Sign displayed at a rainy 1981 protest outside a now-closed Chicago abortion clinic
With the end of the school year fast approaching, we’ve been getting a lot of e-mails and phone calls lately from a range of students — junior high, high school, college, even law school — who are looking for help with end-of-year projects. One e-mail we got recently was from Melanie, an eighth grader in Florida who was doing on a report on euthanasia. She contacted us to get our perspective on several questions. Since her questions are ones commonly asked by students — and adults, too, for that matter — I’ve included them, along with our replies, below.
1. Why do you believe a terminally ill person doesn’t have the right to end their own life?
We believe that no one has the right to end his or her own life — regardless of whether the person is sick, healthy, young, old, etc. As a society, we believe that every person has certain basic rights, and that all people’s lives have value. That’s why we have laws that make it illegal for anyone to kill either himself/herself, or anyone else. If our society allowed people to end their own lives, we would be saying that some people’s lives aren’t worth living.
2. What would you do if your parent was terminally ill and they verbally told you they don’t want to be on life support for longer than a month?
It depends on what we mean by the term “life support”, which different people define in different ways. If we’re talking about “extraordinary” medical treatments — treatments that aren’t considered part of common, ordinary care — then that would be no problem at all. No one ever has to agree to undergo this type of extraordinary medical treatment. It’s important to realize, though, that there is a big difference between a terminally ill person choosing not to receive extraordinary medical care and assisted suicide/euthanasia. The difference is that most people in this country who are killed by assisted suicide or euthanasia are not terminally ill. In most cases, they’re simply handicapped. An article on the website of Wisconsin Right to Life explains the situation this way:
Those who are the targets of euthanasia are not those in severe pain or with tubes attached to their bodies. They are everyday people who have just grown old and cannot eat or swallow on their own any more or care for themselves. They have a prolonged illness, or a trauma that has left them unable to respond, but capable of possible recovery. Some suggest those with illness would be better off dead because they will suffer from pain, or, their fear of pain and suffering leads to depression, making the pain a reality for them. When given the opportunity to learn that pain can be controlled, patients will become less depressed, more responsive to treatments, and feel they have hope and support.
(The rest of the article is here.) The most famous person to be killed by euthanasia in our country was Terri Schiavo, who died just over two years ago. She wasn’t terminally ill at all. She had suffered a brain injury, and, like millions of Americans, she was handicapped. Because of her brain injury, she wasn’t able to do many of the things you or I do, but she was just as much of a human being as anyone else, and her life was worth as much as anyone else’s. But, since her husband no longer thought her life was worth living, she was forced to die of dehydration and starvation — which most people don’t realize is a very painful way to die.
3. Doesn’t the Bible say honor your mother/ father? How do you feel about that?
If my mother wanted me to help her commit suicide, and if I actually did that, I would be guilty of breaking the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” It would be the same if my mother told me to steal something. If I actually did steal it, I would be guilty of the breaking the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” When God gave the commandment, “Honor thy father and mother,” He definitely didn’t mean that children are supposed to disobey any of the other commandments if their parents tell them to. Basically, when we think of the commandment, “Honor thy father and mother”, we should think of this as God’s way of telling us, “Treat your father and mother the way I would want you to treat them.”
4. Do you feel this is a religious or government issue? When does government end and religion begin?
I would say that assisted suicide and euthanasia are government issues, religious issues, and also moral issues. There are both religious and non-religious people who believe that assisted suicide and euthanasia are morally wrong, and that since our government already has laws against murder and suicide, our government should have laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia also. I hope this helps. I’d also recommend that you check out this page – Frequently Asked Questions About End of Life Issues – from Human Life Alliance. You may also want to check out the website of a group called Not Dead Yet, which works to protect the rights of disabled and handicapped people, and strongly opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia. Please let us know if you have any more questions. Good luck on your report! *** Melanie wrote us back to say:
Thank you so much! You really gave me a different perspective on Euthanasia. I have a few more questions I hope you wont mind answering.
No problem – We’d be glad to.
1. How do you think this issue is viewed by citizens around the world?
My sense is that opinions differ widely depending on which countries we’re talking about. The only part of the world that seems to have any significant support to make assisted suicide and euthanasia legal is the Western world — (especially Western Europe, Canada, the U. S., and maybe also Australia). From what I’ve read, citizens in countries in most other parts of the world — Latin America, Africa, Asia, etc. — would never consider allowing assisted suicide and euthanasia to be made legal. (This is especially true in countries where abortion is still illegal: in other words, if abortion is illegal in a particular country, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that there is little, if any, public support for making assisted suicide and euthanasia legal.) I think one of the major reasons for this is, I think, that in most countries outside of the Western world, families are structured differently, and, in many cases, there is a much stronger sense of family. In many poorer countries, especially, it’s very common for three generations of a family to live together in the same house (grandparents, parents, and children). In these situations, it’s simply part of the culture to care for one’s own parents, no matter how old or sick they get. For this reason, the suggestion that it should be legal for the elderly or the ill to be able to have someone help them kill themselves is — literally — a foreign idea to people in most other cultures.
2. Do you feel this issue is getting enough attention, are people as aware of euthanasia as they should be?
3. Are you satisfied with the current level of concern or response to the issue?
I would say the answer to both questions is no. Especially during Terri Schiavo’s forced death-by-dehydration a few years ago, I began to realize that there is not nearly enough attention being paid to euthanasia, and there is a terrible amount of ignorance about the reality of who the primary victims of euthanasia are. As I mentioned previously, most people in this country who are killed by assisted suicide or euthanasia are not terminally ill at all. In most cases, they’re simply handicapped, just like millions of other Americans. Sadly, I think we’re seeing history repeat itself, in a way. A few years ago, I heard a man named Dr. Bernard Nathanson give a speech at the college I attended. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, abortion was legal in only a few states. During that time, Dr. Nathanson worked as an abortionist himself, and was part of the movement to get abortion made legal throughout the United States. (As you know, they accomplished their goal, and since 1973, abortion has been legal in all 50 states.) Since that time, though, Dr. Nathanson stopped performing abortions after he came to realize that abortion really does take the life of a baby in the womb, and therefore, that abortion is murder. He is now strongly pro-life. In his speech, he said, “In the late 60s and early 70s, we who were in the pro-choice movement caught you pro-lifers sleeping.” And he’s right. I wasn’t born until 1977, but I’ve talked with many people who have been active in the pro-life movement, fighting abortion, since the beginning, and they all said basically the same thing Dr. Nathanson did: At that time, people who were pro-life didn’t do much to prevent it from being made legal. In the early 70s, most pro-life people never thought abortion would be made legal nationwide, so they didn’t see much reason to fight against it. Just as there was very little resistance to making abortion legal in the early 1970s, it’s sad that there is so little resistance to making assisted suicide and euthanasia legal today. Most people who oppose them don’t really see them as much of a problem, and don’t feel much of a need to fight against them. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that once we as a society legalized abortion, our society would eventually try to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia also. The most obvious similarity between the two is that both abortion and assisted suicide/euthanasia both take the lives of vulnerable human beings whose lives aren’t seen as having much value. A few years ago, we were looking through some old pictures in our office, and we found one from 1981 of a protest that we (well, not exactly “we”; I was only four years old at the time, but my boss and his wife were there, along with hundreds of other people) conducted outside of an abortion clinic in Chicago: It’s too bad people didn’t pay attention to signs like this one back then. Please let us know if you have any more questions. And again, good luck on your report!