“Above all, I must not play God.”
These words come directly from the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, which most physicians around the world are required to take prior to entering the medical profession. Yet, earlier this week, California became the fifth state to do exactly that—to legally allow its physicians to “play God”—by prescribing lethal medications to terminally ill patients who have less than six months to live. Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on the End of Life Option Act is being hailed as a major victory in the push to allow legalized assisted suicide across the country.
Proponents of this law are moving heaven and earth to position the “Death with Dignity” (their words) movement as one defined by compassion, respect, and individual rights. After all, shouldn’t terminally ill patients be permitted to control the manner and time of their death? Don’t they, or at least shouldn’t they, have that right?
Stories like twenty-six-year-old cancer patient Brittany Maynard, who moved from California to Oregon last year for the purpose of legally taking her own life (because physician-assisted suicide was already legal in Oregon), are truly heartbreaking. They prey upon our sympathies. While we don’t deny the difficulty that she and others like her have faced, it does not constitute a right to interfere with God’s sole authority to give life and to take it away. Then there is the inconvenient truth that assisted suicide laws actually show less compassion for the poor and elderly than for others. The reality under Oregon’s assisted suicide law has been that the poor and elderly, who more often have government health care, sometimes find they don’t really have a choice because their insurance will pay for suicide drugs but not for treatment.
The moral, professional, and practical problems with physician-assisted suicide are many, but the most fundamental problem lies in the fact that our lives are not ours to do with as we please. America’s founders embedded in the Declaration of Independence their core belief that human beings hold three unalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—all bestowed by their Creator. An unalienable right is one that exists whether or not earthly governments recognize it. Furthermore, unalienable rights are ones that cannot be rightfully taken away or surrendered. In other words, the right to life guaranteed by the Declaration is not ours to give away. One of the most important roles of government is to make sure that these unalienable rights are protected. When a state legalizes assisted suicide, it permits individuals to disregard their God-given right to life and, in doing so, legalizes the surrender of this unalienable right.
At the NCLL, we believe that both physician-assisted suicide (where the patient takes his own life by ingesting doctor-prescribed lethal medications) and active euthanasia (where the practitioner, for example, injects the patient with lethal doses of medication) are inherently wrong. However, we do not believe it is wrong for a patient to choose to discontinue medical procedures that are extraordinary or disproportionate to the expected outcome.
At the National Center for Life and Liberty, we are fighting to preserve and protect life at all stages. Why? Because God, as Creator and giver and sustainer of life, has the sole right to determine when life ends. That is not our choice to make. The Bible clearly states it, and America’s Declaration of Independence reaffirms that eternal reality.