By the Rev. Dr. Jane Foraker-Thompson
Some people think that if you are a devout Christian you can’t support end of life options. That is categorically not true. I speak as an ordained Episcopal priest with six years of theological training. I have also worked with a Religious Alliance in Nevada, consisting of five mainline churches, on social justice issues at the state legislature. We all had to agree on a topic if we were going to lobby for or against a given piece of legislation. Those of us who served on the board of this Alliance had to know and represent the formal positions of each of our churches1 and share that in discussion. Due to this experience, I became very familiar with those positions of the different denominations. I have also taught World Religions so I know the positions of many other religious groups.
End of Life Options, or Death with Dignity, is not assisted suicide as some people mistakenly claim. Suicide occurs in private, and in desperation of some kind, with people ending their own life alone when they may have many years of life before them. In contrast, end of life options are meant for people who are terminally ill and are going to die anyway. These individuals are generally considered to be within twelve months of death and are in pain that often cannot be controlled. Rather than suffer for many additional months, they opt to ask their doctor for a dose of medicine they may decide to self-ingest at some point that will end their life sooner (though some never take the medication and are simply comforted in knowing they have the option). If the terminally ill person decides to use the medicine, they can set the time and place for taking that medication, and they can invite their family and/or friends to be there to celebrate their life.
The occasion can be celebratory, spiritual, and positive. The individual can choose the way they wish to die when they are going to die anyway. It is merciful and humane. Dying this way does not violate most religious principles for most religious groups. After all, when we have a pet that we love that grows so old that they are miserable and may be crippled, blind, incontinent, or in pain, we think it is humane to put them out of their misery. Why can’t we allow humans the same mercy?
Think of yourself. If you have a terminal illness, such as a cancer that has gone beyond treatment, and you are in pain and a great deal of discomfort, would you not want to go sooner rather than wait indeterminate months of living in extreme misery? This would not be a form of suicide. It is hastening of a death that would happen anyway. You get to choose the place and atmosphere and people you want with you. This is a positive thing and much more humane than keeping someone alive with all kinds of nasty chemicals and machines that prolong life in a very unnatural way. If you are terminally ill, being able to choose the way you are going to experience your end of life is a more natural and loving way. This would be a step in a more compassionate civilized direction for our society.
1By Mainline Church I refer to those denominations in the United States that all require that a potential minister must be put forth by their denomination church, attend three years of an accredited seminary and graduate with an M.Div., and only then be ordained. Such denominations include the Episcopal Church USA, United Methodist, Presbyterian USA, ELCA Lutheran, and Roman Catholic. It can also include United Church of Christ, Baptist, and several other denominations. It does not include those churches where a person decides for themselves to become a pastor, without any formal training or without seminary training.
For more information on end of life options see the following resources:
To contact the Silver City End of Life Options Coalition or leave comments: firstname.lastname@example.org