Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Euthanasia - there is a better way

I talked to a professional carer a few weeks ago. She had been caring for someone with terminal cancer to the end. After that she had been on holiday, and had met another carer, a nurse, who'd worked in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legalised. He too had been caring for a cancer patient. The doctor had prescribed lethal drugs for his patient but would not administer them. (In Switzerland doctors aren't allowed to do the actual deed.) But the nurse was compelled to do it, although it ran counter to his conscience. I presume the patient had requested it.

However the effect on the nurse had been catastrophic. Can you imagine being forced to kill someone when your whole conscience and all your convictions forbade the taking of life? How would you live with yourself? The answer for that nurse was to abandon his vocation and to drown his guilt in a cocktail of drink and drugs. It was taking him a long time to rehabilitate himself, and the scars and nightmares will never leave him, I imagine.

Such is one seldom considered effect of legalising assisted suicide. There are always others involved. There is always some impact on their psyches. It might inure them to the event - which cannot be desirable. Or it might scar them as it did that French nurse.

A Labour MP, Rob Marris, has tabled a private member's bill in the House of Commons for 11th September after MPs return from holiday. It's basically the same old bill that Lord Falconer tried to introduce in the Lords last year, and will be fraught with the same old dangers which have restrained our legislators wisely from going down the same route as Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and a handful of US states. Open the door to "assisting" others to die and you open a Pandora's box of unforeseen consequences. My local MP rightly pointed out that, in Britain, we lead the world in palliative care. Our response to the physical and emotional pain of terminal illness must be to show compassion by extending and developing this further - not by letting people die when they most need encouragement and assistance to live. As evidence from other countries has shown, a right to die would for many be a duty to die. I hope other MPs will also fiercely resist this Bill for that reason.

There is a better way.

Being present at someone's deathbed is always momentous, but usually it is a necessary and healing part of grieving. It can't be that, if one is contributing to the death. But if one is there accompanying the dying person and sharing in their struggle to depart, there is no guilt in the memory, only a sense of a compassionate task well completed.

Two of my great friends have died within the last ten days. They were both men of faith. One died in a hospice and the other died at home. The passing to new life is never easy. It wasn't for them either, but it was peaceful. I suppose the body is very attached to physical life. Matt Redman's song Bless the Lord, O my soul was being sung as one friend died and will be sung at the other friend's funeral:
"Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name.

And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore

Whether you have faith, as my friends had, or not, a "natural death" is better than an unnatural one. Hard, but free of the dangers and peculiar consequences which accompany the intentional shortening of life. 


  1. Dear Michael,
    Thank you for your post and I love that verse in bless the Lord O my soul. I find it hard to explain to people that euthanasia is wrong because God says so and breaking His moral law has profound consequences. In the film million dollar baby a case for euthanasia is put forward when a young female boxer is paralysed after an awkward fall and Clint Eastwood's character (the boxers mentor and father figure) takes pity and carries out the euthanasia. There is a sense of peace afterwards in the film. This tragic story is quite different from your real life account from your palliative care friend which highlights some of the consequences. It's reassuring to know Jesus death on the cross, and battle in he'll saves us from these sins whenever we turn to Him. God's grace and love always wins. I have seen many people die in hospital and you're right when you say it is momentous. Death doesn't feel right to me, like we weren't meant for it, but it's going to happen. Seeing someone die with a loved one nearby holding their hand reminds me Jesus is always there helping us through. In Him we are safe no matter what!

    1. Thanks, Luke. It seems Hollywood (and the BBC) like the relatively easy route to our emotions on this subject with fictional stories - no doubt drawing on real life. But I'm more impressed with true films based on real life, like "Orlando's Oil" and especially the French film "Untouchable" about a paralysed millionaire and a black slum kid from the Parisian suburbs. It's all the more moving being a comedy. There was an article about it in The Guardian: Well worth seeing.

      A natural dying with no regrets seems to me always better than euthanasia. I guess it's understandable that people who have no faith would struggle with God's moral law. Perhaps you could explain it the other way round, starting with the consequences such as doctors breaking their duty to save life, residual sense of guilt for families/friends, precedent opening the door to taking life of the vulnerable, disabled, depressed, different etc, state-legalised killing; and end, "And do you know? I believe God got there first which is why he said, 'You must not kill'."

  2. Thanks Michael! I saw a trailer for that untouchable film I'm going to watch it. Thanks for the words too, great way to approach it, Jesus meets us where we're at like the samaritan lady at the well, so talking to my colleagues about saving lives not taking them is a good place to start.

  3. Thanks Michael! I saw a trailer for that untouchable film I'm going to watch it. Thanks for the words too, great way to approach it, Jesus meets us where we're at like the samaritan lady at the well, so talking to my colleagues about saving lives not taking them is a good place to start.