Most of us hold on tenaciously to life. Many who oppose euthanasia has a long history of acceptance in some circumstances. There was a time in 20th century history when babies born with disfiguring conditions, congenital malformations, and known mental impairments were encouraged to be left alone and untreated with the understanding that they would die. Today, babies born with similar conditions are rushed into neo-natal intensive care units and every effort is made to save those lives!
My concern is who makes the decision to euthanize? My Advance Care Directive clearly states that if my condition leaves me unable to engage in the environment, severe cognitive impairment, recurrent life threatening conditions, and in what has come to be known as a "vegetative state" that medications should be with held as well as tube feedings and IV fluids.
One essential consideration in this debate is who makes the decision for euthanasia and why. One of the most controversial situations regarding euthanasia was that of Terry Shivo. The conflicting elements were overwhelming in sifting through the situation at hand. Physicians determined that Terry was in a "persistent vegetative state" and, although she had occasional eye movements and facial expressions, these were involuntary and did not indicate deep brain function. Terry's former husband shared that she had expressed her wishes to him, should she ever be in a similar situation and that she did not want to be kept alive artificially. On the opposite side of the debate were Terry's parents supported by a number of "right to life" clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Yes, life is present when there is a heartbeat and an exchange of oxygen. Meaningful life with those minimum requirements, is not existent. All of us will die one day. A decision to not continue on with bodily/biological functions and no conscious connection to the environment should be respected by medical and religious professionals.
In the case of Dr. Kevorkian, those whom he assisted presented clear cut evidence of terminal illness. Many of them had pain which was not relieved by any medication or treatment. They had been told that their final days would be miserable and that they would probably suffer a great deal. I certainly would not want to hear that message. Are there options for them? I believe there are; hospice with an emphasis on comfort care and pain control is the most recognized option. The thought of a prolonged existence consisting of nothing more than confinement to bed, medical professionals and others in and out of the home daily, and simply waiting to die, is for some, more than they are prepared to experience. If they believe in God, or a higher power, they make their peace and accept death as a natural part of life. Injection of a lethal drug is not murder, but relief for them.
Interestingly, we are not willing to totally refrain from euthanizing inmates who have been sentenced to death. Most of them fight for a reprieve and few are granted their wish. They are placed in solitary confinement (except for prison staff and last family visits), taken to the "execution chamber" where they are strapped to the gurney, and an IV catheter is inserted into a vein. They know that at any time, the lethal cocktail of drugs will begin to enter their system bring with it, death.
How can we, a civilized people, condone the death by lethal injection of healthy, but dangerous inmates who have engaged in unspeakable crimes, yet, argue that those suffering from terminal disease and other conditions, who have made peace with themselves and their Creator, be condemned for wanting their lives ended in a humane manner and without great suffering?
Please, please, do not pull out the "Thou Shall Not Kill" commandment in this argument. In most cases of euthanasia, a life threatening condition or disease is bound to take the life of the person. The lethal drug only brings death about sooner and in a more peace filled way that if that person were to wait for the full devastation of their body by disease.
I love life and I have difficulty thinking about those I love, dying. On the other hand, I don't want anyone to suffer needlessly. I have been asked by several families to be with them when respirators are to be turned off (and most frequently, I have been asked to be the one to stop the machines). Their loved ones are peaceful and they are embraced by family members and friends. Often prayers are said and tears are shed; not for those left behind but for the one peacefully dying.
When I imagine the scene depicted in the Book of Revelation, of the people standing around the throne of God and dressed in white robes, I see those whose lives have ended naturally (without assistance) as well as those who have sought other means to bring them peace. The Scriptures tells us that these persons at the throne of God are "those who have passed through the great tribulation." There is no mention of how they died: the means, their thoughts or their participation.
Believing that God is as welcoming as this image in the Book of Revelation, I believe that we have an obligation to be open minded and trust in those who make the decisions about life and death.