Mormons and Euthanasia

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s euthanasia law today. Oregon’s law allows terminally ill patients, defined as patients whom at least two doctors agree have six months or less to live and are of sound mind, to choose when to end their lives.

I have mixed feelings about euthanasia. I worked in a nursing home/rehab center in high school and college, and regularly dealt with death and dying as part of my job. There were many people with whom I interacted on a daily basis who suffered horribly for years, and whom I (and traditional medicine) was powerless to help. I watched family members in emotional agony over the inevitable deterioration of their loved ones. After a few months, when the condition of their loved ones became too much to bear, family members eventually stopped visiting, and their mother and father died alone. When we would prepare the body of one of our beloved residents to be taken away, I often thought how much “happier” it would be if their family and loved ones had been able to be at their bedside to say goodbye to them.

But, on the other hand, there is something about the deliberate act of ending a life — no matter how miserable – that gives me pause. Perhaps the Oregon law provides sufficient safeguards to allow people to die with dignity while preserving the sanctity of life, but I’m not sure.

The Mormon Church defines euthanasia as “deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease.” And clarifies that “[e]nding a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God.”

For those who are interested in the Church’s position on euthanasia, this is a link to a press release explaining it.

Comments

  1. When my grandma was old, she had been feeling sick and went to the doctor. After listening to her describe her pains he told her that she probably had lung cancer (she had smoked for nearly her whole life). She then said “thank you” and went home. After a month or so she came to stay with us, and died at our home a few months later. She never went to the hospital, and never even had tests done to confirm that it was cancer. I had never realized that one could choose to not go to the hospital in a situation like that.
    Many people would consider what she did, and what we as her family faciliated, to be euthanasia. According to the church’s definition, and official position it wasn’t.
    If I could choose how I die, then that is what I would choose.

  2. In an age were we can preserve the biological mechanism beyond the scope of life, there are new choices that have never been had. I agree with the church’s postion. There can be no coup de gras. That said, the big issue for me is when one is justified in not treating.

    If you are tired of chemo and don’t want to go through another round, I could see not doing it. Is this different? I tend to think so, but I am not sure why.

  3. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    as someone who’s gone through chemo twice going on three times I am torn in this “debate”. from a personal side I know that miracles happen, I should be dead now and I’m not, and I obviously would be if I decided to not do chemo or commit suicide when it got really bad. but from the other side I know the hell that it is to go through “slowly dying”, and I have a hard time thinking of it as a sin to not want to whither away (in the case of six months to live people) or people who feel like they just can’t do treatment for whatever they have anymore (though I would recommend getting it in the end). what an annoying problem.

  4. “coup de gras” Yes I am a dork. that should be coup de grace. I really do speak french.

  5. I liked the fatness of “coup de gras.”

    Maybe you were thinking of that flop that Ford Motor Company just couldn’t sell, the Coupe de
    Gras.

  6. Pate de foie gras?

  7. Elisabeth says:

    Well (lol), I can tell we’re not in the mood for a serious discussion of the implications of Gonzales v. Oregon, so let me take the opportunity to say that euthanizing ducks would be much better than making foie gras out of them.

    Check this out.

  8. Eric Russell says:

    Steve!? Funny seeing you here. I guess Napoleon finally keeled over, eh? Well, congratulations.

  9. Eric,

    Shhhhhhh

  10. E.,

    So do we get to make foie gras out of them after they’ve been euthanized? ;)

    On a quasi-related note, I can see why foie gras raises issues. But animal-rights sites like that one can be so clueless, in their own cute way. The site says “don’t eat foie gras — and here, have this mushroom-and-walnut pate instead.” Which just isn’t going to happen.

    What they ought to be saying — if they were interested in converting the foie gras crowd, rather than preaching to the choir — is “don’t eat foie gras, and by the way, you can roughly replicate it if you use regular old chicken-liver with onions and some duck fat.” _That_ might actually convince someone.

    But no — the approach is always “put down your veal and pick up some tofu.” And that’s just not particularly convincing, however you slice it. It’s too bad that many (most?) animal-rights advocates haven’t caught on to the fact that “put down your veal and have a steak instead” might actually convince people.

  11. Elisabeth says:

    Kaimi –

    Those are really great ideas! Seriously. If the law professor thing doesn’t work out, you’d be perfect for this job.

  12. I wonder about the implications of legal euthanasia for terminally ill people who don’t want to commit suicide. I’m afraid that if euthanasia is legal and widespread many of them might feel pressured to kill themselves. Also, the kind of rhetoric that euthanasia advocates are using, calling euthanasia “death with dignity,” has to be harmful to ill people who are facing death. These people are already struggling with unimaginable physical and emotional pain, and on top of that they’re told that the way they’re choosing to deal with it is not “dignified.” Kinda makes me mad.

  13. Fratello Giovanni says:

    Chemotherapy and other experimental treatments, that enable someone with what everyone knows is terminal cancer, to basically live that much longer, generates much more physical and emotional pain for everyone involved than a true death with dignity would. (It generates lots of false hope more than anything else.)

    My parents justify having put my sister through that (during which time she had her third, fourth, and fifth birthdays) by saying that her younger brother, born the day after she was diagnosed, wouldn’t remember her otherwise. Well, he doesn’t remember her alive.

