Euthanasia Essay - Lutheranism and Doctor-Assisted Suicide

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Evangelical Lutheranism and Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

As a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, I feel it important to express in this essay the stand of the church on the question of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Our church has strong biblical and traditional reasons for adamantly opposing these new end-of-life approaches.

Increasingly, people know from their own experience some painful dilemmas involving elderly or handicapped individuals who are in pain. While the achievements of modern medicine have been used to prolong and enhance life for many, they have also helped create an often dreaded context for dying. Costly technology may keep persons alive, but frequently these persons are cut off from meaningful relationships with others and exist with little or no hope for recovery. Many fearfully imagine a situation at the end of their lives where they or their trusted ones will have no say in decisions about their treatment.

In this context, new emphasis is being placed on the rights of patients. Recent federal legislation, for example, requires all health care facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid monies to inform patients of their right to make medical treatment decisions. This includes the right to specify "advance directives," [1] which state what patients wish to be done in case they are no longer able to communicate adequately.

We consider the legislation consistent with the principle that "respect for that person [who is capable of participating] mandates that he or she be recognized as the prime decision-maker" in treatment. [2] The patient is a person in relationship, not an isolated individual. Her or his decisions should take others into account and be made in supportive consultation with family members, close friends, pastor, and health care professionals. Christians face end-of-life decisions in all their ambiguity, knowing we are responsible ultimately to God, whose grace comforts, forgives, and frees us in our dilemmas.

Which decisions about dying are morally acceptable to concernd Christians, and which ones go beyond morally acceptable limits? Which medical practices and public policies allow for more humane treatment for those who are dying and which ones open the door to abuse and the violation of human dignity? Proposals in various states to legalize physician-assisted death [3] point to renewed interest in these old questions. ELCA members, congregations, and institutions need to address these questions through prayer and careful reflection.

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