Dr. Jacob “Jack” Kevorkian (1928 – 2011) claimed to have helped kill 130 people. For one of those homicides, Kevorkian was imprisoned for 8 years. But it seems that somewhere, out in the great metaphorical beyond, Dr. Kevorkian is having the last laugh. Today, June 9, 2016, California’s assisted suicide law goes into effect. Already, one bay area doctor has announced that he will operate a boutique practice specializing in assisted suicide.
California is the fifth state to legalize medically assisted suicide, the previous four being Oregon (1998), Washington (2008), Montana (2009), and Vermont (2013). But California is by far the largest and most populous suicide state.
California’s statute has a number a safeguards designed to prevent an orgy of suicide and euthanasia.
• The suicidal person must have been diagnosed with a terminal disease by the attending physician, and the diagnosis must be confirmed by a consulting physician.
• A “terminal disease” is defined as an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will, within reasonable medical judgment, result in death within six months.
• The suicidal person must twice request the fatal poison (which the statute Orwellianly refers to as an “aid-in-dying drug”), the requests coming at least 15 days apart, and an additional request must be made in writing.
• The suicidal person must swallow the poison pill from his own hand; it cannot be administered by another person.
• To prevent suicide tourism, the suicidal person must prove residency through a California driver’s license, a state income-tax return, a deed or lease agreement, or a voter registration card.
I have profound reservations about the growing acceptance of medically-assisted suicide.
First, life itself is a terminal illness. We are all going to die sooner or later, should Jesus delay his return. Even if you have a more specific terminal illness, you do not know how long you have left to live, and hence how much time you are robbing yourself of if you take your own life. Doctors can only guestimate, and they are often wrong.
One example is Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, better known as the Lockerbie Bomber, who killed 270 people. In August, 2009, after serving 8 years of a life sentence, he was diagnosed with terminal testicular cancer. The doctors thought he had about three months to live, and he was a given a “compassionate release.” He returned to a hero’s welcome in Libya. (His release was later revealed to be part of a corrupt bargain—Britain had released him in order to lubricate the renewal of its oil-exploration concession in Libya.) He died in May, 2012, almost three years later. The doctors said he had 3 months to live when he really had 33 months; they were off by a factor of 11.
Second, for decades assisted suicide has been promoted on the basis that it is inhumane to force people to live with pain. But we don’t. Doctors freely prescribe pain killers to terminal patients. No one wants the dying to be in pain. Terminally ill patients in unbearable pain sometimes die from overdoses of pain-killing narcotics; a humane people will tacitly accept what might be a fiction—that the overdose was accidental—but a healthy society that understands the value and sacredness of life will not give explicit legal sanction to euthanasia.
Third, I do not like the idea of turning doctors from healers into killers. It entails a shift in the professional culture of medicine that society should hesitate to endorse. Do we really want doctors saying to patients, "yes, I think you should go ahead and kill yourself; I'll be happy to help you die"? There are reports out of Belgium that doctors are pressuring patients to opt for suicide:
“And chillingly, doctors pressure patients into making the decision. One doctor, who performs euthanasia eight to 10 times a year, told Aviv, ‘Depending on communication techniques, I might lead a patient one way or the other.’ How could it be otherwise? The idea that suicide, alone among medical treatments, would solely be the patient's decision, absent any social or financial pressure from a doctor, was always a fiction. Doctors are in the business of advising and steering patients toward recommended treatments. That’s precisely why suicide should not be a treatment, and certainly not one offered to people who aren't ill.”
Fourth, these types of statutes are always initially passed with elaborate safeguards, but over time, as the culture of death takes hold, the safeguards are pruned away. Already, right out of the gate, there is nothing in California’s assisted suicide law that requires physicians to inform the suicidal patient’s family. The patient may opt not to inform her family of the decision to end her life.
In Belgium, where the culture of death is far advanced, assisted suicide is allowed not just in cases of terminal illness but any time a patient feels like he wants to die:
“people have also been euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression. In 2013, Wim Distelmans euthanized a 44-year-old transgender man, Nathan Verhelst, because Verhelst was devastated by the failure of his sex-change surgeries; he said that he felt like a monster when he looked in the mirror.”
