Last Wednesday, a distinguished scientist bid farewell to his home in Australia to fly half way across the world to Switzerland, where it is legal to end your life. He had no terminal illness nor was he suffering from any disease. He’s just old – 104 years old, to be exact. The tipping point for him was his diminishing independence.
“I’m not happy. I want to die. It’s not sad particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.” – David Goodall
Prevented? I found that interesting. No one is preventing him from dying. He will die; and most likely fairly soon. Age will take him. And if he is under medical care, he will die peacefully and comfortably. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is he wants to die when he says so.
It’s another example of mankind’s desire for personal autonomy, only to the extreme. It is human rights pushed too far. Most of us in the West are privileged to live in a democracy. We all have certain rights – irrespective of our age, ethnicity, culture, religion or sex. But those rights only go so far. We don’t have “rights” to do anything we want. The law places limits on us. And where the law doesn’t place limits, God does. We don’t decide, for example, the day we are born. Nor are we to decide the day we die. Unless of course we override God’s plan and do what we want – which seems to be what is going on here.
This whole issue is receiving a lot of media attention in our country lately with the latest End of Life Choice Bill, which had it’s first reading in Parliament and is now being presented to the Justice Select Committee. Currently, all forms of euthanasia including Voluntary Euthanasia (VE), Non-voluntary Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) are illegal in New Zealand. The administration of drugs with the intention to relieve pain however (even though the effect will result in the shortening of life), and the withdrawal of life-preserving medical treatment that is not accomplishing anything useful, is lawful.
The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM 2013) states:
“Treatment that is appropriately titrated (measured and adjusted) to relieve symptoms and has a secondary and unintended consequence of hastening death, is not euthanasia.”
Doctors and palliative care-givers administer heavy pain medication with the intent of relieving suffering. They may foresee that same medication will eventually bring about an early death but that is not their primary intent. There is a clear difference and our legal system recognizes the difference.
There are a number of sound, rational, and practical arguments against euthanasia. One is the risk of abuse. Those vulnerable to a law change include the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and disabled, the emotionally distraught and so on. Along with this is the slippery slope argument, which states once society accepts one form of termination of human life with a given set of conditions, it will be difficult or impossible to confine VE to those conditions. Another is the ‘right to die’ could soon become a ‘duty to die.’ The elderly and terminally ill may come to feel euthanasia would be the right thing to do as they do not want to be a burden to their family. In fact, according to a health report from the State of Oregon (where VE has been legalized), one in three patients requesting euthanasia reported that part of their motivation was because they felt a “burden on family and friends.”
The concern is a subtle coercion placed on the vulnerable to end their lives. In the Netherlands, where VE has been legalized for over 30 years, if a patient does not want to be killed by their doctor, they must state it clearly orally and in writing, well in advance. A change in law allowing people to ‘opt in’ for VE or PAS will eventually become so normalized that people will feel pressured not to ‘opt out.’
But there is a greater and more powerful case against euthanasia. It has served as the basis for the moral and ethical code in our country since it’s foundation. It is called the sanctity of human life, which states that all human life, in whatever state or condition, able or disable, is of intrinsic value and cannot be taken.
In Genesis chapter one, verses 26-27 we find this:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”
We are image bearers – made in the likeness of God. This includes the mentally impaired, the deformed, the diseased and the terminally ill. Each one, in some way, bears the image of God.
The bible gives us another reason we must not take human life: God alone has authority of life and death. Deuteronomy 32:39 states,
“See now that I alone am he; there is no God but me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from my power.”
Psalm 139:6 says that God ordained every one of our days before even one of them began. That means we cannot add or detract one second of our lives beyond what God has decided.
And as to the matter of suffering – the bible has something to say about that too. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5
“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Suffering develops character. Suffering reminds us of the temporal nature of this world and causes us to long for the new world to come. Suffering teaches us about mercy and kindness and compassion. In fact, the word ‘compassion’ literally means to “suffer with.” True compassion is the willingness to suffer on behalf of others and helping them to bear their burdens.
It saddens me to see an individual like David Goodall, who has lived a long and healthy life and who is not suffering from any illness, wanting to take his own life. If only he knew how valuable he was in the sight of God, that God knows him intimately since the day he was formed in his mother’s womb, and that Jesus has provided a way for him know and love God, have his sin forgiven and receive eternal life.
Perhaps that might have changed things for him. For death would not be the end, but a doorway to a new beginning.