Euthanasia, like capital punishment, war, and abortion, is a divisive moral issue. I haven’t heard a lot of non-Christians weighing in on the issue, but even within Christian circles different conclusions have been reached. And I know that many people (including some federal judges) don’t agree with Oregon’s statute on the issue (which allows doctors to perform assisted suicide).
We do it for our pets. Why not our parents?We love our pets. I, for one, think that dogs are better than people. But when they get old, and can’t hold their bladders, and are in pain from cancer or can’t enjoy life anymore, then we do the merciful thing. We put them down. The day we put my first dog, Bernie, down was the saddest day of my life, but even my young mind (I was around 10 at the time) could understand that it was the humane thing to do. (I even found a web site once with a discussion on the most humane way to euthanize a goldfish—freezing or alcohol?) Now, on to Raider.
(Photo by Laura Hoffart)
Raider has been with my family for the better portion of my life (quantity and quality). He’s one of my best friends. He’s quite the character too. And at over 13 years of age (that’s 91 in dog years—98 in May) he’s still quite the happy old dog. He doesn’t have cancer to our knowledge, and he can still hold his bladder for over 12-14 hours on the odd occasion that’s necessary, despite having food and water always available. And he goes for a walk every day that the air outside is above 0 degrees Fahrenheit. But he does have some heart trouble. So when the air outside is cold, he wants a shorter walk.
I’m not looking forward to it, but when he doesn’t feel like walking anymore then it will be time. Why, when we put them down, do we do it?
1. Our dog is no longer capable of leading a happy lifeWhy is it, then, that we don’t apply the second premise to people? Is there some other premise that applies to human life than to animal life? Do we love our dogs more that we permit them to die when they can’t be happy (thereby being selfish in keeping our family members alive)? Or is it selfish euthanasia, that we don’t want our dogs around anymore when they’re not any fun? I certainly don’t think it’s the last one.
2. Life is not worth living if you can’t be happy
3. THEREFORE, the humane thing to do is to euthanize him
Until very recently I hadn’t come to this conclusion. Is it flawed? I don’t think so.
Do humans have an even stronger case?Humans may have an even stronger case for euthanasia as applied to them. A mind that is more conscious of suffering, that can anticipate future suffering, is a mind that suffers more. Also, in many cases, the object of euthanasia can choose for him or herself whether to be “put down.” Whether we should ever actively euthanize a person who can’t decide (or refuse it for a person who ostensibly can) is a subject for next week.
What does religion have to say?I put a lot of stock in what the Bible and the church have to say about moral issues. Whether you do or not it’s still useful to look to a group that’s been arguing about morality for much longer than you or I have. And when two denominations that don’t bullshit (tiptoe through the tulips/blow smoke up your butt/beat around the bush) about the issues are in disagreement, something can be learned from their division. And if there’s anything that applies differently to people than to animals, then it must have something to do with the soul, right?
Take the case of Terri Schiavo. The Catholics raised an outcry over this. Their position is that it’s immoral to commit any kind of euthanasia because it’s God who should decide when someone dies.
I was raised in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (which is pretty big in this area). The only newspaper article I read that quoted an LCMS pastor must have found the wrong guy, because he tiptoed through the tulips. The official position of the LCMS (if I recall confirmation class correctly) on euthanasia raises a distinction between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia is what got Dr. Jack Kevorkian into the news—administering lethal treatment. The LCMS says this is wrong for the same reason the Catholics say all euthanasia is wrong, because it usurps God’s role in deciding when people should die. Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, is what happened to Terri (or rather her brain-dead body). It’s allowing a person to die of natural causes by removing or failing to administer life support. The LCMS says this is not immoral, because it’s not usurping God’s role. In fact, you might find some LCMS pastors who would say that giving “extreme” life-saving measures is usurping God’s role in life and death.
I have come to the conclusion that both churches are wrong on this issue. Why? Perhaps this has something to do with the reason many people think that God is cruel, or that there can’t be a god because he would have to be a cruel god. God doesn’t kill people! If you believe that he does, you seriously need to rethink your theology and your relationship with God, because Christianity doesn’t make any sense at all if you think God is going around killing people. (By rethinking it, I don’t mean abandoning your faith, of course, but rather seriously considering my view.) Death is a natural result of sin, in Christian theology, and God has nothing to do with sin—ergo, God has nothing to do with death.
(I’m going to e-mail this link to my pastor and see what he has to say about it. I’d hate to take a position when no one is around to champion the other side. It offends my lawerly view of the world.)
Next week: Euthanasia, part 2—I might quote you, link to you, maybe even change my position, and talk about pragmatic concerns.
And now, my usual command: Discuss!