Colorado may be on the verge of becoming the latest state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.
The state’s voters will decide the fate of a ballot initiative Nov. 8 that would enable doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to people who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and supposedly have less than six months to live. If the measure passes, Colorado would become the sixth state to legalize assisted suicide in some form.
The only poll on the Colorado End-of-life Options Act, known as Proposition 106, showed the initiative with a huge lead at 70-22 percent. The mid-September survey of 540 voters by Colorado Mesa University and Franklin & Marshall College found 46 percent strongly favored the proposal and 15 percent strongly opposed it.
State and national advocates for the sanctity of human life – and therefore opponents of assisted suicide – expressed deep concerns about Prop 106.
“Assisted suicide is not death with dignity,” Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments using a term – “death with dignity” – typically employed by proponents of assisted suicide.
“It is a deeply destructive lie about the worth and value of human life,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “A humane culture laments death, rather than distributing it as a marketable good.”
Mike Routt, president of the Colorado Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, said one of his concerns is the legitimacy the proposal provides to suicide.
“In light of the fact that suicide is a cultural crisis, especially in the ranks of the military, the initiative devalues life and makes suicide a valid option, not just for the terminally ill, but also for others who suffer intense physical or psychological pain,” Routt, who also serves on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, told BP in written comments.
Prop 106 also “defies a theocentric view of life and embraces an anthropocentric one. In essence, the terminally ill patient makes the decision about his/her death, rather than recognizing God as the one who determines the end date of every human being,” Routt said, citing Hebrews 9:27 in the Bible.
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and a resident of Colorado Springs, said the initiative sends the culture a message “that suicide is a solution to the problem.”
“It’s going to be very hard to tell little Johnny that he shouldn’t kill himself to solve his problems when grandma killed herself to solve her problems,” Stonestreet told BP in a telephone interview.
The theological perspective also is important, he said.
“For Christians, I would say that true love is shown to people in the midst of their suffering,” Stonestreet said. “All these things that we say are Christian values have to be shown in the midst of the hardest times of life, not by avoiding the hardest times of life.”
Prop 106 limits assisted suicide to a Colorado resident at least 18 years of age who:
- has a terminal illness and, in the opinion of two physicians, six months or less to live.
- has the ability to make and communicate an informed decision to medical professionals and has been judged by two doctors as mentally capable to make such a decision.
- has voluntarily communicated the decision to take the lethal drugs.
Safeguards, however, are lacking, critics said.
The initiative “says that to qualify for assisted suicide, one must be of sound mind to make that decision,” Routt noted. “Yet, the amendment does not require the person to seek advice from a clinically trained and licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.”
Prop 106 “does not protect vulnerable people from family members and others who may benefit financially from their premature death,” he said.
The initiative’s lead in the polls is no great surprise, Stonestreet and Routt said.
Colorado is a “libertarian state,” Stonestreet told BP. “There is a potential of conservatives unhappy with the presidential nomination staying home and the new voters who skew libertarian coming out, so I think that’s one of the very real challenges we face.”
The state previously has legalized recreational marijuana, Routt said, so he views Prop 106 “as another indicator of the secularization of our state.”
The state legislature, however, has refused to approve assisted-suicide bills in the past.
Compassion and Choices, a national right-to-die organization, and its Action Network have donated nearly $5 million in support of Prop 106. Among other supporters of the initiative are the ACLU of Colorado and NARAL Pro-choice Colorado, an abortion rights organization.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver has contributed more than $1.6 million to the defeat of the proposition. Focus on the Family, Colorado Christian University, the Colson Center and the disability rights group Not Dead Yet Colorado are among other opponents of the proposal.
Colorado Southern Baptist churches “certainly oppose” Prop 106, although there was no organized campaign, Routt said.
Stonestreet said some churches in the state have spoken out against Prop 106, but “far too many” have not.
“There are those moments of life when the church is the only institution poised to point people to what’s right, and death is one of those,” Stonestreet said. “And we’re going to silence ourselves right out of one of the best opportunities for the advancement of the gospel.”
If voters approve Prop 106, Colorado would join California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington as states with legalized assisted suicide. Montana’s Supreme Court indirectly legalized the practice by ruling a doctor can use a patient’s request as a defense if charged with assisting in a suicide.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2015 annual meeting adopted a resolution affirming “the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death.”
The resolution called on churches and Christians “to care for the elderly among us, to show them honor and dignity, and to prayerfully support and counsel those who are providing end-of-life care for the aged, the terminally ill and the chronically infirmed.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)