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Expanding physician assisted suicide is dangerous. Here's why.

Unsplash/Just Jack
Unsplash/Just Jack

Colorado legislators recently introduced a bill titled “Medical Aid-in-Dying” — a euphemism for Physician Assisted Suicide — to greatly expand access to this procedure. Scripture, medical ethics, and the counseling profession have much to say about the value of life and the role of medical professionals in aiding individuals in their final moments.

Life is a divine gift. Genesis 2:7 tells us, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” This powerful proclamation underscores the intentional creation of human life by a higher power. Biblical teachings also consistently communicate to us that all human life is uniquely created by God bears the sacred image of God, possesses inherent worth in the eyes of God, and has been given purpose by God.

Advocates of PAS often argue for the autonomy of an individual to make choices about their own life, yet the religious perspective suggests that life is a divine gift and tampering with the sacredness of that gift challenges the intentionality of God and diminishes human worth.

One of the primary concerns with PAS is its potential to promote hopelessness. In the face of a life-threatening illness, individuals may feel overwhelmed and desperate. At a vulnerable time when an individual is already faced with profound difficulty, PAS could lead them to consider ending their lives prematurely. In contrast, fostering a culture that encourages hope, resilience, and connection is crucial in supporting those facing terminal conditions.

PAS also denies the possibility or documented instances where improvement may occur, whether in physical, emotional, or spiritual quality of life while facing illness. Promoting better palliative care, mental health support, and compassionate companionship can offer alternatives to the perceived escape route that PAS presents.

PAS devalues the preciousness of human life and creates inequity by implying that some lives are not worth living due to the presence of a serious illness. The renowned Mr. Rogers — a steadfast believer — once said, “You are special. You're special to me. There's only one person in the world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” Embracing a compassionate approach that acknowledges and cherishes the intrinsic worth of every person, regardless of any life condition, fosters a society that upholds the dignity of life until its natural end.

Colorado’s SB24-0068 refers frequently to “terminally ill” patients. The blurred distinction between “chronic” and “terminal” illnesses raises concerns about a potential slippery slope. Defining the point at which a medical condition becomes terminal is a subjective and complex task. Furthermore, how do we define illness? Currently, six countries qualify mental illness as a PAS condition, and four allow minors with mental health challenges to sign for their own PAS. 

The ambiguity surrounding these terms means that PAS could be extended beyond cases of truly terminal illnesses, to include various forms of mental illness. Striking a balance between acknowledging the suffering of individuals with chronic illnesses and preserving the sanctity of life requires careful consideration and nuanced approaches, which PAS might not, by its very nature, be able to provide.

Furthermore, the assumption that pain and suffering are inherently bad is a viewpoint that PAS proponents often hold. However, the experience of pain and suffering is a universal aspect of the human condition. It can be transformative, offering opportunities for personal growth, spiritual reflection, and connection with others.

Equally, some individuals within their hardship experiences have accomplished historically significant contributions or feats. Embracing a perspective that recognizes the complexity of pain and suffering as part of the human experience encourages the development of coping mechanisms and support systems that contribute to a richer understanding of life's challenges.

Preserving the sanctity of life is a moral imperative. By promoting hope and connection, cherishing the inherent value of each individual, maintaining a clear distinction on definitions and final determinations of illness, and embracing the complexity of pain and suffering, society can uphold the dignity of life without resorting to the morally challenging path of Physician-Assisted Suicide.

Dr. Mark Mayfield, Dr. Megan Cannedy and Dr. Brian Fidler are Faculty Fellows with the Centennial Institute, and serve as Assistant Professors of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Colorado Christian University, with more than 40 years of combined experience in counseling. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the views of Colorado Christian University or the Centennial Institute.

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