When California lawmakers passed an assisted suicide bill, a San Diego-area pastor says, they exceeded their authority by attempting to legislate in a realm governed by God.
“It saddens me,” said Rolland Slade, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif., “that in the state where I live and have grown up, the legislature has stepped outside of their authority and in essence said, ‘We’ll make decisions now. We’ll enable people to make decisions in terms of life,’ when that’s God’s decision. He numbers our days.”
Approved by the state Senate Sept. 11 and the state Assembly Sept. 9, the End of Life Option Act would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, according to the Los Angeles Times. The measure heads for approval or veto to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who has “expressed concern” about it but not articulated his position, the Times reported.
The California bill is modeled after Oregon’s so-called “death with dignity” law, but with several changes. California’s law would expire after 10 years if not reapproved by the legislature and would require doctors to consult in private with patients desiring to die in an effort to prevent coercion by friends and family members, The New York Times reported.
State senators expressed divergent views during debate, with Democrat Mark Leno saying the bill promoted “individual liberty” and “freedom of choice” and Republican Ted Gaines warning against unintentionally pushing “the old or the weak out of this world,” The New York Times reported.
Enacting the bill as law would make California the fifth state to authorize medical aid in dying along with Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont, CNN reported.
A 2015 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on “the sanctity of human life” noted “legislation or court rulings have effectively legalized physician-assisted suicide in several states and additional states are considering similar action.” The resolution “affirm[ed] the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death” and urged Southern Baptists to “care for and protect” the “vulnerable” and “aged.”
By adopting the resolution, messengers were stating their belief that “God is the author of life,” Slade, a member of the 2015 Resolutions Committee, told Baptist Press. “We recognize that, honor that, and that is where we stand as a denomination. So any attempt to take life [unjustly] – abortion or assisted suicide or because someone is elderly – is against God.”
C. Ben Mitchell, provost and Graves professor of moral philosophy at Union University, said “the legalization of assisted suicide is especially unethical in an age of excellent pain management and compassionate palliative care. The choice is not between needless suffering and suicide but between autonomy run amok and moral medicine. Physicians must not be complicit in killing.”
Mitchell, co-author of Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families, called assisted suicide “a form of medical abandonment.”
“Physical pain can be controlled,” Mitchell said in written comments. “Other types of suffering, however, are caused by the emotional, psychological and even spiritual aspects of the human condition. Patients often report feeling fragmented, unraveled or violated by their experience of suffering. It is very important to know that once it is properly diagnosed, suffering is treatable. We must not treat suffering by killing the sufferer.”
California physicians’ participation in assisted suicide would “harm the practice of medicine” and likely give rise to “another fear” that would “burden the dying,” Mitchell said. He cited British surgeon and House of Lords member Ian McColl as saying, “Many elderly people in the Netherlands [where assisted suicide is legal] are so fearful of euthanasia that they carry cards around with them saying that they do not want it.”
Mitchell concluded, “Once trust is lost in physicians as healers, it will be nearly impossible to restore it. Once a culture of physician-assisted suicide becomes acceptable, a culture of active euthanasia will not be far behind. Witness Belgium, where since 2014, the law permits active euthanasia of children at any age.”
In related news, the British House of Commons voted 330-118 against an assisted suicide bill Sept. 11, according to The Financial Times. During debate, several members of parliament said they had received more letters and emails about assisted suicide than any other issue in years, The Financial Times reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)