Physician-assisted suicide in America’s capital city has gained first approval, and Southern Baptist leaders locally and nationally are warning about the consequences.
The Council of the District of Columbia voted 11-2 Nov. 1 for legislation that would empower doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to people who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and supposedly have less than six months to live. The council must approve the bill a second time, possibly as soon as Nov. 15. It is expected Mayor Muriel Bowser will sign it before Congress has a 30-day period for review.
The D.C. Council’s action occurred only a week before Colorado voters will decide a similar proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot. Five states already have legalized assisted suicide: California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore described the council’s vote as “a tragic decision.”
“Physician-assisted suicide makes death into a marketable commodity that exploits the most vulnerable in our society,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Protecting human dignity means resisting a culture of death wherever it is found.
“I hope this decision is reversed quickly so that our nation’s capital sends a clear message of the value of all human life,” he said in written comments for Baptist Press (BP).
Mark Dever, a Southern Baptist pastor in D.C., warned the council’s effort to end suffering will only produce more suffering.
“When the already terminally ill are faced with a doctor offering to end their lives, thereby ‘ending’ their family’s suffering, and saving them countless hours and dollars, a new kind of suffering is introduced,” said Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. “The council may have acted with the best of intentions, but this will spawn a thousand private nightmares that we will never hear of, and will rob us of stewardships of the weak and vulnerable that God has given to us.
“It is not good when societies learn to dispose of anyone.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called it “not only a sad day for the District of Columbia and its citizens. This is a very sad day for all of us.”
“What is being argued now in the name of compassion is that human dignity has to be redefined so that we get to declare the acceptable parameters of our own deaths or the deaths of our loved ones,” Mohler said, according to a transcript of his Nov. 2 podcast, The Briefing.
Assisted suicide directly violates the Bible’s sixth commandment to not murder, Dever said.
“Such killing is sin,” Dever told BP in written comments. “Christians should know this. Life is not honored by ending it. This decision devalues the weakest among us.”
Messengers to the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention 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.”
Advocates for assisted suicide such as Compassion & Choices and the Death With Dignity National Center applauded their latest win in a national campaign.
“We could not be more excited, proud, and grateful,” Death With Dignity said on its website of the D.C. Council vote.
The Death With Dignity Act, as the D.C. measure is known, requires a D.C. resident who is a terminally ill patient and at least 18 years old to make two oral requests, as well as one written request, of a doctor for a lethal prescription. The written request must have two witnesses who affirm the patient is acting voluntarily. Two physicians must agree with granting the prescription. The patient must self-administer the prescription.
Under the bill, a doctor is not required to refer a patient seeking assisted suicide to a counselor, although he may do so if he questions whether a patient is suffering depression or a disorder.
Before its vote on the bill, the council approved an amendment that said a person’s death certificate will list the underlying condition, not assisted suicide, as the cause of death.
While advocates contend the bill provides proper safeguards, foes disagree.
The Death With Dignity Act “is discriminatory because it would disproportionately target poor and vulnerable persons including senior citizens and those with disabilities and mental health challenges, often denying them appropriate health care, legal safeguards and choices on how they live their lives,” said No DC Suicide, a local group working to defeat the legislation.
Some Americans with terminal illnesses have reported Medicaid and/or their insurance companies have informed them they will pay for a lethal prescription but not drugs to treat their afflictions.
D.C. is the first jurisdiction with a heavily African-American population to approve assisted suicide, The Washington Post reported. Black D.C. residents have provided much of the opposition to the proposal.
In addition to religious adherents and organizations, others opposing assisted suicide include health-care associations – such as the American Medical Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization – and disability rights organizations, including Not Dead Yet.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)