The Politics Of Death: Thirty-Nine Years And Counting
An examination of the “medicalization of killing” that has taken place in American culture.


Pandora's Box: The Demons Unleashed

The Sancity-Of-Life Ethic

Brain-Death Criteria: An Inexact Art

A Disposable Society

The Sanctity-Of-Life Ethic

by: Allan Turner

In December 1979, an on-duty police officer was shot three times. Complications from these injuries resulted in aspiration (inhalation of the contents of his stomach into his lungs) and cardiac arrest. The result was severe brain damage. For several months the officer did not respond to stimuli. The attending physician gave the family no chance of his ever regaining consciousness. With the family's consent, the respirator was turned off. To the surprise of everyone, the officer continued to breathe on his own. In October 1981, a physician making rounds in the nursing home in which the officer had been placed noticed that when he routinely ordered, "Breathe deeply," the officer did! He also noticed the policeman could open and shut his eyes. Intensive rehabilitation was begun and by 1985 the officer had recovered 95% of his preinjury intellectual ability, although he had not yet recovered the use of his arms and legs. According to the policeman's physician, his recovery was "the biggest surprise I've had as a neurologist...virtually everything in the medical literature suggests patients in a vegetative state three to six months...have an essentially hopeless prognosis" (Medical World News, May 24, 1982, pages 8,13).

On March 29, 1986, Jacqueline Cole, the middle-aged wife of a Baltimore Presbyterian minister, suffered a massive stroke. Her daughter, who was with her when it happened, said, "She raised her arm at one point and said, 'Christine, I am having a stroke, I can use my arm but can't feel it.' Then she said, 'I don't want to live as someone other than who [I] was"' (Euthanasia: Spiritual, Medical and Legal Issues in Terminal Health Care, pages 78,79). Following this, she collapsed and went into a coma in which she survived on a respirator and tube feeding. Forty-one days later, her husband asked a judge to remove the respirator. He said, "It should be done because I believe she would not wish to continue to exist in this present state...I do not believe she would wish to live anything other than a full, rich, qualitative style of life such as she enjoyed" (Ibid.). Mrs. Cole's physician described her condition as "virtually hopeless" with a one in a hundred thousand chance of any significant neurologic recovery. The judge, John C. Bymes, refused to have Mrs. Cole taken off the respirator saying "too brief a time has elapsed." Six days later a friend of Mrs. Cole came into the room where she was to see her for the last time. He called out her name and she opened her eyes. Within six months she had almost completely recovered, except for the use of her legs and some short-term memory loss. She even remembered moments during her coma. I later saw this woman on a television program where she said she was very happy to be alive. It was interesting and chilling to hear from several of her grown children that they thought their mother should have been allowed to die. Their argument was that she was no longer the woman she had once been. She could not take care of herself, they said, and it was necessary for them to care for her—something, they claim, she would not have wanted them to do. When one adds to these the March, 1990 case of the Madison, Wisconsin. man who woke up from an eight year "vegetative state" after being given a tranquilizer for routine dental work, one ought to conclude that there is still a whole lot about coma and death we simply do not understand! Why, then, are some so determined to "pull the plug" on these patients? It is to this question that we now turn our attention.


The term euthanasia literally means "good death" (eu=good, thanasia=death). This term cannot be separated from the "good death" that was so shamefully and effectively administered by the Nazis on all those who did not meet their definition of meaningful human life. Of course, the current proponents of euthanasia reject any such association. They claim we are trying to prejudice the issue by bringing up the Nazi connection. They claim we are being grossly unfair. They claim we are really just uncaring. They claim we are religiously smug and intellectually shallow.

They make all these charges in their powerful T.V. dramas on the "right to die," in which they stack the cards heavily in favor of euthanasia. The characters and situations in these dramas are manipulated to make those of us who hold to a sanctity-of-life ethic look like intellectual Neanderthals, while making those who favor euthanasia into wonderful heroes, struggling against an "uncaring" society. Unfortunately, this adds confusion to the minds of many people who have not given serious consideration to the moral and ethical implications of euthanasia.

