Tuesday, March 29, 2005

On Euthanasia

From the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, Section I, Resolution 1.14;


In the light of current debate and proposals for the legalisation of euthanasia in several countries, this Conference:
(a) affirms that life is God-given and has intrinsic sanctity, significance and worth;
(b) defines euthanasia as the act by which one person intentionally causes or assists in causing the death of another who is terminally or seriously ill in order to end the other's pain and suffering;
(c) resolves that euthanasia, as precisely defined, is neither compatible with the Christian faith nor should be permitted in civil legislation;
(d) distinguishes between euthanasia and withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention, all of which may be consonant with Christian faith in enabling a person to die with dignity. When a person is in a permanent vegetative state, to sustain him or her with artificial nutrition and hydration may be seen as constituting medical intervention; and
(e) commends the Section Report on euthanasia as a suitable introduction for study of such matters in all Provinces of the Communion.
In true Anglican fashion, this resolution could be seen to support your understanding of what "the right thing" to do would be in regards to the tragic situation of Terri Schiavo, regardless of what that understanding might be.

I've hesitated to comment on this, as until today, I've been somewhat conflicted. At a couple of hospitals where I served as a voluntary chaplain, one of my roles was to discuss with terminally ill patients the hospital's recommendation that they be placed on a "no code" status; no excessive medical treatment or intervention to prolong their life.

One particular situation involved the husband on the fourth floor of the hospital who was dying, and the wife on the third floor with a different medical condition. I was asked to request the wife to sign a paper allowing her husband to be placed on "no code" status. She signed the paper. I officiated at her husband's burial the following week. Even though this happened over a dozen years ago, it still comes back to haunt me once in awhile. She trusted me, and I may have encouraged her to make the wrong decision. I'll never know in this life if I was wrong or not. All I know is that today it still feels like a heavy weight, and probably always will.

Regarding Terri Schiavo, let me first mention the factors that I consider irrelevant;

I don't give weight to anything being said about either side of the family. It sounds like both the husband and the father have said and done some awful things, and some compassionate things as well. Until I've walked in their shoes, I cannot judge their motivations. Involving ourselves in character assasination tells more about us than it does about this family who has lived with this sad scenario for 15 years.

I don't think the possibility of a miraculous recovery is realistic. From what I understand, the brain is full of fluid. The supposed videos are the result of the hours of filming, with the clips of what is claimed to be voluntary movement being saved. I find that to be quite questionable as "evidence."

I think the professional politicians who decided to stick their noses in this whole affair should be ashamed of themselves. Using this tragic event as a political football is beneath contempt. More evidence why it is never wise to trust professional politicians to make ethical decisions.

If I hear W. use that phrase "culture of life," one more time, I'm going to throw something heavy right through the TV screen. The man responsible for the invasion of Iraq, in which thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed, has no right to utter those words. Along the same line, I cannot hear the evangelical voices that supported this war criminal. They reveal a lack of any consistent sanctity of life ethical stance.

A "culture of life" would involve more than a debate on abortion and euthanasia. It would also include pre-emptive war, capital punishment, access to medical care, as well as other social justice issues. Lack of food and shelter because of poverty seems to me to be an obvious "culture of life" issue. With the exception of Jim Wallis, and a few others, I don't see these issues being discussed among the evangelicals. If I am mistaken on this, please point out examples, and I'll gladly retract the statement.

There is a body which has been consistent on all these "sanctity of life" issues; the Roman Catholic Church. I disagree with Rome on a number of topics, but from what I can see, their consistency gives their voice more validity than any other one I've heard.

So where does that put me? As I was leaving a nursing home today after bringing an elderly member communion, I wondered if some of the folks I was seeing, some clearly in a vegetative state, would be allowed to continue to live twenty years from now if we head down this slippery slope. In the end, the question for me is, "Why must she die?" She has people willing to care for her. She appears to be in no pain. It would comfort her parents. Why? It would seem to me that there would need to be a clear answer to that question before taking such drastic measures as refusing food and water. I've yet to find a clear answer to that question anywhere. If you have one, I'd like to hear it.

When I look towards Iraq, or consider the executions in Texas, or the high rate of abortions, or those coming to the Church pleading for food for the kids, a cold chill runs through me. I'm concerned about the rather cavalier attitude I see emerging regarding death. When we are not sure what is ethically right, wouldn't it seem to be obvious that it is better to err on the side of life?


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