Oppose euthanasia; forcefully articulate views with love
April 19, 2005
It would be nearly beyond belief that anyone in America hasn’t heard about Terri Schiavo by now. Even before Ms. Schiavo’s death, her tragic situation served as a rallying cry for both those for and against euthanasia. Michael Schiavo’s lawyer claimed Terri was resting peacefully as she approached death. Her parents’ priest claimed she was in obvious distress as her condition deteriorated. The one thing everyone can agree on is that passions ran hot on both sides. When inflammatory rhetoric replaces honest conversation any hope for constructive dialogue stops. We should not water down what we believe just to get along. However, those of us who have strong opinions must not allow our fervor to make us become obnoxious or belligerent.
At least now it’s over, or is it? It is for Terri Schiavo. Medical tests promise to reveal how severe her mental handicap was. However, should we discover that she was not as “brain damaged” as thought, it will be too late to do anything.
Those who see euthanasia as a slippery slope fear that this tragedy is another step toward forced euthanasia. Perhaps that sounds extremist, but if history is truly a teacher, it is not.
Consider what has happened in the Netherlands. In the mid-seventies physicians were given permission to help people end their lives if the following strict guidelines were met. The patient had to: 1) be terminally ill, 2) be mentally competent and 3) express multiple times that he or she did not want to live.
On the surface the Dutch guidelines sound reasonable. The government’s study of euthanasia in 1991 revealed that in the previous year there had been 2,300 cases where doctors were asked to help patients die. In an additional 400 cases physicians were asked to provide pills or another means of suicide assistance. However, the government’s study also revealed that 1,040 people were helped die who had not asked for assistance.
A study by the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force was far more critical. Spokesperson Rita Marker reported that in the previous year 8,100 deaths not reported as euthanasia, were the result of deliberate overdoses and that 4,941 of these were given without the patient being involved in the decision. Even more disturbing was the fact that in 45 percent of these cases, no family member was even consulted, according to a US News & World Report story published April 25, 1994.
What was the result of these studies? Instead of curbing euthanasia the Dutch expanded it in 1994. It seems obvious that euthanasia can indeed be a slippery slope.
However, those who, like me, see enormous danger in what happened to Terri Schiavo, sometimes fail to acknowledge that with today’s medical technology it’s possible to keep a person “somewhat alive” almost indefinitely. We must accept the fact that the issues we face now are difficult ones, which require us to listen as well as express our own opinions.
This fact was illustrated quite dramatically by something I saw on the NBC Nightly News Easter Sunday. I cringed when I heard a protester outside Terri Schiavo’s hospice scream, “Jesus Christ hates you,” at a police officer. Those of us who are Christians must be willing to forcefully articulate our views, but we must do it in love or we represent God so poorly that we give up the right to be heard when we speak for Him. (Tim Richards is pastor, First Baptist Church, Oakville and a contributing writer to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)