The road to hell, the proverb goes, is paved with good intentions. There are many who advocate euthanasia for the most humane of reasons. They want to alleviate pain and suffering; they want to show mercy and compassion to those suffering (whether the person involved or their families). Christians also want to alleviate pain and suffering, showing mercy and compassion, and would support every effort to help a person, often working tirelessly in professions that do this, without agreeing to taking life. They work in hospices (which have made great strides in easing the pain of terminally ill patients and in giving them the ‘dignified death’ they long for), hospitals and care homes, caring for the disabled and needy in many different situations. Christians also know there is nothing inherently wrong with withdrawing treatment which is not having any curative effect at a patient’s request and recognise that there is indeed a time to die (Eccl 3:2) which even modern medicine cannot prevent.
Nonetheless, the practice of active euthanasia opens a Pandora’s box of ethical issues which leave us disquieted and afraid. Ryan Anderson has written that ‘wherever physician-assisted suicide becomes legal, safeguards seeking to minimize the risk of people against their will have proved to be inadequate and have often been watered down or eliminated.’ Dr Jack Kevorkian has made a ‘suicide machine’ to end the lives of ill patients who request his assistance and argues that ‘rules’ are not needed to determine who should or should not die, concluding ‘I can keep this controlled while I’m alive, but after I die, you’ll get corruptible doctors running them [clinics which practise euthanasia.] But that doesn’t scare me; that should scare society. That’s society’s problem.’
Determining who should die and why leads us down a slippery slope from informed consent to murder by choice. Dr Kevorkian believes also in terminal experimentation for those facing imminent and inevitable death (without defining either of those terms) and concludes the Nazi medics did the right thing but in the wrong way (without concern over consent or anaesthesia). We all know where eugenics can lead: between 1939 and 1941, more than 70,000 intellectually and physically disabled people were exterminated, the opening act in the Nazis’ demonic assault on the sanctity of human life. All who say that euthanasia can be practised ‘safely’ and ‘with consent’ need to look back at history and learn from it.