Assisted Suicide: A Christian Choice and a New Freedom

It's time for Christianity to grapple with the ethical issues that face us at the end of life.

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I am one Christian who wants to say not just one 'yes' to these questions, but Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! I want to do it not in the guilt of yesterday's value system that proclaimed that only God could properly make these decisions. I want to do it, rather, as a modern Christian, asserting that human skill has brought about a new maturity in which we are both called to and equipped for the awesome task of being co-creators with God of the gift of life. As such we must also be responsible with God for guaranteeing the goodness of our deaths.

I am not put off by the slippery slope arguments that are so often used by religious forces and that resort to fearmongering when they cannot embrace the new realities. I do not believe that this stance will lead to state-ordered executions of the elderly, or to health maintenance organizations curtailing medical payments until a quick death is achieved. I do not believe that greedy potential heirs will use this power to hasten the receipt of their inheritances. These are, in my mind, nothing but the smokescreens of negativity, designed to play on the fear present when childlike dependency is threatened and when mature human decisions are mandated.

A world that is bright enough to create these opportunities is surely bright enough to control those who might misuse them. All of these abuses could be eliminated by investing this life-and-death decision solely with the affected individual. Advance directives, signed when that person is in good health, should be honored. The decision-making power should reside with the individual, who alone is to be granted the legal right to determine how and when his or her life is to come to an end. That is how we will surround death with the dignity that this ancient friend deserves. I regard this choice as a right to be enshrined alongside "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" at the center of our value system, a basic human freedom that we must claim.

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Above all, I affirm that the choice of death with dignity, whether by my own hand or with the assistance of my physician, is a moral and a more godly choice than passively enduring a life pointlessly devoid of hope or meaning. I believe this option is rooted in the Christian conviction that life is sacred. It is thus not life denying, but life affirming. It is because we honor life that we want to end it with our faculties still intact, our minds still competent, and our dignity still respected. Assisted suicide, as a conscious choice made amid the extremity of sickness, is the way that I, as a Christian, can pay homage to the Christ who stands at the center of that faith, whose purpose, says the Fourth Gospel, was to bring life and to bring it abundantly.

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