Rose Madrid-Swetman

— Random Thoughts, Stories of Life, and Questions about the Journey —


November 22, 2008

Assisted Suicide

The Assisted Suicide bill passed in Washington State. Last night I was with 8 women. When asked how many voted pro and how many against it was equally divided, 4-pro, 4-against. A discussion ensued as to why we voted the way we did. I thought a lot about the bill before I voted “against” and thinking more about it this morning. I think this is a very complex issue but for me boils down to some issues I can’t resolve. The main issues being my belief that God is the giver and sustainer of life. I consider the sacredness of human life in all of life; i.e., war, violence, the death penalty, abortion, euthanasia and biotechnology. My fundamental belief as a follower of Christ is that the kingdom of God consists of peace with justice, of life unmarred by killing. (Kingdom Ethics, pg. 147). The good news of the gospel brings life and invites us to participate in bringing life and resisting death. Simply put, (even though without a doubt these are very complex issues) kingdom ethics resists killing, as Jesus did, and strongly affirms the value of human persons, as Jesus did.
When we talk about assisted suicide or euthanasia, I believe we are talking about the difference between “killing” and “letting die.” I believe the role of the health care professional is to cure if possible, and to care always and to never harm or hasten death. The way to meet the legitimate needs of the suffering and dying is through enhanced pain management (palliative care), hospice care and other efforts to assure, as far as possible, a good process of dying.
The fear of dying a long, agonizing death is perhaps the fundamental driving force behind the drive for euthanasia. This seems to disregard the advanced pain management treatments that help to allow a person to die well.
As a Christ follower, I believe that until Jesus returns and brings an end to illness and death at last, God’s will is that every sick human being be treated with dignity and compassion, receive needed curative treatments, benefit from pain relief and die only when their time has really come. The need to offer compassionate care that meets the need of the ill and dying, and their families is what our society needs to focus on. My conclusion is that “letting die” is the correct response, “killing” in the name of “my right” or “compassion” is the wrong response.

6 Comments »

  1. Hi Rose,

    I happen to agree with your well-articulated position, and I’d like to add my $0.02 as a Home Hospice RN.

    I’ve been an RN for over 10 years, but have been working in Hospice only for a little over a year. The agency I work for views Hospice philosophy in these terms: it is not our role to hasten death nor to prolong life; but to care while we may, and help in what manner we are able, allowing each person the best possible chance for a comfortable and peaceful death.

    The agency’s stance on Death with Dignity (also known as Physician Assisted Suicide or “PAS” although proponents understandably prefer not to use this term) is that if a patient chooses to follow through, our staff will not be directly involved in the act, but will continue to offer comfort care through the time of death, as with any other patient.

    If a patient asks their RN (or other staff member) to be present at the time they ingest the lethal dose we are not required to honor that request; however we are given permission to do so if we so choose. While I have not yet faced this situation, I have decided I am willing to be present, to offer care and comfort even as the person takes their own life.

    I have been present with a handful of my patients at their death and all have been peaceful and comfortable. It is not always this way, but it is what we all hope for, I think.

    In my limited experience, I have also come to understand that those who pursue PAS (whether it is simply obtaining information or obtaining the Rx itself) usually do not follow through. But apparently just knowing they have that option affords them a great measure of comfort. It seems Adam and Eve’s first foray into self-rule still entices us from somewhere within our fallen nature.

    With many Hospice patients, it is as if simply having the option of being in some measure of control in the final act of dying allows the person living with a life-ending illness to somehow relinquish that control and find in its place a measure of peace.

    This, I suppose, is just another facet of the upside-down, inside-out nature of the Kingdom, and perhaps the same could be said for all of us: God’s original plan for us having free will is that it allows the opportunity to find peace in surrendering what we dearly wish to hold.

    May I be found thus surrendered when He calls my name,

    ~ Keith

    Comment by Keith Seckel — November 22, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

  2. […] It’s a short post, but I think she makes some good points. You can check out the whole thing here, but here’s a short quote: When we talk about assisted suicide or euthanasia, I believe we […]

    Pingback by Christians & Assisted Suicide « Amphibologia — December 5, 2008 @ 11:27 pm

  3. A small comment I’ll make in regards to the ethical approach ; as well as a truthful stance on its practice. Although not being a nurse, but a woman formerly married to a cancer treating specialist. If we are honest…. when it comes closely to a humans death, and the severity of their suffering it is the medical occupations responsibities to give the greatest of comfort to these individuals towards the ending of their lives…..saying that than….one shot of morphine-can greatly deaden the pain-let alone offer a slip-away of a life—quickly. This fact we do not hear of extensively; but , it happens quite often to say the least. In my opinion for the gravely un-humane suffering…this would highly be considered a blessing. Some…suffering so badly—not even having the capabilty to ask for someone to take their lives for them…but, none the less…The suffering subided by the narcotics we offer is already considered a euthenasia process-if we are at all honest.
    A very dear elderly man ( my grandfather) passed on this way…..comfortalbe…and at peace this process put him to sleep in the ER. We live in a fallen world….”circumstances…are in the eyes of each man or woman…” Rahab

    Comment by Rahab — December 6, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

  4. Rahab,
    I think what your describing is part of the “letting die” process. Many people actually die from the effect of the pain management care they receive. To me, it may be semantics but it is not the same as having an intentional lethal injection that kills. I could change my mind about that, because as I said in my post, these are very complex issues. I could not bring myself to vote for assisted suicide. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them.

    Comment by Rose — December 7, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  5. Dear Rose,
    Thank you for responding back to me; but, through the experience of my grandfathers death it was the case of the lethal/over dose of the narcotic morphine that took my Grandfather~ peacefully–this particular drug has more of an affect that people realize. It is “sort of” like a “letting die process arise, but rather not—it calmingly shutsdown the muscles and nerological process, breathing, and alike..I think other doctors would agree with this medical process of keeping comfortable, but to a level if weak enough—death overtakes.
    As for my beliefs on taking the life of others–I do not believe in this pratice; but, again with the use of narcotic drugs, we offer for substanctial medical conditions. This is quite similar to lethally putting someone down. This is my opinion…and what I have experienced, and….
    As for using an example of a pet: My former hybrid timber/wolf named “Lilly” 128 pounds she stood; lovely; I put her down by lethal injection (which was one of the most difficult emotions that I have ever experienced in my life) But, rather witnessing a animal grieve in violent pain, her back crippled from spinal degnerative disorder due to her age (13 yrs almost) , bladder / and other failures, seizures, and hemoriging from her nsoe–I felt God gave us the wisdom to live superior over the animal–therefore, I took her life by Dr. S hand in putting her down, and cremating her–ashes in a marble Vase–lovely she remains; A Memory lingers greatly of her……Isaiah 65:25

    Comment by Rahab — December 7, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

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