It is interesting to see that society’s preoccupation with unhindered individual choice is continually extending towards decisions to be made at the end of life. As proponents of “Death with Dignity” argue, it is right for people to be able to decide the time and place of their own deaths. However, I would like to propose that first of all there are very few people who support legislation of this type that are truly consistent.
While it seems like a growing number of people support physician-assisted suicide after someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and has a limited amount of time left on earth, that is the first inconsistency. Very few people will affirm that suicide is acceptable at any time. Very few people support uninhibited free choice on this issue. It is important to call that into question first. If someone argues that people should have the absolute freedom to choose when to end their lives, a reasonable question to respond with is whether that applies at any time during life.
I mention that dichotomy because in either situation, the Christian worldview provides a more satisfactory reason for opposing physician-assisted suicide than the other side can argue in support for “Death with Dignity.”
In the case that this proponent of physician-assisted suicide argues that suicide should not be restricted at any point in life in defense of uninhibited free choice, then it is very difficult to tell young people that suicide is not a viable option. In fact, if people who hold this position want to be consistent, there are no grounds for restricting free choice in any situation.
To be entirely fair, I don’t think that there are very many people who support this type of unrestricted freedom, and I think that is a good thing. However, there is then an inconsistency that these people have to deal with. There are apparently some times where it is appropriate to support suicide as a viable option and other times where it is not.
Where does the difference lie?
It seems that the difference is that a change is going to be taken place. Whether a person is accustomed to a life without pain and is going to soon be experiencing substantial pain or a person is used to walking and will need to remain in bed for the remainder of his or her life, there is a clear change that is going to be taken place. It is a way in which terminal illness is different from the remainder of human life for most people.
However, there is a moral judgment implicit in this perceived problem. The assumption is made that it is reasonably undesirable to live as these changes are taking place. That is where the real trouble comes. It is the implicit assumption that it is undesirable to live if a person is either in pain or lacking independence. It is an argument that some lives are more important than others, and that is where Christian apologists need to come to work.
I have argued previously that God values people with disabilities as much as He values people without. I think we can extend that analogy to people who are dying of cancer or whatever other terrible illness might come. If God values life in the same way regardless of physical situations, then we ought to be very careful about creating a situation where certain lives are valued more than others. For Christians, the answer ought to be rather clear. The Christian worldview provides a reasonable basis for opposing suicide at all times and trying to prevent it. It does not suffer from the inconsistency of allowing it in some situations and not in others.
Either all people have equal value, or they do not. Christianity affirms the first, and everyone needs to figure out where their worldview lands them. By supporting physician-assisted suicide, I don’t know if you can affirm that all lives are equally valuable.