Consider the statement made by then Colorado governor Richard D. Lamm in an 1984 address to the Colorado Health Lawyers Association: "Elderly people who are terminally ill have a duty to die and get out of the way" (The New York Times, March 29, 1984, sec. A). Obviously, this middle-aged politician has totally rejected a sanctity-of-life perspective and is a prime example of how society's perception of an individual's "right to die" can quickly deteriorate into a humanistic "duty to die." In the early days of the movement to legalize abortion, most who favored abortion claimed to believe that the unborn child was not yet human and that abortion could not be classified as killing or murder. Many of us who opposed abortion believed that when people could be convinced that the developing child is indeed human and killing it is, in fact, homicide, abortion would once again be prohibited by law. Evidently we were wrong. A poll published by the strongly pro-abortion Population Council of Washington, D.C. indicates that teenagers around the country think that abortion is murder, but claim that it ought to remain legal in order to "keep it safe." This does not contradict what my two children told me about their knowledge of how their schoolmates felt about the abortion issue. This is all very disturbing to us. When I hear of young people (seven cities were polled) saying that they believe abortion is the taking of human life but that it ought to remain "legal" so that it can be kept "safe," I seriously wonder about the future of our society.

What does all this mean? Simply this: Modern Americans have been sliding down a slippery slope and have arrived at a point were they can advocate the death of other human beings (via abortion, infanticide, and now euthanasia) for their own convenience.

Relativism Vs. Absolutism

The Christian, who is called upon by God's Word to out-think, out-live, and out-die the pagans around him, is a moral absolutist. As such, he is convinced that the Scriptures provide the moral absolutes that guide him in every decision he must make in this life. (If you are a Christian and you do not think this is true, then you are not a faithful Christian—see Colossians 3:17.) Specifically, the Scriptures, by way of precepts and principles, teach that a willful assault on the life of another human being, apart from self-defense, capital punishment and defensive war, is murder. Euthanasia, which is clearly the assault on the life of another human being, therefore, is wrong! Euthanasia, as an act of murder, is clearly a violation of the Lord's teaching, "You shall not murder" (Matthew 19:18). Consequently, there should be no confusion in the mind of the Christian on this subject.

On the other hand, and as I have previously pointed out, many in our society have rejected the moral absolutes of the Bible in favor of relativism, which says the situation alone determines the proper action; there are no absolutes; and the end justifies the means. This humanistic approach is basically selfish and concerns itself primarily with the relief of the sufferer or of the sufferer's family. Incidentally, sometimes the "good death" is administered solely for the benefit of the government, which does not want to be saddled with the rising cost Of "unnecessary" medica1 care. This, of course, was reflected in the statement of the former Colorado governor, Richard D. Lamm.

Logical, linear thought seems to be waning in our culture. Even so, it ought to be obvious that when society moves from moral absolutes to relativism, there is actually no security in any area. Thus, the current situation or climate of the day can dictate when life ought to be terminated. If a certain comatose patient can be deemed a non-person today, what will keep society from expanding the definition as health care costs and a population squeeze become increasingly intolerable?

Sensitive To The Frightful Costs of Modern Medical Care

Although I am sensitive to the frightful cost of modern medical care, particularly when it is administered over a prolonged period, this must never become our primary concern. Instead, our primary concern is the sanctity of ALL human life. Why? Simply this: Every human being is made in the image of God, and, as such, has eminent worth. All innocent life (and this includes babies in their mother's wombs) must be protected and preserved. Even the life that some arbitrarily deem "less meaningful" must be protected and preserved. Human life is sacred. This is the teaching of God, not man. Therefore, it is not open for humanistic debate!

Life, with all its trials, tragedies, and tribulations must be lived with dignity and integrity. Life is God-given and no man has the right to take it without authorization from God Himself. The citing of hard cases will not make any difference concerning the rightness or wrongness of this issue. All the rationalizations men may offer will not make that which is sin right. We must remember that "There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). It is unfortunate that many of us have not had our "senses [the faculties of our minds] trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). Instead of being "the salt that savors" and "a light that shines out of darkness," we have, in too many cases, been content to follow the pack. Of course, the pack is going to hell—and we will too, if we follow it!

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