Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Assessing Assisted Suicide: Part 3

In the first two articles in this series (which you can find here and here), we looked at the symptoms of ALS, the disease most often used to justify assisted suicide. Specifically, we considered the case of Geoff Whaley, whose recent illness and death have caused debate to flare up in the United Kingdom. While his pain is understandable, his response to it helps to show the warped worldview of those who see suicide as a viable option. The second post explains the differences between the secular pro-death and the Christian pro-life views. Now I want to spend some time with the results those views produce.

Because a growing segment of our culture does not value life, it increasingly embraces death. That is why it is so important for us to stand on God’s truth in defending life. Without a principle governing what life is worth, there is no way to limit its destruction. That is the risk run when life is seen as good only for what it can do.

Stories of Suffering

The story of another suffering patient is appropriate here. A baby boy, just a few months old, was born with a number of deformities. He was blind, as well as missing a leg and part of an arm, and was showing early signs of a serious mental disability. His parents simply could not care for him. They were too poor to provide what he needed, and could not bear to see his constant pain. They appealed to the government for the right to end his suffering, and in this case, their appeal was granted. A state physician was sent to see the child, and after confirming his condition, he administered a dose of medicine that sent the boy into a deep sleep from which he never awoke. A few days later, he passed away.

You may not know the name of that little baby boy, Gerhard Kretschmar. We all know the government that was complicit in his death. After this test case in 1939, Nazi Germany went on to euthanize 300,000 disabled people, along with millions of other “undesirables.” What started as compassion quickly turned into genocide.

There is a concept in internet culture called “Godwin’s Law,” which states that all debates eventually devolve to a point where Hitler is invoked. I have seen it happen enough to believe that it is true, but there is a danger to it. If we roll our eyes every time the Nazis are mentioned, chalk it up to Godwin’s Law and then ignore the argument, then we can miss important truths. It needs to be remembered that the 1940s actually happened. Hitler, Goebbels, Mengele, and the rest of the Nazi criminals were real-life people. They shared the same nature we do, which means we have the same propensity to evil that they did if we are not careful to guard against it. They were not mere caricatures, and we can repeat their atrocities. In fact, we are more likely to do so if we simply scoff every time they are mentioned. And we are much further down that road than anyone wants to think.

I mentioned Alfie Evans in an earlier article, and his story is also appropriate here. He was another infant boy, not quite two years old, but his case took place just last year. Alfie suffered from GABA-transaminase deficiency, a neurodegenerative disorder not unlike ALS that attacked his nervous system. He had constant coughing, regular fevers, uncontrolled muscle contractions, and severe mental disabilities. But he also had loving parents who wanted to do everything they could to care for him. When doctors in their home country of the United Kingdom were no longer willing to help, they began to look abroad.

Physicians in a number of other countries, including the US and Italy, were willing to take the Evans in and attempt experimental treatments for Alfie. The odds were slim, but his parents believed it was worth the chance. The bureaucrats in the UK disagreed. They said that ongoing care was “unkind and inhumane,” and the government refused to grant the Evans passports or release Alfie from the hospital so that his parents could seek to help him.

Implications of the Pro-Death Philosophy

This case actually has more to do with parental rights than with the right to life, but it still has bearing here. His eventual death on April 28, 2018, was the result of removing his life support rather than a euthanization or an assisted suicide. But it portrays the mindset of the culture of death. Alfie was a burden. They measured the value of his life in what he could do and took no thought for what others thought of him or were willing to attempt for him. They determined he was worthless and forced his parents to let him go.

That is just one child. Millions more, far more than Hitler ever murdered, have been killed before they had the chance to take their first breath. Some of those died through the “one-child policy” of communist China, but most were killed by mothers making the choice for themselves. All those nascent lives were measured by the burden they created, rather than for the nature given to them by the Creator of all life. At least when the ancients made their children pass through the fire to Molech, they had the excuse of thinking they could gain supernatural blessing (Lev. 18:21). Entire populations have been wiped out in our own day, simply to be sacrificed on the altar of convenience.

You may think I have moved the goalposts. A discussion about assisted suicide has shifted to Nazi euthanization, bureaucratic heartlessness, and worldwide abortion. But I assure you, they are all the same issue because they share the same root. They are all founded in the belief that life is only worth what it produces, and if its production does not equal its cost, then it should be destroyed. This is usually framed in terms of compassion, but that is just the veneer. It is really about convenience. When that premise is accepted, there are no grounds to resist the introduction of the entire programme.

I will finish this series next time with a discussion on the very different implications of the Christian position. For now, it is good to end here and focus on the dangers that come with seeing life as disposable. But I also want to offer a different word of warning. As dreadful as the pro-death mindset is, it is ultimately no different than any other sin. Those who have it are not to be hated. They are to be pitied, and we should be able to understand that they do not really know better. As we struggle with them, we must do so with graciousness so that they will be encouraged to embrace the truth of Christ. If we only offer contempt, then we are no better. In fact, we are worse, as I will explain in the finale.

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