In disappointing news for pro-lifers, New Mexico has become the ninth state, plus Washington, D.C., to pass a physician-assisted suicide (PAS) law. The law allows terminally ill patients, diagnosed with six months or less to live, to voluntarily opt to obtain lethal pharmaceutical prescriptions from doctors.
The terminal diagnosis requires the agreement of two doctors, and the patients must be able to ingest the drugs without help after a 48-hour waiting period. The law carries the otherwise unassuming title, the “Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act,” after a New Mexico judge who died from cancer. She had advocated for such a law.
So how should Christians view these types of laws? Is it truly “compassionate” medical care to assist someone’s suicide, as proponents of PAS tell us? Is it medical care at all? Or are there deeper truths that get lost in the debate?
Dr. Margaret Cottle, M.D., is a Canadian hospice physician and palliative care expert. She’s also a Christian and serves on Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council (PRC). PRC members advise Focus on medical and ethical issues related to life and the practice of medicine.
The Daily Citizen spoke with Dr. Cottle about the New Mexico law and about PAS in general. She immediately dispensed with the notion that PAS should even be considered “medical care.”
“One of the basic parts of the Hippocratic Oath is that I will not give deadly medicine to anyone, even if asked, nor suggest such a course. Killing patients is not medical care, period,” she said. “It hasn’t been considered medical care in ethical circles for the 2400 years of the Hippocratic tradition.”
But aren’t the patients who opt for PAS “suffering?” Dr. Cottle said that’s how the law is sold to the public and legislators, but the reality is that only a small percentage of the patients who seek out PAS could be classified that way.
“The suggestion that a vast majority of people who choose PAS are ‘suffering’ is another smoke and mirrors thing,” Dr. Cottle said. “The main reasons they choose it are feelings that they can’t do the things that they used to do or being worried that they’re going to be a burden to their family.”
“We have very good ways of controlling most symptoms. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to suffer. But our goal should not be to eliminate all suffering, but to eliminate what suffering we can,” Dr. Cottle said.
Christians have a response to offer, in those circumstances, that doesn’t involve helping someone commit suicide.
“We are to help people live in those situations and to accompany them in the midst of their difficulties. Even if the only thing we can do is to accompany another person, and bear witness in the midst of those things, we really have the tools” to help, Cottle said.
Cottle also points out that legislating PAS today leads to even more ominous practices such as euthanasia, which is so-called mercy killing. Or governments subtly pushing patients to commit suicide by suggesting that PAS is a societal good that will allow them to donate their organs so that others might benefit.
Another myth about PAS that Cottle challenged is that suicide only involves the terminally ill patient.
“The other piece of this that Christians fall into is that we want to be nice. So, if this is something somebody else wants,” we assume it doesn’t really involve us, Cottle said.
But when the doctor speaks to audiences on this subject, she asks for volunteers to come forward to represent the various people involved with the assisted suicide besides the patient. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, neighbors, friends, clergy, teachers, legislators, first responders, even social workers get represented. “I get this whole group of people up there,” she told me.
“Each one of these people represents a whole team of people, and they are complicit in the death of this individual. You can’t put a gloss on it, they have helped this person – they’ve prepared the medication or they’ve administered the medication or they’ve started the IV – even if the person is just taking it himself. They still facilitated it in some way, and they are complicit,” Dr. Cottle said.
And that, for the Christian, ought to be an obvious bright line that can’t be crossed. “It’s pretty clear in the Ten Commandments that we’re not supposed to kill each other,” she said.
“Caring is better than killing.”
Focus on the Family resources on the subject:
ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE
THE PROBLEM WITH ENDING IT ALL: A RESPONSE TO PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE
ACTS AND RESEARCH ABOUT THE END OF LIFE
AGING LOVED ONES AND PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE
WHEN IS IT RIGHT TO DIE: KIM’S STORY
KARA TIPPETTS’ LETTER TO BRITTANY MAYNARD
Previous articles from The Daily Citizen:
Massachusetts Family Institute Working to Stop Physician-Assisted Suicide
Eight Reasons to Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide
Canada Using Assisted Suicide to Help Increase the Number of Organ Donations
Assisted Suicide Bill Makes its Way through the Maryland Legislature
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