but an adult can.

R. Stewart said...

Jeremy -
Of course you are right that there is a difference between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. However, I find this to be a difference of degrees, not a difference of type. That is, in a case of involuntary euthanasia, the "guilt" would be on the euthaniser (is that a word?) and in voluntary euthanasia the "guilt" would be on both the euthaniser and the euthanised.

This probably seems harsh; admittedly, I can't see myself wanting to live hooked up to machines, having no ability to communicate or do anything. However, acting to avoid suffering through death is not given Biblical sanction.

Nor is this argument a fallacious slippery slope argument. Involuntary euthanasia arguments build on voluntary euthanasia arguments. And we've already started down the slope by downgrading the value of human life via abortion. Once human life is stripped of dignity for one reason, it is easy to see how life can be stripped of additional dignity. Look at what's happening in Denmark with the Groningen protocol; they've gone from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia fairly quickly.