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Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS)

Info: PAS policies by faith groups


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Policies by various faith groups:

A number of religious organizations have issued statements on suicide and physician assisted suicide. Conservative faith groups tend to be most vocal in their opposition to suicide. Liberal denominations tend to be more in favor of individual choice:

bullet Anglican communion: On 1996-OCT-7 the Most Reverend Harry Goodhew, Anglican Archbishop of Sidney denounced the assisted suicide of a terminally ill person in the Northern Territory. He wrote::
"The moral shape of our nation is under threat with the first legally sanctioned euthanasia death in the Northern Territory, and so is the relationship between doctors and their patients. It has now been shown to us what this means [sic] doctors are no longer those who save lives. Under the Northern Territory law they are also those who kill...We must feel the deep grief of the wife of the one who died, and also understand the human pain which brought about this ending of a man's life. But these facts cannot be allowed to persuade us that this action was right. It is morally wrong. I cannot approve it from any point of view." 8
Actually, a physician did not kill the patient. He or she only prescribed fatal medication that the patient chose to take.

bullet Christian Reformed Church in North America: In 1971 a Synod adopted a resolution which stated: "that synod, mindful of the sixth commandment, condemn the wanton or arbitrary destruction of any human being at any state of its development from the point of conception to the point of death." 1

bullet Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: This denomination represents the liberal wing of Lutheranism in the U.S. A 1992 statement on end-of-life matters from the ELCA Church Council supports passive euthanasia: "Health care professionals are not required to use all available medical treatment in all circumstances. Medical treatment may be limited in some instances, and death allowed to occur." They oppose active euthanasia: "...deliberately destroying life created in the image of God is contrary to our Christian conscience." However, they do acknowledge that physicians "struggle to choose the lesser evil" in some situations. e.g. when pain is so severe "that life is indistinguishable from torture." 2

bullet Islam: The Qur'an states: "Take not life which Allah made sacred otherwise than in the course of justice"

An essay on the web page of the Islamic Center of Southern California states that "Since we did not create ourselves, we do not own our bodies...Attempting to kill oneself is a crime in Islam as well as a grave sin. The Qur'an says: 'Do not kill (or destroy) yourselves, for verily Allah has been to you most Merciful.' (Quran 4:29)...The concept of a life not worthy of living does not exist in Islam." 3

bullet Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod: This denomination is the main conservative wing of Lutheranism in the U.S.  In 1979, their Commission on Theology and Church Relations issued a report on euthanasia. It condemned euthanasia because it involves suicide and/or murder and is thus contrary to God's law. Suffering "provides the opportunity for Christian witness and service."

bullet Mennonites: The Mennonite denomination is a decentralized faith group in which individual conferences make their own statements on social issues.  The Conference of Mennonites in Canada issued a statement in 1995. They believe that pain, isolation and fear are the main factors that drive dying persons to consider suicide. They feel that the state should not facilitate suicide, but rather control physical and emotional pain and support the dying within a caring community setting. 4

bullet Orthodox Christianity: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, commenting on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996  commented: "The Orthodox Church opposes murder, whether it be suicide, euthanasia or whatever, and regardless if it is cloaked in terms like 'death with dignity.' A person contemplating ending it all because of despondency instead should turn to God for strength and support. The Book of Job serves as a prime example of how someone overcomes extreme suffering by staying focused on God."

bullet Orthodox Judaism: The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America filed a brief in 1997-NOV to the Supreme Court. They supported laws which banned physician assisted suicide. Nathan Diament, director of their Institute for Public Affairs stated: "This is an issue of critical constitutional and moral significance which Jewish tradition clearly speaks to. We believe that the recognition of a constitutionally recognized right to die for the terminally ill is a clear statement against the recognition and sanctity of human life..."

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bullet Roman Catholic Church: The Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church states:
 
bullet §2277: "Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of the handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable."
 
bullet §2280: Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God Who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for His honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of."

Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1995 encyclical letter "Evangelium Vitae:"

"In communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, as transmitted by the Church’s tradition and taught by the ordinary and Universal Magisterium."

Mgr. Nicholas Chia, bishop of Singapore, wrote:

"One cannot choose death and asked to be killed. When they do this they are not only committing the crime of suicide but also compounding it by making another person a partner in a crime. One must not yield to another person’s request for euthanasia. To yield to such request is false compassion. To have true compassion for the person is to understand that such a person requesting for euthanasia is actually feeling lost, confused, hopeless and alienated. Mercy entails supporting such persons through care and friendship. Similarly no healthcare professionals must even contemplate the option of administering euthanasia. Generally, the medical profession must reject euthanasia as is evidenced by the Hippocratic Oath as well as by more recent codes of medical ethics such as The Geneva Declaration (WHO, 1957) and the Helsinki Statement (WHO, 1964)." 5

bullet Salvation Army: "The Salvation Army believes that people do not have the right to death by their own decision...Only God is sovereign over life and death...the grace of God can sustain through any ordeal or adversity." 6

bullet Unitarian Universalist: The Unitarian-Universalist Association, a liberal religious group, issued a statement in 1988 in support of euthanasia and choice in assisted suicide, but only if there are proper precautions in place to avoid abuse.

bullet Mainline and Liberal Christian denominations: Pro-choice statements have been made by the United Church of Christ, and the Methodist Church on the US West coast. The "Episcopalian (Anglican) Unitarian, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker movements are amongst the most liberal, allowing at least individual decision making in cases of active euthanasia." 7

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. Essay: Euthanasia, Synod of the Great Lakes, Reformed Church in America, at: http://www.euthanasia.com/
  2. "A message on...end-of-life decisions," Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at: http://www.elca.org/
  3. "Euthanasia," at: http://www.islamctr.org/(This appears to be a broken link)
  4. Submission by the Conference of Mennonites in Canada to the Special Senate Hearing Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (1995).
  5. Nicholas Chia "Pastoral letter of the archbishop on the issue of euthanasia," Archbishop of Singapore, 2008-NOV-01, at: http://www.veritas.org.sg/
  6. "The Salvation Army's Positional Statements: Euthanasia" is at: http://www.christianity.com/
  7. "Religion and the Right to Die," formerly at: http://www.euthanasia.org/ (This website is offline and its URL is for sale)
  8. "Archbishop of Sydney speaks out on Euthanasia," Anglican Communion, 1996-OCT-07, at:  http://www.anglicancommunion.org/


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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated on 2010-SEP-03
Hyperlinks checked on 2008-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson
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