In this blog post I want to highlight the work of a man of integrity and conviction. I also want to start a new series of posts that will highlight the views of other truthspeakers – people who speak truths that go against the grain of what is popularly believed in our society.
My mother died a little over three years ago, after suffering the gradual decline of Alzheimer’s disease over several years, followed by a debilitating stroke which eventually resulted in her being unable to communicate verbally. She passed from this life about a year and a half after her stroke.
In many ways her passing was a relief. Yet, although my mother was unable to speak for the last eighteen months of her life, and needed help for the simplest of bodily functions, I do not believe her final months were wasted time. A couple of weeks after her stroke, Marion and I had the opportunity to pray with her and help her entrust herself to Jesus. We asked her if she wanted us to ask Jesus to take her fears away, and she nodded perceptibly. After we had prayed with her, she seemed to relax and her anxiety level diminished greatly. Not long after this, her ability to speak vanished completely. But because humans are made in the image of God, I knew that even though her body and mind were damaged, her spirit was still fully alive. In this conviction I sang her songs and hymns whenever I visited her during the next eighteen months. Others found other ways to show love to her. These final months provided many opportunities for my mother’s loved ones to care for someone who had been a generous, openhearted benefactor to her children and grandchildren – as well as many others – over many years.
At one point, several months before her stroke, Dad told me that in her frustration and fear, Mom had told him she wanted to die. His response to her was that it was not his place to make the decision to end her life. Although in his latter years my father did not consider himself a Christian, I am grateful that his choices were significantly influenced by Biblical beliefs about life.
Had she been living in her native Netherlands, events might have played out quite differently. In that nation, euthanasia has been legal since 2002, but has been practised with increasing acceptance since the early 1980s, and it is now not uncommon for victims of early-stage dementia to be euthanized.
Notably, wherever euthanasia has been legalized, it becomes more and more common for doctors to make the decision to euthanize the patient without anyone’s consent. This is well documented.
The culture of death is seductive. It sneaks up on us in seemingly innocent guises, clothed in what appears to be compassion. Yet a society that legalizes euthanasia – even in the name of compassion – opens the door to much potential abuse. As a believer in Jesus, I am convinced that every human life has eternal value, and therefore it is morally wrong for doctors to end the lives of their patients. But one does not have to be a Christian to recognize the risks inherent in legalizing euthanasia.
Consider the recent Rasouli case that was judged by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Mr. Rasouli, a mechanical engineer who had come to this country from Iran, had been diagnosed with a non-malignant tumour. After surgery, he suffered brain damage due to bacterial meningitis, and is now in what doctors describe as a vegetative state. His family believes he can still communicate with them, yet the doctors at Sunnybrook contended that further treatment was futile, and wanted to be allowed to withdraw further treatment and move him to palliative care. Although this would not be euthanasia in its narrowest definition, it is a step down that path, as it implies that doctors have the right to decide unilaterally who continues to be worthy of treatment. His wife – who had herself practised medicine in her native Iran – intervened to oppose such a move. With the help of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), she won her case.
The Rasouli family are Muslims. They believe that life is a gift from God. They also believe that there is still hope for the recovery of their husband and father. I do not share their Muslim faith, but I do share their conviction that life is God’s gift. I am grateful that the EPC took the risk of intervening in this case. I have the utmost respect for the EPC and its founder, Alex Schadenberg, who since 1999 has dedicated his considerable energies and talents to opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide.
After my mother’s stroke, the family made a collective decision that she should not be resuscitated if she stopped breathing. This is not the same thing as euthanasia. After her stroke, the hospital did everything possible to treat her, and she was not moved to palliative care until the family gave its consent. Once she had been moved to a nursing home, she continued to receive the best care available while she lived.
Consider the implications of living in a society where doctors have the unilateral right to decide who may live and who may die. In Nazi Germany, many who were not perfect specimens of Aryan supremacy (not only Jews, but the mentally and physically disabled) were put to death. Others were made the subjects of horrific experiments.
You may think such things could never happen in Canada. Although I disagree with that assertion, I will choose not to debate the point, but will turn to another, perhaps more believable scenario. Consider the pressure of finances on our medical system. One can easily imagine that under the pressure of finances, medical practitioners might feel compelled to decide that treatment is no longer justified, effectively pulling the plug on someone’s life. However, neither medical nor financial perspectives provide an adequate basis for assessing the value of a human life.
We live in a society that has increasingly jettisoned its Christian roots and embraced humanistic and naturalistic assumptions. As Paul states in Romans 1:21, this inevitably leads to a truncated perspective on life – a sort of “tunnel vision” which is really a form of blindness. Although Alex Schadenberg does not use theological arguments in his battle to protect the rights and dignity of the dying, his viewpoint is thoroughly theistic. He is a catalyst for opponents of euthanasia around the world, as well as others who defend a Biblical perspective on various social issues. He has also been willing to pay the price of his convictions and has stayed the course for over twelve years. He does not draw attention to the pressures of this work on himself and his family (financial or otherwise), but they must be considerable. The EPC has not yet paid the full legal bill for its intervention in the Rasouli case, and now faces the real prospect of an appeal from a euthanasia lobby that is well-funded and quite popular among the media and the liberal intellectual elite of our society. If this post motivates you to support the work of the EPC, I’m sure Alex would be glad to hear from you.