A Gallup poll released earlier this year shows most Americans support euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
However, support rises or falls depending on how the question is worded.
For example, 72% of those polled support letting a doctor “end the patient’s life by some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it.” However, only 65% say a doctor should be able to “assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it.”
In other words, the answer hinges at least in part on whether or not the question includes the word “suicide.”
The poll shows support for assisted suicide is fairly strong among people of all age groups and political parties. The only group that strongly opposes physician-assisted suicide is weekly churchgoers.
Of weekly churchgoers, 58% oppose physician-assisted suicide.
Moreover, the poll indicates that many people who believe physician-assisted ought to be legal still question whether assisted suicide is right or wrong.
Despite the fact 65% believe doctors ought to be able to assist in a patient’s suicide, only 54% of those polled said assisted-suicide is morally acceptable. Gallup writes, “These findings are in line with a general tendency for Americans often to be hesitant to ban behaviors even if they think they are morally wrong.”
Here are two important points to take away from all of this:
First, when it comes to suicide and euthanasia, what we call it and how we talk about it really do matter.
Groups that support suicide and euthanasia like to use terms like “medical aid in dying” to describe what they’re promoting. In reality, physician-assisted suicide isn’t about medical aid. Many doctors and hospitals now specialize in pain management, and patients are well-informed about their medical options during a terminal illness. Surveys conducted in Oregon and Canada as well as information published in California shows most people who inquire about assisted suicide are actually much more concerned about losing their autonomy. Instead of being referred to a mental health specialist or offered other assistance, most of these patients simply receive a lethal prescription for drugs they can use to commit suicide.
Americans need to know what’s driving the demand for physician-assisted suicide and what really happens when a person seeks assisted suicide in states like Colorado or Oregon.
Second, Christians need to be able to explain thoughtfully and clearly what is wrong with assisted suicide.
Just like abortion, suicide fails to acknowledge that God is the creator and giver of life. Human life is sacred, and no sickness gives us an excuse to end someone’s life prematurely. Christians are called time and again to help those who suffer. Simply put, we do not eliminate suffering by eliminating people who are suffering.
Author, attorney, and ethicist Wesley J. Smith recently penned a column outlining a serious problem in European countries like Belgium: Doctors and nurses are quitting because of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
You become a doctor or nurse to be a healer palliator of people in serious pain and distress. You have a special place in your heart for the dying, and so you enter the specialized field of palliative care and hospice medicine.
But then, your country decides you should also become killers of the patients you want to succor. If you refuse, you face public criticism, the prospect of being sued, and perhaps one day, professional censure.
What do you do? If you are an ethical professional, rather than be complicit in homicide, you leave the field.
Doctors who specialize in end of life care and pain management — such as palliative care doctors in hospices and long term care facilities — are being forced to choose between their convictions and their careers.
One Belgian doctor said, “palliative care units are . . . at risk of becoming ‘houses of euthanasia’, which is the opposite of what they were meant to be.”
This is a disturbing trend. Palliative care offers terminally-ill people relief from pain and the opportunity to spend quality time with family as they near the end of life. These doctors and nurses provide vital services to people who are dying and to their families. Unlike euthanasia and assisted suicide, palliative care offers actual relief from suffering — without poisoning or killing any patients.
As we have said time and time again, being pro-life is about much more than opposing abortion. We do not eliminate suffering by eliminating people who are suffering. We must respect the sanctity of human life at the end of life as well as at the beginning.
Recently the American College of Physicians released a position statement opposing assisted suicide.
The statement reads in part,
As a proponent of patient-centered care, the American College of Physicians (ACP) is attentive to all voices, including those who speak of the desire to control when and how life will end. However, the ACP believes that the ethical arguments against legalizing physician-assisted suicide remain the most compelling. . . . [T]he ACP does not support legalization of physician-assisted suicide.
This is really good news. It highlights the fact that assisted suicide is not an ethical medical practice.
The demand for assisted suicide seems to be driven largely by concerns about autonomy in the face of death. Researchers in Canada — where assisted suicide is legal — found that people inquired about assisted-suicide not because of excruciating pain, but because they are dissatisfied with their lives in the wake of their illness.
A study conducted in Oregon in 1999 concluded, “the decision to request and use a prescription for lethal medications . . . was associated with views on autonomy and control, not with fear of intractable pain or concern about financial loss.”
Human life is sacred, and no sickness gives us an excuse to end someone’s life prematurely. We do not eliminate suffering by eliminating people who suffer, plain and simple.