17 years ago America recoiled in disgust as news of Dr. Jack Kevorkian flooded the media. What was once appalling is now legal in Washington state, Oregon, California, and Vermont. Moreover, physician-assisted suicide (PAs), is on the ballot in Colorado and is being debated by legislatures in Washington D.C. and New York. In a surprising move, the editorial board of the Denver Post reversed its position on Colorado’s Proposition 106 saying, “we fear the cultural, legal and medical shift that it would create in Colorado.” In Washington D.C, African American groups have rallied against the proposed measures. These stand in stark contrast to the editorial board of the New York Times that hopes the legislation will pass quickly.
PAS is often presented as an act of kindness and mercy, relieving the suffering one faces at the end of life. Proponents say that it presents a way for those suffering to reach the inevitable end on more peaceful terms. This argument has a certain allure to anyone who has witnessed how painful the end stages of life can be. However, PAS is not ultimately about reducing suffering; it is about exercising autonomy.
PAS parades about as a matter of relief, but it represents the pinnacle of humanity’s desire for self-determination. It is the desire to end life on our terms, in our time, and in the way that we deem most suitable. Because autonomy drives PAS, it will continue pushing the boundaries of what are considered reasonable grounds for seeking PAS. The Netherlands has the most liberal laws on PAS and now allows citizens suffering “intolerable suffering” due to mental illness to seek PAS. Belgium recently allowed a minor with a terminal illness to end his life with the help of a physician. This is not a slippery slope argument. Countries are literally sliding down the slope of autonomy right before our very eyes.
With PAS humanity seeks to assert its autonomy from its Creator and usurp the authority that rightfully belongs to Him alone. God alone has the right to decide the time and length of our lives. We do not decide when, where, or to whom we are born. Moreover, we do not exercise autonomy when we receive the diagnosis of a terminal disease. We are not actually autonomous, self-determinant beings. We are at the mercy of innumerable beyond our control. Yet with PAS, we engage in idolatry by exalting ourselves to the place of God.
Advocates of PAS may offer “dignity in dying,” but PAS strips humanity of its dignity by asserting that life is not worth living because of suffering. God alone is the Creator of life. He determines the time of our birth and He alone has the right to determine the day of our death. To say otherwise is to deny the sanctity and dignity of every single human life made in the image of God.
Proponents of PAS may parade as agents of mercy, but they are agents of death.