Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide
Wyatt (John)
Source: Jubilee Centre; Cambridge Papers: Towards a Biblical Mind, Vol. 19.2, June 2010
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Summary

  1. The arguments in favour of the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are no longer focussed on unbearable suffering. Instead there is a rising demand for choice and control over the time and manner of our death, coupled with fears about the social and economic consequences of increasing numbers of elderly and dependent individuals.
  2. But there are strong medical, legal, social and theological reasons to oppose this new drive for suicide and euthanasia.
  3. The potent modern myth of the autonomous individual fails to match with the inescapable reality of human dependence and relationality. The increasing public support for the legalisation of medical killing provides an urgent challenge to the medical and legal professions and to the Christian community as a whole.
  4. Are Christians capable of living out a practical and countercultural demonstration of the preciousness of human life expressed in human interdependence, personal commitment and burden-sharing?

  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. World-view issues
  4. Social and economic factors
  5. Legal safeguards on assisted suicide
  6. Logical incoherence of euthanasia legislation
  7. The Hippocratic tradition of medicine
  8. Theological perspectives
  9. The human family
  10. Human suffering: a mystery of human dependence
  11. Good medicine: recognising the difference between intention and foresight
  12. Palliative care
  13. The Christian hope

Conclusion and practical Implications
  1. The arguments for legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia are in the process of imperceptibly changing from a duty of compassion towards the suffering, into the right of self-destruction for the hopeless. They are predicated on a potent individualistic delusion of isolated autonomous choice, a refusal to acknowledge the reality of our mutual interconnectedness and interdependence as human beings in society. The principled opposition of our current law to homicide and assisted suicide provides an essential safeguard for carers, for the medical profession and for the elderly and vulnerable who may fear that their lives have become burdensome and valueless.
  2. The increasing public support for the legalisation of assisted suicide provides an urgent challenge to the medical and legal professions and to the Christian community as a whole. Many people have a fear of inappropriate and burdensome medical over-treatment at the end of life, and this drives the demand for assisted suicide. Although recent developments in palliative care have transformed our ability to help sufferers to die well, it remains a scandalously under-resourced and under-supported area of medicine. Tragically the quality of care which many dying people receive in the UK and across the world falls far short of what is possible with the highest level of expertise, and many die with inadequate pain relief and symptom control. Vastly more resources are spent by Government and medical charities alike on researching treatments for life-threatening illness, than are devoted to improving the quality and availability of end-of-life care. As a community we need to insist on a reorientation of priorities so that care for the elderly, the chronically disabled and the terminally ill receives the support that is deserved.
  3. The growing focus on personal autonomy and self-determination provides a challenge to the Christian community to demonstrate a countercultural and alternative understanding of the sanctity of human life and the nature of human interdependence and interconnectedness. In a society where millions of elderly people suffer isolation, abandonment and the silent horror of abuse, can the Christian community provide a resource of compassionate and sacrificial caring? In the history of the church, times of plague have been paradoxically associated with a spurt in church growth as a consequence of practical demonstrations of sacrificial Christian love. As the plague of euthanasia threatens to penetrate our society will the Church respond in the same spirit of sacrificial caring?


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