December 7, 2016

Proponents of assisted suicide argue that helping someone end their life is a compassionate act. In fact, many of them contend that this lethal, risky practice is consistent with the ethical teachings of the world’s great faiths, which call each of us to care for those who are suffering.

But although those pushing to legalize assisted suicide may have good intentions, the practice for which they advocate could not be more unlike the compassion that our Christian faith asks us to show to our brothers and sisters.

Compassion, at its root, is about accompanying others through trying times. It does not ignore the reality of death or the fact of human suffering. Instead, it underscores that even in someone’s darkest days, people of faith are not allowed to abandon them. We must provide love and accompany them each step of the way.

As a Lutheran, I can see this clearly modeled in the ministry of Jesus, most notably in how He engaged with those who were suffering. He did not send the sick and afflicted away; instead He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV). The relief that Jesus offers includes, but is beyond, physical healing. It is a peace that comes from being loved and comforted. Christians are called to follow His example.

But assisted suicide is the direct opposite of loving care and companionship. Instead of providing both the medical and personal attention that those near the end of life need and deserve, this practice sends them home with a vial of pills to die alone. This is apparent in the legislation that proponents of assisted suicide are offering in Minnesota; a bill to legalize the practice that was considered this past March had no requirement that family members be notified if a loved one requested drugs to commit suicide. How can we call this a “compassionate” choice?

Thank goodness this flawed bill never made it out of committee. Its advocates, however, have promised to be back again in 2017 and will again make the contention that assisted suicide is necessary to relieve the pain of suffering people.

But this itself is misleading. Evidence from states where assisted suicide is legal, such as Oregon and Washington, shows that the vast majority of those who choose assisted suicide are not motivated by a desire to relieve pain.1 Instead they cite other reasons for ending their life, such as the worry that they would be a burden on their loved ones if kept alive. This is not “compassion.” Instead, legalized assisted suicide perpetuates the tragic myth that the elderly and infirmed are “burdens” to be dealt with instead of human beings deserving of love and care.

Furthermore, the latest advances in palliative care and end-of-life treatment have made pain-based arguments for assisted suicide unnecessary. Pain can be managed, and our lawmakers and healthcare system should focus on continuing to advance real care options, not hastening death. This is the opinion of over 500 Minnesota medical professionals2 who recently signed a petition urging the Minnesota Medical Association to maintain its long-standing opposition to this dangerous, harmful practice.

Finally, legalizing assisted suicide cannot be considered compassionate given the adverse impact it will likely have on the poor and vulnerable to whom people of faith are called to give special care. Given the economic dynamics of the healthcare industry and the fact that ending life will likely be cheaper than ongoing care, assisted suicide could be pushed on disadvantaged people. It will also likely disincentivize efforts to expand affordable and accessible care for all. In fact, we’ve already seen evidence of this: a mother of four in California was denied treatment for her cancer,3 but her insurance company said they could provide her with suicide drugs instead. Is this the type of “compassion” proponents of assisted suicide have in mind? And how can we have real “choice” when medical options are being limited instead of expanded?

The stark truth is that assisted suicide is not a compassionate practice; it amounts to abandonment of those who need us most, perpetuates dangerous views that the sick and elderly are “burdens,” and will unjustly prevent the poor and vulnerable from receiving the care they deserve. Assisted suicide is entirely inconsistent with the values that people of faith hold dear.

It is also inconsistent with who we are as Americans. In a country that prides itself on exceptional healthcare and communities that stick together, let’s commit ourselves to advancing real care, not hastening death.

Lutherans For Life is an alliance partner of the newly formed MN Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, a diverse group of Minnesotans opposed to assisted suicide.

  1. @khnews. “Terminally Ill Patients Don’t Use Aid-In-Dying Laws To Relieve Pain.” Kaiser Health News. N.p., 26 Oct. 2016. Web.

  2. “Minnesota Medical Professionals Urge MMA to Remain Opposed to Assisted Suicide.” Petition. N.p., n.d. Web.

  3. Peyser, Andrea. “Terminally Ill Mom Denied Treatment Coverage — but Gets Suicide Drug Approved.” New York Post. N.p., 24 Oct. 2016.