Hollywood has a long history of conditioning people to ideas. In the 1950s, divorce was frowned upon in society at large, but it was commonly depicted on screen and practiced by movie stars until the stigma of divorce was removed. Then it was sex outside of marriage, then homosexuality, then sexual bondage and abuse. Now assisted suicide is the avante garde idea to promote. Me Before You has a sinister agenda wrapped in a lively love story. It aims to draw the viewer in emotionally while desensitizing them to the importance of the moral and ethical boundaries protecting human life. The greatest danger of this sympathetic portrayal of assisted suicide is the seeds that it plants in people’s minds; seeds that will bear fruit as soon as life gets tough.
When It Happens to You
Imagine yourself dying of terminal cancer. You are stretched out in a hospital bed with several tubes hooked up to you. You are in a semi-conscious state from all the morphine that the doctors constantly keep injecting in your body to try to control the pain–but it isn’t enough. You are in constant, unspeakable pain. You live in a sterile, foreign world of white walls and metallic sounds and bustling people wearing white or light blue, face masks, and gloves. The television set above you keeps up its never-ending, monotonous murmur, and everything whirls together into a confusing hallucination. And the pain, the relentless, never-ending, unbearable pain. Your doctor tells you that you have several weeks, maybe months of this constant agony left. You have no hope of recovery–it will only get worse. You wish you could die and end this torture. You were always strongly against assisted suicide, but now, it seems awfully attractive. But is it right? Is voluntary euthanasia ethical? Is it biblical? In such an emotionally charged situation it is hard to be objective. It is very important that you think through these issues seriously in advance. If you do not, the only mental reference point you will have in a time of crisis is the suggestion of assisted suicide that the media surreptitiously planted years before.
So let’s take a moment and put the concept of assisted suicide under serious moral and ethical scrutiny. When we consider the issue objectively, not emotionally, we uncover serious problems: threats to the valuation of individual life and the public good.
The Hippocratic Oath
For one thing, the whole idea of physician assisted suicide is totally antithetical to the purpose of the medical profession. As one author put it, “Medicine is an inherently ethical activity in which technique and conduct are both ordered in relation to an overarching good, the naturally given end of health” (Foley 20). The physician is concerned with and devoted to maintaining health and preserving life. This has always been the case. The traditional oath of Hippocrates has been used for centuries as a creed for medical men. It says in part, “The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients according to my ability and judgment, and not for their hurt or for any wrong. I will give no deadly drug to any though it be asked of me, nor will I counsel such . . .” (Guthrie 94B—95). Any kind of euthanasia or assisted suicide contradicts the purpose of medicine. Doctors must not kill because it is ethically antithetical to their profession.
The Slippery Slope
Further, the practice of euthanasia has many bad consequences. Even many people who see no ethical or moral problem with euthanasia oppose it because of the bad consequences that will occur (Orr 65). In countries that have legalized euthanasia, many serious errors and abuses have come to the surface. Take for instance the country of Holland, which has practiced voluntary euthanasia for over twenty years. According to a survey by the Dutch government, of the roughly four thousand recorded cases of euthanasia performed in 1990, over a quarter were involuntary euthanized without the patient’s knowledge or consent (Foley 27). Even if the euthanasia is voluntary, doctors will inevitably give a dark prognosis or otherwise pressure people they wish to euthanize. In addition to actual abuses, many errors are also liable to occur, given the uncertainties inherent in medicine. All of these possible consequences culminate in a breakdown in the relationship of trust between patient and doctor.
The Authority of the Life-Giver
For the Christian, the most serious ethical concern about assisted suicide is biblically based. Christians believe that God is the giver of life, and therefore only God has the authority to end that life. In the case of extreme criminal acts, He has given that authority to the civil government as His representative on earth (Romans 13:4). However, He has given to no individual person the right or authority to take another’s life or his own life. Further, suffering, though a result of sin’s curse on this fallen world, often serves a purpose in God’s plan for our lives. God can use suffering to develop us to be more useful to Him. He can use it to correct us when we turn from Him. Most importantly, God can use suffering for His glory. When we are dying of terminal cancer on a hospital bed, our acceptance of God’s will and spirit of patience in those circumstances can be a wonderful testimony to God’s grace in our lives. If God receives glory, our suffering, instead of becoming a source of bitterness, can be a source of service to Him.
When all of these factors are considered, assisted suicide cannot be the right choice. Ethically, it is antithetical to the nature of medicine. Practically, it produces serious abuses, errors, and distrust. Biblically, it supplants God’s authority and robs Him of glory. These are serious issues that must be faced now–before a difficult situation arises. You must decide now that assisted suicide will never be an option.
Foley, Kathleen and Herbert Hendin, eds. The Case Against Assisted Suicide. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 2002.
Guthrie, Douglas. “Medicine And Surgery, History Of.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
Orr, Robert, David Biebel, and David Schiedermayer. More Life and Death Decisions. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1997.
Zucker, Marjorie B., ed. The Right to Die Debate. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.