A splendid fire sparkles in the eyes of our loved ones, a fire brighter, clearer and more charming than the light of any star. But when that fire burns low and dies out forever, little is left except the memory of a kind voice or a haunting glance from a torn and tattered photo.
Modern medicine boasts of its many conquests over disease, but no doctor has yet subdued the most ancient and formidable enemy of mankind. Nor has any scientist wrested a single inch of territory from this grim and relentless foe. Between the sick patient and the enemy stands a battery of tests, row upon row of test tubes, million-dollar devices to scan the battleground and pinpoint the enemy, chemicals to wither and wear him down and scalpels to hold him at bay. But come he will. And he will arrive in the form of an irreversible calamity.
“Physician-assisted suicide” is a pleasant-sounding euphemism for what earlier generations called “mercy killing.” The term “mercy killing” is preferable, because it brings the ugly reality out of the shadows and into the light of day. Suicide, even when done to end suffering, is self-murder; and no one has the right to take an innocent life. Hence “mercy killing” is currently a crime under the Maine Criminal Code, as it is in all states. Oregon, Washington and Montana have made an exception in the case of physician-assisted suicide.
These laws prohibiting suicide, or aiding others to commit suicide, reflect the thinking of our greatest ethicists, theologians and secular thinkers. They have concluded that no right to self-destruction can ever exist.
The theologian argues that each human life is a gift from God. God grants the right to life, and the corresponding responsibility to preserve one’s life rests with the individual. The philosopher reasons that life is not something over which man can have control.
We do not have to rely on abstract ideas to know that physician-assisted suicide is wrong. If society legalizes mercy killing, the cry will go up to aid those suffering from Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and other diseases that render a patient incapable of making an informed decision. From there, it is only a short step to euthanizing those who are “unworthy of life.” That is the irrefutable lesson of history; and it is a dire warning not to legalize euthanasia for any reason.
A case in point is Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a doctor who assisted in more than 100 suicides. He used two devices, one of which he called his “Mercy Machine,” an invention too gruesome to be described here. Suffice it to say that with each assisted suicide Kevorkian grew bolder, until he eventually injected a terminally ill patient with lethal drugs. For that crime, Kevorkian was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison.
Kevorkian obtained an early release from prison on compassionate grounds. Suffering from Hepatitis C and liver cancer, Kevorkian did not choose physician-assisted suicide. He chose to live on and die a natural death.
If physician-assisted suicide is legalized, society must not only weed out the Kevorkians. Society must also make sure that the panels reviewing each case never make an error about the course and outcome of a disease. The members of these panels must also be free from any economic, political and personal motive. Moreover, the doctors and lawyers who make up these panels must be able to see into the soul of each patient asking for an end to life.
In short, society must require that such panels are omniscient, infallible and morally perfect. In order for such panels to be successful, they must be free from the defects which are part of human nature. This is only reasonable, since we are asking them to do a job which properly belongs only to God.
Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.