I just returned home to England from spending a week with my parents in Colorado. As they approach their next birthdays, my Dad will be 92 and my Mom 89. Mom has declined quite a lot and Dad, though mentally very clear, is weakening. Life is difficult for both of them, especially since Mom needs more specialist care so they are separated. Dad visits her for a couple of hours twice a day, but there are still a lot of lonely hours in each 24.
I remember talking to them, perhaps five years ago, about their “living will”; they were both very clear that they did not (and still do not) want to be resuscitated in an emergency and did not want their lives to be artificially prolonged.
So, should we have also considered euthanasia, or mercy killing? As committed Christians with deep respect for the image of God in every person, that subject doesn’t need discussion; it is thoroughly and simply covered by the sixth commandment, “Though shalt do no murder”. Is that commandment still absolute, in light of our medical ability to prolong life? Each of my parents has had health problems that would have proven fatal in an earlier generation, but we are now able to treat pneumonia, hip fractures, infections etc. So we prolong life, but should we also intervene to end life?
We read about people who have made their plans to end their lives and one of my sons recently said (in jest, I think), “If I ever get to the point of senility, I hope someone will put me out of my misery.” Do we need to re-examine mercy killing? I think we do.
That is one of the things I was thinking about during my visit, and I concluded that I could not imagine myself ever giving the order, or approving someone else’s order to kill anyone! It is one thing to anticipate later years, imagine what weakness and senility would be and then conclude that you would rather die. It is another thing altogether to give the order when the day arrives. I know I could never do that.
I also note that, though my parents are not living an easy life, neither one of them is even close to asking anyone to kill them. It’s unthinkable! We are all hardwired to protect life and to respect the image of God in us and in others.
Periodically, there are high-profile cases of people who have decided they want to die rather than face the consequences of some terrible, progressive disease. I wonder how they feel when the day comes. It is one thing to think you want to die at some particular time in the future, but do they still feel that way when the sun rises on that day?
For me, these are very real and personal considerations. There are other issues too, especially what might happen to the medical professionals if they are taking the lives of some and preserving the lives of others. If we put them in the position where they are no longer taking the oath to “do no harm”, can we expect them to perform as well as they do now? This and other, wider cultural issues that have been considered elsewhere need to be taken into account,.
There is one other personal and very practical issue I should address. The prolonged care required by my parents is consuming their estate and we must sell their house to pay the mounting bills. They owned and operated a very profitable construction company and paid large amounts into the social security system and other taxes, but that doesn’t really matter now. The system in America is set up so that the estates of many (most?) elderly people are siphoned off into the medical professions for services rendered.
If my siblings and I were greedy, this would be a problem. If we felt that we should inherit as much money as possible from our parents, we would be angry at all the expenses being racked up but we don’t feel that way at all; we want them to live long and comfortably and the money is not that important.
Does money influence the rising call for euthanasia? In the Biblical story, one of the dire consequences of idolatry was the willingness to sacrifice life for prosperity. We have already entered that territory when children are aborted because the parents don’t think they can afford them. Is that same thinking driving the politicians and others who are promoting mercy killing?
I am not in a position to know the motives of others, but the questions are worth asking. The bottom line for me is that my ongoing experience with my parents, to whom I owe so much, strongly reinforces my foundational conviction that human life is sacred and we cannot make decisions to take it.