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Matters of Life and Death #6: Euthanasia

August 21st, 2011 by Thalia Kehoe Rowden

‘It is a tragedy when the human spirit dies before the body. But the answer is not to kill the body too, but to revive the spirit.’  So said Prof Margaret Somerville at a recent conference on euthanasia held in Wellington.

Today I tried to canvass the arguments on both sides of the euthanasia debate, respectfully, but being clear that I think legalising euthanasia will have far-reaching unintended effects and is a poor solution to the problem of suffering.  Have a listen to the message by clicking here

I mentioned quite a few studies and overseas experiences, so I thought I’d link to some sources here for you to follow up in you’re interested.

  • In the United Kingdom, groups from the medical and legal professions, the disability sector and others have banded together in recent years to oppose moves to legalise euthanasia there.  The umbrella group is known as Care Not Killing and their website contains hundreds of articles, questions and answers, interviews and other resources.
  • A Journal of Clinical Oncology editorial summarises studies that show many more people who request euthanasia are depressed than in physical pain.
  • A Current Oncology article surveys the ways euthanasia practice has been extended far beyond the narrow circumstances originally intended in areas where euthanasia has been legalised – for example, ending the lives of newborns and people with dementia.
  • The quotation from Rev Leslie Weatherhead outlining the case for euthanasia came from the NZ Voluntary Euthanasia Society website which contains lots of information arguing for a change in the law in New Zealand.
  • Two doctors in the Netherlands recently outlined what they called the ‘Groningen Protocol’ which argues for extending euthanasia to seriously ill newborn babies (for example, those with spina bifida).  A medical article by them is here, and while the protocol is not law, it has become accepted practice, and no doctor who openly follows the guidelines has been convicted for ending a baby’s life in this way.
  • Read about ‘dignity therapy,’ which is helping dying people to find significance and relief in their final days by having people listen to their life stories and write them down, here and here.

Please feel free to add your comments, thoughts, opinions and personal stories below.


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  • 1 James M Aug 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve enjoyed listening to Thalia’s sermon as an mp3 download. Well done Thalia, as always, on presenting a well-rounded, fair and empathetic talk on a tough subject.

    I’ve thought a bit about Euthanasia and Euthanasia laws in the past and my opinions haven’t changed too much. I personally think we need to think through the implications of any moves to legalize Euthanasia in very serious and non-emotive ways because I think it becomes too easy to give an emotional response to any given situation or circumstance in which people find themselves towards the end of life, which can too easily overrule a more rational response.

    My thoughts on the points that Thalia raised that are often given by supporters of Euthanasia:

    NO SUFFERING WHILE DIEING – I think this can too easily be extended to “people should not suffer”. I believe that suffering and pain are a part of the fallen human condition. I also think that God uses them sometimes to tell us that something is wrong. And sometimes he uses them to point us in the right direction, especially when they are a consequence of the wrong direction we were pointing.

    FREEDOM TO CHOOSE A TIME & METHOD OF DIEING – Historically this has always been seen as God’s prerogative and I think it is indicative of our selfish societal mentality that ignores God. I honestly believe that no Christian should hold this view and if they do I believe it is indicative of something deeply wrong with their theology. For non-Christians it is harder to argue against, though such a view stands in stark contrast with society’s other self-declared abhorrence with suicide.

    NO-ONE SHOULD BE A BURDEN FOR OUR LOVED ONES – What about babies? What about the disabled? What about old people with an array of medical problems? What about the depressed? Placing myself in the shoes of a “loved-one” who is being asked to carry the burden of a suffering friend or relative I think that Euthanasia is too easy a solution to solve the selfish (and not-so-selfish) problems that dealing with a sickness will cause. A harder, but better solution is to support the families in real and practical ways – support coming from our society and from individuals and other families, particularly support from us Christians!

    Having said all this I do realize that dealing with death, suffering and pain are all huge issues which do require a lot of thought, sensitivity and real help. Also I am, and will be, guilty of not providing this at times. And though it is much easier said than done, and as Thalia concluded, the solution is not to kill the body, but rather to promote and revive life in as much fullness as is possible, for everyone involved.