Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 18, 2006
Duty to Die attitude decries Christian love
A school of 'thought' states if your life burdens others, then you are obliged to die
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
In mid-August, British journalist and broadcaster, Jenni Murray, publicly announced that she has entered a suicide pact with friends. In an article for the online LifeSite News, titled BBC Feminist's Sordid Suicide Pact, reporter Hilary White wrote that Jenni Murray "plans to end her own life when she becomes a burden to those around her."
Not my mother's keeper
I wondered if Murray was sending a not so subtle message to her mother who is ill with Parkinson's disease. Apparently Murray does not want to be "trapped" caring for her mother. According to the article, the BBC said "Jenni is angry that, having fought so hard to become liberated and independent, women are now being trapped into caring for dependent parents" (www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/aug/06081503.html).
We should not take Murray's comments or influence lightly. As a member of the Order of the British Empire and a patron of the Family Planning Association, she is part of the establishment's elite.
Murray was stating a growing view in Britain, and abroad, of the "obligation to die." According to the Aug. 15 BBC television program called Don't Get me Started, where Murray stated her odious opinion, "Most leading thinkers in the bioethics field endorse euthanasia and assisted suicide and often argue that elderly and ill patients have the obligation to end their lives to relieve pressure on families and the health care system."
Leading British medical ethics expert and member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Mary Warnock, said in a 2004 interview with the London Sunday Times: "In other contexts, sacrificing oneself for one's family would be considered good. I don't see what is so horrible about the motive of not wanting to be an increasing nuisance. I am not ashamed to say some lives are more worth living than others."
This kind of thinking is not restricted to Great Britain. I encountered it in Edmonton when I was a member of the ethics committee for the University of Alberta Hospital from 1993-2004. One prominent doctor on the committee told me she considered it a form of child abuse for parents of sick, mentally disabled children to agree to life sustaining treatments.
Cancel the right to life
Another doctor thought a Do Not Resuscitate order should be put on the chart of a quadriplegic man - despite his emphatic and expressed desire for all life sustaining treatments. He wanted to live. How very selfish of him.
University of East Tennessee philosophy professor John Hardwig is an outspoken proponent of the "duty to die." He presented this thesis in a 1990 essay in The Hastings Report, one of the world's leading bioethics journals.
In his essay entitled, What about the Family? Hardwig wrote, "It is sometimes the moral thing to do for a physician to sacrifice the interests of her patient to those of non-patients - specifically to those of the other members of the family."
He gave the example such as a man who is unable to get on with his own life while caring for his wife who has multiple sclerosis. He developed his theory further in a 1997 cover story for the same publication under the title Is There a Duty to Die?
He concluded that the duty to die comes into play when "continuing to live will impose significant burdens - emotional burdens, extensive caregiving, destruction of life plans, and yes, financial hardship - on your family and loved ones. This is the fundamental insight underlying a duty to die."
This is the spirit of the utilitarian age in which we live. Do I impose unacceptable burdens on my family by continuing to live with advanced multiple sclerosis?
Do I have a duty to die?
Against this ruthless backdrop of futility stands a shining opportunity to show true Christian love. Out of an age that would exclude weak and unwanted humanity comes a glorious opportunity for Christian witness, through example, for the sanctity, dignity and worth of every human life.
Followers of Christ must guard against seductive and clever arguments to exclude or kill any members of the human community.
Twentieth century Christian apologist Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) reminded us that "Jesus healed the sick, raised Lazarus from the dead, gave back sanity to the deranged, but never did he practise, or include, killing as part of the mercy that occupied his heart."
Excluding or killing the disabled, sick, aged or hopelessly deranged or the unwanted is the antipathy of Christian love.
From a Christian perspective, euthanasia and assisted suicide are indefensible.
People with serious disabilities or terminal conditions need to know there are life affirming places in their communities to go that are safe for the final stages of living, with people committed to relief of physical, emotional and spiritual pain, not hastening their deaths.
Mother Teresa House
One such place is Mother Teresa House for the Terminally Ill, in Lansing Mich. Its mission is to "provide a home and care for terminally ill people who live alone or do not have the care they need in the last days of life."
Its priority is those in greatest need. This often means the homeless - the very people apt to be alienated from their families and communities.
This Catholic ministry, inspired by Mother Teresa, cherishes every person as a child of God. Mother Teresa House contacted me recently to ask if I would deliver the keynote address at their first annual fundraising banquet.
Of course I will. What an honour to be associated with something so close to the heart of Jesus.
Every community needs a Mother Teresa House - not only to give care and Christian hope to the dying - but to also set an example for the living of how we should behave toward our weakest people.
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