Recently, I read the “guest view” of a retired hospice chaplain who strongly lobbied for choice in the “right to die” for anyone diagnosed with a terminal illness and facing a prognosis of future suffering as part of the dying process. As a local pastor for more than 30 years, I too have cared for many who were dying. The chaplain, the author of the Dec. 26th guest view is correct in stating that “dying is a natural part of life.” However, she is misguided and mistaken in saying that giving a person the choice to commit suicide is moral or right.

Those who are seeking the passage of this legislation in our state avoid using terminology like “assisted-suicide,” preferring the more euphemistic “medical aid in dying” or “death with dignity.” The effort to use more acceptable language to disguise or even to hide the unacceptable consequences of this choice is tragic on a number of levels.

With an open door for the choice of suicide when suffering comes, we teach our young people that death is a friend, the answer to life’s most complicated problems. Review statistics from the five states and the District of Columbia that have approved “Physician-Assisted Suicide,” and note how non-accidental or non-natural deaths have increased among people without illnesses diagnosed as terminal. In addition, realize that there are other factors at work beyond pain and physical suffering that influence the terminally ill to choose to take their own lives.

The following examples illustrate some of those powerful factors. Should we permit or even encourage families with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementia to make the convenient choice to end their life? Would we serve society well by suggesting that additional rounds of chemotherapy seeking a cure were unnecessary and unavailable for insurance coverage because a profit-driven panel decided enough was enough? And how about the sons, daughters, or spouses who lament the spending of money on their elderly parents or family members in nursing homes, when their life according to our standards is no longer worthy of spending that kind of money? Or what kind of peer or societal pressure will be brought to bear on the elderly in nursing homes when their “neighbor” chooses to end their life?

Yes, these are just a few examples of the dire consequences that would await us once we begin to slide down the slippery slope that promotes suicide as the answer to terminal cancer, COPD, Alzheimer’s, MS, Congestive Heart Failure, or any type of condition that disables or causes us to be dependent on others.

Maggie Karner, in her column in The Federalist, “Brain Cancer Will Likely Kill Me, But There’s No Way I’ll Kill Myself,” said, “However well-intentioned, this is one area where the old adage that ‘Hard cases make bad law’ comes into play. To make good policy decisions about assisted suicide for our society, we need to follow the rabbit trail all the way down the hole to see where it leads.” Maggie Karner, along with those who are concerned about the rights of children and adults with disabilities are in agreement: The legislation passed in five states and the District of Columbia, and now proposed in our own state, “puts many vulnerable people at risk.”

Advocates of the “right to die” movement wrap their rationale for the passage of this legislation in terms of “compassion,” “choice,” and “dignity.” But tear open the wrapping paper surrounding the “right to die,” and find inside the box the consequences of choice that will bring deadly change to God’s plan for life and death, not to mention the changes it will bring to society, healthcare, and even the churches that promote it.

Maggie Karner’s struggle with brain cancer challenged her and her family, but her words today challenge each one of us to understand that suicide is not the answer to cancer, heart disease, dementia, or any other terminal condition. As she faced the indignity of radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and then the prognosis of certain death, she understood that “death is always out of our hands.” She closed the article with these words: “This will serve me now as I face my own debilitating mortality. Death sucks. And while this leads many to attempt to calm their fears by grasping for personal control over the situation, as a Christian with a Savior who loves me dearly and who has redeemed me from a dying world, I have a higher calling. God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way. As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God’s purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself.”

Maggie Karner suffered from terminal brain cancer and died, but her family members realized a purpose in suffering as they cared for their wife and mother. They realized again how sacred is each human life, and they each confessed that they grew in compassion, responsibility, and selflessness as they cared for Maggie. May the citizens of our state and nation rediscover the same as we care for our loved ones and our neighbors in need.

Vokt is associate pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Davenport. 

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