Long commutes, domestic responsibilities, teaching, and the need for more sleep (old age) have prevented me from blogging as much as I would like to. That means I get behind on my cultural commentary. Case in point: the legalization of assisted suicide in California.
On October 5 Governor Brown signed the bill into law after years of failed attempts from the assisted suicide lobby (the CA Senate approved it by a vote of 23 to 14, and the CA House approved it by a vote of 43 to 34). Assisted suicide is not something I write about too often, but it is a matter of concern to me. Here’s why I think it should be a matter of concern to you as well:
Legalizing suicide sends the message that there are some human lives not worth living. While suicide advocates say the option for suicide gives people dignity, it does anything but. It robs them of their dignity and value. It communicates a message to them that they are better off dead than alive. Indeed, to claim that this is “death with dignity” is a backhanded way of saying those who choose to suffer in life rather than choosing to take their own life lack dignity. The message is loud and clear: death is more noble than life.
It’s not a stretch to say that the opportunity to be made dead will lead to a culture that believes in a duty to be made dead. Suicide advocates are quick to point out the financial repercussions of choosing life rather than suicide: it drains the healthcare system as well as one’s personal wealth. It is also emotionally difficult on one’s extended family. The underlying message is clear: You are a financial and emotional burden on everyone, so why are you choosing to stick around rather than just die? This is probably the most dangerous aspect of legalized suicide. It creates a culture that does not want to be burdened by the weakest human beings, and sends a message to them not only that they are better off dead, but that they are selfish for choosing to stay alive. Legalized suicide creates a culture where it is not just acceptable, but morally obligatory to kill oneself. The right to die becomes the duty to die.
This is particularly disturbing because most people who commit suicide do not do so because of unbearable pain. They do so because they have lost hope. When the medical establishment and even one’s family send you the message that your life is not worth living, and you are selfish if you choose anything but death, all hope is lost. More and more people will choose suicide because all of their sources of encouragement – doctors and family – will not encourage them to live their life to the fullest extent possible, but rather encourage them to die (and unfortunately, there will be greedy family members who stand to profit from the death they are encouraging). The last thing people who are suffering need to be told is that their lives are not worth living, and suicide is their answer. They don’t want to be made dead. They want someone to care for them – to give them hope.
The legalization of suicide is a slippery slope. It starts with the promise that it will only be reserved for those that are terminally ill and in unbearable pain (as is the case with the CA law, which requires that the patient have less than six months to live), but in never ends there. And for good reason. Those who support assisted suicide do so because they believe 1) that people ought to be able to control the time and manner of one’s death, and 2) that killing is an acceptable solution to the problem of pain and suffering. These two principles cannot be limited just to those who are terminally ill and experiencing unbearable suffering. The logic of these two principles apply to virtually anyone. Suffering comes in many forms – not just physical. So why can’t the depressed kill themselves? Why should they be forced to suffer? Indeed, if personal autonomy is what justifies suicide, then everyone has the right to kill themselves. No reason is needed at all, and no one can say that someone’s reason is insufficient. If a healthy person wants to die at age 40, then they should be allowed to do so. In places like the Netherlands and Belgium, we have already seen this slippery slope in action. What was once reserved for the terminally ill by their consent is now extended to the mentally ill as well as the healthy, and some are made dead without their consent. Why? It’s because, as the Dutch euthanasia advocate, Dr. K. F. Gunning said, “Once you accept killing as a solution for a single problem, you will find tomorrow hundreds of problems for which killing can be seen as a solution.”
On top of these social concerns, we Christians should also have moral concerns. The Bible says we are made in God’s image, and therefore it is wrong to murder another human being. This includes self-murder. The Bible does not teach personal autonomy. It teaches that God is sovereign over our lives (Job 1:21; Dt 32:39; Gen 1:21,27; Acts 17:28; Gen 9:6; Ex 20:13). Life is a gift of God, and is not our own. We are only stewards of the life God has given us. It is not for us to determine when we die, but for God. We may suffer before we die, but God’s grace is with us to help us endure that suffering, and we have a promise that our present sufferings will work in us an eternal weight of glory in the life to come – a life that will be void of suffering.