Today I received a newsletter from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The lead story described the EFC’s fight against active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Canada. This certainly is an important ethical issue. But what irked me was the assumption behind the article that evangelicals are (and/or ought to be) against active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
To be sure, I understand why a person (evangelical or otherwise) might be against active euthanasia. But the assumption that evangelicalism determines one’s stance on euthanasia is nothing more than a curious accident of history.
After all, evangelicals typically recognize that evangelicalism allows for a variety of positions toward other knotty ethical issues including war and pacifism, environmentalism, the free market, artificial reproductive technologies, gene therapy, and animal rights.
Evangelicals also recognize a diversity of opinions toward various other closely related ethical issues like medical resource allocation, advance directives, and passive euthanasia (i.e. the withdrawal of life sustaining support including medicine, hydration and/or nutrition). If this diversity is recognized in all these areas, why wouldn’t it likewise be recognized with respect to active euthanasia?
There are many things that disturb me about the pro-euthanasia movement. To begin with, I don’t like the “Death with Dignity” nomenclature. At its worst, it presupposes that those who die slow, painful deaths in dependence on others walk an undignified road. Contrary to that assumption, that road seems to me to be one of impressive nobility and fortitude. And at its best, the phrase “Death with Dignity” equates dignity to the right of self-determination. But that seems to me a grossly limited conception of dignity.
I also share the concerns of the anti-euthanasia movement about the slippery slope that one sees in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands (for example, the practice of extending the option for euthanasia to the severely depressed or children with a low quality of life). I also worry about the effect euthanasia would have on the hospice movement and the degree to which it would dilute the profession of medicine (assuming medical doctors are participants in the act of killing). I have many other concerns as well.
But what I don’t have is some sort of biblical proof-text or extra-biblical evidence that predetermines how I, as an evangelical, ought to think about this issue. The fact remains that evangelicals can adopt a variety of perspectives toward the ethical status of active euthanasia.