By Mrs. Amy Scherschligt, PPL Board Member and Life Team Leader
The church needs to recover its role in ministry at the end of life. This task comes with a sense of urgency: Legal physician assisted suicide is on the rise in the United States. Instead of leaving the discussion to doctors, hospitals and bioethics committees, the local church should take the lead in responding to these decisions of life and death. We must engage in dialogues about this difficult spiritual and moral decision.
At PPL we value all human life from fertilization to natural death as a gift of God created in His image. Gen. 1:27. This "sanctity of human life" ethic is under attack in our culture. Fears of prolonged over-treatment, rising health care costs and the growing impersonality of modern medicine are just a few of the reasons for the increasing popularity of physician-assisted suicide. Proponents claim that pain and suffering lower one's "quality of life." No one wants a loved one to suffer intolerable pain, so suicide can seem to be a compassionate option. However, the truth is that intractable pain is the least used reason given by patients who choose assisted suicide:
Those promoting assisted suicide promised Oregon voters that it would be used only for extreme pain and suffering. Yet there has been no documented case of assisted suicide being used for untreated pain. Instead patients are being given lethal overdoses because of psychological and social concerns, especially fears that they may no longer be valued as people or may be a burden to their families.
Dr. Greg Hamilton, Portland psychiatrist, quoted in pamphlet: "Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law"
What are the true reasons assisted suicide victims give for ending their lives? An estimated 90% of suicides in the US are associated with mental illness, most commonly depression. (Institute of Medicine Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative. Washington, DC: National Academies Press 2002:99)
Other primary reasons given are related to quality of life: loss of autonomy, decreasing participation in activities and loss of dignity. (Oregon pamphlet)
While quality of life reasons are intensely personal and cannot be quantified, the sanctity of life is certain. God's love and grace - not one's age, abilities or cognitive skills - provide worth for every human life.
The euthanasia mentality sees man as the lord of his own life: the Christian sees human life as a gift from God. ...... Among a society all too often characterized by the choosing of death and violence, Christians are to be shining lights to a world of darkness, who chose life for themselves and for others - offering to the dying not deadly opinions, but rather neighbor love and the hope of life eternal."
Davis, John Jefferson, Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, (3d ed.), Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Co. (2004)
As the debate on legalized assisted suicide heats up, the Church has an enormous opportunity to be a light in our culture. Join PPL in being a voice for the most vulnerable among us. Educate yourself about end of life issues, including physician assisted suicide. Help to alleviate suffering and respond to despair of those considering this decision.