Friday, 15 April 2016

Physician Assisted Death and the conscience of a nation

Thanks to Tim Challies for pointing out this thoughtful response to the recent legislative moves in Canada to make Physician Assisted Dying (PAD) legal and available to suffering patients. 

There is much more to say on this issue, some of which I've said here.  The church is going to have to be aware and engaged on this issue, prepared to give an answer for why we stand against human beings dictating the time and circumstances of how to end their lives. 

Who should have the final word about when and under what conditions an individual's life ends? 

If we say, as secular humanism does, that humans are the ultimate and highest beings in the universe, then I suppose the circumstances of death is our call to make.  Of course this is the argument of those who say that it is up to the individual to decide when their life ceases to be worth living.  Unfortunately, many calling themselves Christians (especially from the liberal mainline denominations) are lending support to this perspective. 

However, a thoroughly (socially) Darwinian perspective within secular humanism would not give that decision to the sufferer themselves.  A consistent secular humanist Darwinian would likely assign the decision to the strongest members of society, those in positions of power, rather than those who, by definition, are the weakest and most vulnerable: the suffering and sick.  For now, it is the sufferer that the Canadian government says should make the decision about when to end their life.  But in a secular worldview, there is really nothing other than the inertia of current cultural acceptance and moral opinion (as well as the remnants of a lingering Christian moral ethos) holding us back from having people other than the suffering individual themselves make this decision.  Recall Nazi Germany, where the decision to end the lives of the sick, weak and handicapped was left to a state funded and supervised medical system.  It was seen and justified not only as a benefit to society as a whole (not having to expend precious resources on such sub-par, and therefore subhuman, lives) but defended as an act of mercy toward the "patient" as well. 

If, however, we are created by a sovereign God and all people are made in his image, than all people, even those who are suffering or handicapped, have value.  And if God is always working out his redemptive purposes in human history, which includes his working in the lives of every particular individual, this puts the this question in a very different light.  This means that human suffering is not arbitrary and meaningless or that those who suffer are less important or less fully human or less capable of contributing to human flourishing and interrelationship. 

In light of these (and more) considerations, we best leave matters of when a person dies in God's hands.  We better focus on relieving the suffering of the hurting, caring for the sick and dying, and ministering to the aged and infirm, and we should strive toward curing and treating disease and illness.  These are things we have specific Scriptural warrant for.  We do not have any warrant to end the lives of those who are suffering, even if it is their desire to do so, and not even if we are the ones suffering and it is our own lives we are talking about.  For we are not merely our own and we are answerable to a higher authority than ourselves.   

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