Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Right to Die?

At church this morning I attended the cafe-style 'alternative' service, instead of the main sermon, and today's subject was assisted suicide. The service comprised of group work, where we looked at individual case studies; a moving reading of Joni Eareckson-Tada's testimony, and a video clip. 

The case study my group discussed was that of Terri Schiavo. She was a young woman who collapsed in her early twenties and, due to lack of oxygen, was pronounced to be in a vegetative state. Her husband won a suit against the medical practitioners, and shortly after being awarded one million dollars, he entered a 'do not resuscitate' order. After a string of affairs, he then petitioned to have Terri's feeding tube removed. Terri's parents opposed him in court, arguing with proof of a video that their daughter was still responding to conversation. Terri had also been a Catholic all her life and would not have wished to have her life ended in this way. However, her husband won the case and Terri's feeding tube was removed. According to sources, it took her thirteen days to die (n.b. I'm not sure how accurate this account is - the main source I used was the information we were given for the case study, but I did some further reading on the internet and found most sources to be fairly inconsistent. I think it depends on the view the source adopts).

This particular case stirred everyone in the group, and we all agreed that 'assisted suicide' had not been the right answer here. For one thing it went against Terri's personal choice. For another, her life was not only ended but her death was prolonged and cruel. It would have been kinder to have given her a lethal injection. Also, it strikes me that Terri died as a convenience to her husband, who not only gained financially, but had two children with another woman before his petition to have Terri's feeding tube removed was granted. The sources I looked at suggested that Terri was still responding on some level, despite her apparent vegetative state, and further recovery could not have been completely ruled out. 

Personally, I disagree with assisted suicide. However, I appreciate that in some circumstances people may suffer from extreme pain, loss of dignity, and both physical and mental deterioration. Some invalids may request to die because they feel they have become a burden to their families. Therefore, I believe that each and every person is entitled to make a choice, but the decision must be that of the individual, and should not be influenced by or made by a third party. If the individual is unable to answer for him/herself, then I don't believe any bid to end their life should stand. 

One problem with assisted suicide lies in cases where the invalid is unable to voice their preference. If a third party requests assisted suicide on the invalid's behalf, the validity of the decision cannot be guaranteed. Even if the invalid reaches a decision in advance, there is a chance that they may change their mind when the time comes, and may not be able to voice this by that stage. 

Those in favour of assisted suicide may argue that it is humane to put a suffering animal to sleep, and therefore, surely it is in all kindness to give a suffering human the same treatment. In response, I would like to observe that the majority of us don't object to killing animals for food (whereas if we killed people for food that would be perceived as murder and cannibalism) and others still hunt animals for sport (n.b. fox hunting involves a 'mob' pursuing a fox until it reaches exhaustion, and then allowing dogs to rip it to pieces). Perhaps I sound as though I'm going off the subject, but the point I am trying to make is that we perceive ourselves to be above animals, and therefore, in order to justify ending a person's life we are effectively viewing them as little more than an animal. 

These days technology and medicine has advanced to a point where pain can be controlled, and equipment assures that the invalid can live fairly comfortably for the rest of their days. In some circumstances, such as dementia, the invalid is oblivious to their deterioration, and so they lack all awareness of their loss of dignity. In cases of terminal illness, we have hospices which provide the essential care, and even schemes that help to fulfil the invalid's final wishes. 

I don't believe God condemns people who ask to die. I believe he has nothing but the utmost compassion for those people, as he too experienced human pain and suffering when he came down to earth in human form. I hope I will never be in a situation where I have to make this decision, but personally I don't think I will ever give consent for people to end my life. I believe God has a plan for us all, even in unlikely cases, and I would not want my life to end prematurely, before God could fulfil all the plans he has for me. 

Another of the case studies was that of a seventeen year old boy who broke his neck playing rugby, and was paralysed from the neck downwards. He lived to play sports, and so hindered by his body he wanted to die. However, time gave him the opportunity to consider new possibilities, ones he could realise despite his condition, and so he pursued a degree in law, obtained a job, and promoted awareness of his condition. 

You may remember me mentioning Joni Eareckson-Tada, previously. An accident during her teens left her paralysed from the neck downwards, and for the first two years that followed Joni wanted nothing more than for her life to end. However, she learned to appreciate what she could do, and God did so many things through her. She wrote several books, produced paintings, recorded music albums, and promoted awareness of her condition. Her testimony is inspirational! 

I believe without the invalid's consent, assisted suicide is potentially ending a person's life against their will, and therefore effectively equates to murder. 

I know this is a difficult issue, and one impossible to resolve. I am just demonstrating where I stand in the debate, and I do not claim to be correct. What is your opinion?


Anna said...

Ooh what a thought provoking post Kess.
I guess that's what going to church will do.... =)
I know someone who was in a coma for 18 years,
and every afternoon and night her husband went to visit.
When she died he was a shadow of the man he once was.
They were both Christians like you, so assisted suicide was never an option.
I don't know the answer.
All I have are questions.
Like why does God allow that to happen?
And allow evil people to live until they are old?
Great post Kess!

Kess said...

Thanks for the encouragement, darling :)

Believe me, I ask those questions myself sometimes. I don't think we will ever know the answers - at least not in this life.



Mariel said...

It's indeed a difficult issue. The story about Terri Schiavo made me sick to my stomach. But I'm not really against assisted suicide. I guess it depends on the case.