Dr. Jack Kevorkian passed away last Friday. I wish his family and friends God’s blessing and peace. Kevorkian became famous in the 1990’s by creating a suicide machine using drugs that a person would self-administer that would take the person’s life. He assisted over 100 people in taking their own lives before he was convicted for second degree murder and jailed.
Currently, three states in the U.S.—Washington, Montana, and Oregon—all permit physician assisted suicide, as do three countries—the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Last year, the Canadian Parliament defeated a law (C-384) that would have permitted physician assisted suicide nationwide.
Although arguments in favor of assisted suicide appeal to dignity and relief from suffering, they always miss the main point: the sanctity of human life. Whenever people are permitted to seek out the assistance of their doctors to take their own lives, society begins to put pressure on some individuals to bring about this final solution to the challenges they face.
“Subtle, and not so subtle pressures, can be placed upon vulnerable persons with a disability to motivate them to seek a death sanctioned by Bill C-384,” the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) wrote in opposition to the proposed law before it was defeated. “Assisted suicide is not a free choice as long as [people with disabilities] are denied adequate healthcare, affordable personal assistance in their communities, and equal access to social structures and systems.”
Debates about health care necessarily must discuss costs. These debates frequently point fingers at people with disabilities and older people as culprits in driving up costs. "Preventive medicine drives up the ultimate cost of health care to society by enlarging the population of the elderly and infirm. The child who would have died from polio will grow up to be a very expensive old man or woman.... Good medicine keeps sick people alive, thereby increasing the number of sick people in the population." wrote Willard Gaylin, M.D. and bioethicist in Harpers Magazine, October 1993.
If Christians say that we affirm the sanctity of human life, then we must stand firmly against physician assisted suicide and euthanasia AND stand firmly for good health care and for surrounding with love the people considering this terrible option.
Reflecting on Kevorkian’s death, Raymond Voet a prosecutor who brought Kevorkian to trial in the 1990’s, said, “If you look back at the list of the 130 people he killed, many were mentally disturbed or disabled. They could have lived for years and been brought into society, but a rogue doctor was sending a message that it’s okay to kill yourselves.”
Church communities that really care about the sanctity of human life will ensure that people with disabilities are welcomed into their fellowships. They will provide good care for people facing long-term challenges, not abandoning people who struggle with chronic depression or progressive disabilities or other challenges that get people thinking about suicide in the first place.
When people know that others love them and provide hope to get through another day, when the health care they receive assists them with the challenges they face, then as they consider taking their lives, they’ll be able to say, “Not today.”