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RE:QUEST

A space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith

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Issues: Euthanasia

Christian medical professionals give their view on euthanasia

In our guest blog, Dr. Paul Lambert, MA, BM, BCh, MRCP, Specialist Registrar in Diabetes and Endocrinology, and his wife, Mrs. Rebecca Lambert, RGN, DipN, Practice Development Nurse, explain their perspective on euthanasia.

"Euthanasia means many things to different people. In the strictest sense, euthanasia is defined as 'the intentional killing by act or omission of a person whose life is felt not to be worth living. As health professionals (a doctor and nurse) working in the NHS, the issue of euthanasia in its truest sense is not a major day-to-day, practical issue. There are, however, many difficult and controversial areas surrounding life and death in hospitals that come under the umbrella of euthanasia.

"In particular, issues of actively not treating patients in the knowledge that the patient is likely to die without intervention, or the withdrawal of treatments that are prolonging patient's life, when it is clear that there is no longer any real hope of recovery.

"As Christians, we always try to underpin our decision-making on the word of God, as written in the Bible. This tells us that human beings are unique in being made in the image of God and as such our lives have special value. The sixth commandment clearly states that "You shall not murder". The Hebrew word used refers to the intentional killing of an innocent human being. Jesus affirmed the commandments in his Sermon on the Mount.

"There must be a boundary between allowing an inevitable disease process to run its course while allowing the person a dignified death, and the deliberate bringing of a person's life to an end because it is perceived to be no longer worth living. However, it can be difficult to know where that boundary is.

We attempt to illustrate difficulties around euthanasia by sharing these case studies below."

CASE #1

The case of Diane Pretty illustrates the problem of euthanasia in its truest sense. She was a 42-year-old woman in the final stages of Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a severely disabling, incurable, and fatal condition. She wished to commit suicide but was too disabled to do so. She wanted her husband to assist her in dying, but the courts told her that her husband was likely to be prosecuted for murder if they did this.

She took this decision to the Court of Appeal who upheld the original decision. She based her case principally on two types of assertion.

  • If she continued in the course of her MND she would suffer from severe pain and disability and distressing symptoms; undergo inhuman and degrading treatment; and would ultimately be compelled to endure her condition unrelieved.
  • The law that made it illegal to assist someone to commit suicide, was against the European Convention on Human Rights. She has subsequently died from her illness in 2002.

You can watch a short video about this case here.

CASE #2

A second case is of a woman who had suffered severe spinal injuries in a fall and was paralysed from the neck down. The paralysis had also affected the muscles that allow her to breathe, and she required a ventilator to stay alive. The woman argued that her quality of life was so poor that she wished the ventilator to be turned off. The inevitable consequence of this would be her death.

She took the case to court, and the judge remarked how clearly she had thought the issues through. The Court decided that it was within her rights to refuse medical treatment and her ventilator was indeed turned off.

CASE #3

A patient has cancer that has spread to a number of places in their body, and has failed to respond to treatment. The disease is now terminal, and the patient has deteriorated and probably only has a matter of weeks to live. The cancer is causing a lot of pain and requires large doses of strong pain-killing drugs to relieve the pain. The patient's doctor is aware that the drugs may affect the patient's breathing and using such large doses may hasten the patient's death, but there is no other way of relieving the patient’s pain.

This is the 'doctrine of double effect,' when death may occur through giving someone medicine to relieve their pain, but the intention was to help them not kill them.

 

"As Christians, we always try to underpin our decision-making on the word of God, as written in the Bible. This tells us that human beings are unique in being made in the image of God and as such our lives have special value... "There must be a boundary between allowing an inevitable disease process to run its course while allowing the person a dignified death, and the deliberate bringing of a person's life to an end because it is perceived to be 'no longer worth living."