  14. The topic puts me in mind of Edward Abbey’s account in Desert Solitaire of his cattle-driving days with one Roy Scobie (see the chapter “Cowboys and Indians”).

    Roy is a leather-hided, long-connected, sober-sided old man with gray hair, red nose and yellow teeth; he is kind, gentle, well-meaning, but worries too much, takes things too seriously. For instance, he’s afraid of having a heart attack, falling off the horse, dying there on the sand, under the sun, among the flies and weeds and indifferent cattle. I’m not inferring this – he told me so.

    What could I say? I was still young myself, or thought I was, enjoying good health, not yet quite to the beginning of the middle of the journey. I listened gravely as he spoke of death, nodding in an agreement I did not feel. His long yellow fingers, holding a cigarette, trembled.

    Roy is no Mormon and not much of a Christian, and does not honestly believe in an afterlife. Yet the manner of death he fears does not sound bad to me; to me it seems like a decent, clean way of taking off, surely better than the slow rot in a hospital oxygen tent with rubber tubes stuck up your nose, ****, **** (ed. good ole Ed Abbey …), with blood transfusions and intravenous feeding, bedsores and bedpans and bad-tempered nurses’ aides – the whole nasty routine to which most dying men, in our time are condemned.

    But how could I tell him so? What did I know of it? To me death was little more than a fascinating abstraction, the conclusion to a syllogism or the denouement of a stage drama. What do old men who don’t believe in Heaven think about? I used to wonder. Now we know: they think about their blood pressure, their bladders, their aortas, their lower intestines, ice on the doorstep, too much sun at noon.

    I once heard of a book that spoke of a native American tribe in the late 1800s where it was the practice of the “old ones” to simply take a walk one day and never return to the camp. They seemed to know when their time had come. An acquaintance of mine responded to this account a bit wistfully and even enviously.

    Well, if thirty years from now, she disappears without a word to her family, perhaps I’ll know what happened.

    I don’t know what’s right here. But I sympathize with Abbey. It’s really twisted that our society can’t just let people die without insisting that every last, mother’s son and daughter of them be slowly tortured to death.

  15. Clarification: To be precise, Oregon’s law isn’t a euthanasia law, it’s an assisted-suicide law. Oregon’s law is fairly narrow in terms of what it allows and under what circumstances, narrower than what your headline might suggest. (OK, I’m a legal dweeb, although not a lawyer.)

  16. in 2004 I had the privilege of taking care of my grandfather for the last week of his life, with the help of wonderful Hospice nurses. He opted to discontinue medical treatment and let nature take its course, which was difficult to bear, as we wanted him to live. I don’t know how I would have reacted to a request to help him end his life through ‘artificial’ means. It was hard enough watching him choose it naturally.

    Allowing terminally ill patients to die when and how they choose was one of the debate topics my senior year of high school. It was often intense and emotional, even for a bunch of 16 year olds who had no concept of a slow and painful death.

  17. My husband and I have agreed that this decsion is one we make for ourselves. I would never have chemo, I might have surgery or radiation. I would never do anything just to buy time.

    I am firmly in favor of what they call snowing, when a patient is in the last days, and they are in terrible pain, just up the morphine.

    But I also think that many people would die more dignified deaths if so many things were not done to keep them alive for a few more months. Everyone I’ve seen who has opted out of chemo, etc., has died a dignifed death.

    SOS, I do not mean to offend you. My son had Hodgkins and he made the right choice to have chemo. In his case, recovery was virtually assured. That is different.

    Utah is very good, or I should say caregivers in Utah, are very good at palliative care. Other states, not so much. No one needs to die in agony.

    If a person is going to die anyway, I vote for helping them die with dignity. If I ever get diagnosed with cancer, unless it’s early and like my son, recovery is assured, I’m going to say, “bring on the morphine pump.”

    This is discombobbled, it’s early, and I’m a wreck from the stress of working after so many years. Take what you like and leave the rest.

  18. Last Lemming says:

    I am firmly in favor of what they call snowing

    I agree, in that this is a far superior alternative to assisted suicide. But even this alternative is indirectly discouraged in the church. Consider the story of Joseph Smith refusing (alcoholic) anesthesia during his leg operation. I noticed also that in the latest Kimball bio, the author states that President Kimball frequently refused to take pain medication because he considered suffering to be noble (or something like that). With stories like that circulating, I would feel like a wimp agreeing to be “snowed.” I’d probably do it anyway, but feel less dignified than I otherwise might.

  19. Elisabeth says:

    Interesting thoughts, Tom. I think I’d probably choose to end my life if I was certain to die of a terminal illness, so I think others should be allowed to choose this for themselves as well. But you’re right, maybe people would feel obligated to end their lives as to not be a burden on their families.

  20. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    annegb. was your son treated by doctor Nibley? he’s my uncle. and I’ve got hodgkins too, small world. anyway, no offense taken.

  21. Having dealt way too much already with cancer and chemo in my immediate family, I’m very grateful for medical science that made it so a very sick 2-year-old could survive. He has his whole life ahead of him.

    If the dreaded cancer comes my way and all chemo will do is buy some time, I think I’d rather spend my final days with family close by and move on rather than be half-dead for a long time.

    Here’s hoping that I don’t have to make that decision at all, but if I do I’d rather not be remembered for lingering in a hospital bed for months until the family has to decide to let me go. I’d rather plan a big sendoff and then make the journey.

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