In perhaps the most shocking and appalling case, narrated at length here, Wim Distelmans, the Belgian version of Jack Kevorkian, euthanized Godelieva de Troyer, a perfectly healthy 63-year-old woman with living children and grandchildren, simply because she was depressed over the loss of a relationship with a man.
The Belgian culture of death—assisted suicide for anyone who wants to die for any reason whatsoever—is an explicitly anti-Christian and secular humanist “achievement.” It reflects the nihilism of a rapidly secularizing Flemish culture. Suicide is a humanist solution to a humanist dilemma: “What is life worth when there is no God?” In other words, why should anyone be encouraged to live, much less forced to live, when life is objectively meaningless, and its tedium outweighs any joy?
Sadly, America is headed in the same direction. Our culture of death is manifested in abortion laws more anti-life than even those of decadent Western Europe, as well as in the legalization of same-sex “marriage”—which cannot procreate life—and now the federally mandated undermining of the sexual order consisting of only two sexes. Our soul-sick culture produces ever more nihilistic and suicidal laws.
Suicide is not an option for a Christian. God decides when life will come into being, and He should be allowed—barring punishment for some unspeakably heinous crime—to decide when it will end. To deny God’s sovereignty over matters of life and death is an act of contumacious rebellion against the deity; it is even more rebellious than denying the sex He assigned us at conception. For the Christian, suicide is self-murder, and hence a violation of the law of God in the Sixth Commandment:
You say you are tempted to cut the brittle thread of life; but if you do, then your case is hopeless, for you add the sin of murder to all your other sins. But if you come just as you are, helpless and sin-polluted, and cast yourself at the foot of the cross, poor, miserable, blind, and naked, there is a Saviour to lift you up. TSB 143.4
Escape was impossible, and determined not to be taken alive by the Philistines, [King Saul] bade his armor-bearer, “Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith.” When the man refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed, Saul took his own life by falling upon his sword. Thus the first king of Israel perished, with the guilt of self-murder upon his soul. CC 174.2
Saul’s final act, suicide, was a reflection of how he had lived his life—following his own will in rebellion against God’s will:
Thus the first king of Israel perished, with the guilt of self-murder upon his soul. His life had been a failure, and he went down in dishonor and despair, because he had set up his own perverse will against the will of God. PP 682.1
The Seventh-day Adventist emphasis on health is guided by the principle that prolonged self-murder by means of self-destructive habits is just as blameworthy as a quicker suicide:
If we pursue a course to lessen our vitality, and sickness and death are the result, it is a violation of the law of God. To shorten life by self-murder is a breach of the sixth precept of God’s law. He has not granted us permission to commit suicide gradually any more than he has given us a permit to commit suicide suddenly. While one puts out existence at once, the other does the work according to approved fashion. The fashionable suicides, by wrong and sinful habits, commit suicide gradually, prolonging their own suffering, and casting a heavy burden upon sympathizing friends. Which is the greater sinner? Health Reformer, Jan. 1, 1873.
Clearly, suicide is out of the question for the Christian believer.
So what happens when we are faced with the prospect of our own suffering? A key difference between the worldling and the Christian is that the Christian believes in and embraces the providence of God, God’s leading in his life. We believe that a God who is loving and merciful beyond our ability to comprehend has a purpose for our lives, to include even the suffering He might require us to endure in the final days of our short earthly sojourn. All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28), and He will not allow us to be put through more than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13).
As I observe the culture around me descending into nihilism and embracing suicide, I am thankful that I worship the God of life. Our God is the Creator who created every living thing in six days and rested on the seventh day. Our God was not the author of death. To the contrary, our God sent His Only Son to die in our stead so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). “I am come,” Jesus said, “so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Our God wants us to choose life, not death:
"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deut. 30:19 NLT)
Our God is soon going to put an end to death:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”