April 24, 1994
THREE DOLLAR DEATH
For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8
There’s a medical procedure that can radically reduce health care costs. With just one injection, the patient soon has no more pain and doesn’t need to spend any more time in the hospital. Pieter Admiraal, a Dutch doctor, boasts of the money it can save the government-run health program in the Netherlands. The cost is about five guilders (which doesn’t even amount to three dollars), and the government should be more than happy to cover it, says Admiraal, “because a single day in the hospital costs five hundred guilders.”
Just think of it. An injection that puts an end to pain and expensive hospital care, all at a cost of less than three dollars. You might wonder, what is this miracle medication? Well, it’s a mix of pentothal and curare, and after one dose, a patient can leave the hospital immediately–in a coffin.
Three-dollar death. In a time when health care costs are spiraling out of control, and when many people fear prolonged suffering and unwanted medical treatments, three-dollar death sounds like an idea whose time has come. Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and do-it-yourself suicide manuals are things that make sense to a growing number of people. Cheap and painless death is promoted as a medical service that should be available in any civilized society.
Euthanasia is promoted by different people in different ways. Some generate a sensation. Jack Kevorkian has been arrested repeatedly for hooking people up to suicide machines, earning himself the titles “Dr. Death” and “Jack the Dripper.” Derek Humphrey, the co-founder of the Hemlock Society, published a controversial book detailing exactly how to kill yourself with a minimum of pain and messiness. A number of people have been found dead with a copy of Humphry’s book lying nearby, people who were simply depressed and not terminally ill–but some folks still think of Humphry as a hero for making the book available.
Not all advocates of euthanasia are so flamboyant or controversial. Some promote their views more subtly. Abigail Van Buren doesn’t trumpet to readers of her “Dear Abby” column that she’s been a member of the advisory committee for the Euthanasia Educational Council, or that she’s received a number of awards from euthanasia groups. Dear Abby maintains her image as an impartial, kindly advisor, and then moves her millions of readers a step at a time. At first, it’s printing horror stories about patients who endure painful, unwanted treatment because they didn’t have a living will. Then, a few years later, it’s printing an address where letters can be sent to protest any prosecution of Jack Kevorkian. This makes Dear Abby very dear indeed to the euthanasia movement.
As attitudes have shifted, there’s even a new kind of card you can send to a friend. Hallmark offers “get well soon” cards, but Hemlock offers a “drop dead soon” card. When you know that a person intends to end his or her own life, you can send a classy-looking card that says, “I learned you’ll be leaving us soon.” So who knows? Three dollar death may do more for the economy than save money on health care. A bonanza in sales of “drop dead soon” cards could boost profits in the greeting card business.
The movement promoting suicide and euthanasia doesn’t just talk about dollars and guilders and greeting cards, of course. There are a number of aims and ideals that sound very appealing.
There’s a lot of talk about love and compassion, about a desire to help people to be happy, to enjoy life and be spared from unnecessary suffering. One group has lobbied for euthanasia calling itself Americans Against Human Suffering. Who wouldn’t want to support a group with a name like that? Isn’t everybody against human suffering?
Euthanasia advocates also appeal to individual dignity and personal freedom. Derek Humphry has said, “I believe the right to choose to die with dignity is the ultimate civil liberty. If we cannot die according to our personal wishes, then we are not a free and democratic people.” That’s powerful language. What decent person wants to assault human dignity or deprive others of their freedom?
On top of all this, we’re told that euthanasia is rational and progressive, while opposition to it arises from a mumbo-jumbo of irrational, backward, religious taboos. Who wants to be superstitious instead of sensible?
So three dollar death not only cuts costs, but it also sounds idealistic and reasonable. But if we get behind the rhetoric of the reality, what do we find? Well, to here’s a preview of what’s coming on this program.
We’ll see that the euthanasia movement taps into legitimate concerns that many of us have, but we’ll also see that euthanasia is no way to deal with those concerns. We’ll probe behind the soothing rhetoric to the ugly truth about some of those on the cutting edge of euthanasia, such as Derek Humphry and Jack Kevorkian. We’ll see some of the horrendous consequences that follow when three-dollar death becomes acceptable, and how a great deal of this can be traced to a decision to abandon God. Finally, more positively, we’ll see what it means to live and die in God’s hands.
Our culture’s growing attraction to suicide and euthanasia is literally and spiritually the mind of death. It is one more symptom of what happens when hearts are deceived and lose contact with the Lord of life. The euthanasia movement does respond to some very pressing questions, however. Its answers are false and destructive, but the questions remain significant all the same.
Why should a person have to go on living whose existence is nothing but misery? Why must a cancer patient go on suffering? Why must a person with Alzheimer’s have her mind and personality disintegrate day by day? Why must a stroke victim go on living with a body that is paralyzed and a mind that is numb? If you’re going through a painful illness with little chance of recovery, or if you know someone who is, you can’t help wondering why it must go on.
This becomes even more pressing with all the medical technology we’ve got nowadays. We’re glad there are so many cures for diseases and so many ways to prolong life, but we dread the possibility that life will go on too long, that against our wishes, a ghastly assortment of tubes and machines and treatments will be used to stretch out our misery and rob us of our dignity when we’d much prefer to just to die in peace. Isn’t there a time when enough is enough?
On top of all this, very few of us want to be a burden on others. Of all the huge amounts of money spent on health care, a large portion is spent on patients in the last few weeks of life. This depletes money they could have left to their families or else it drives up the cost of health insurance for everyone. Why burden others with such expense when the treatment is also a burden to the person who is about to die anyway?
It’s because of questions like these that euthanasia starts making sense to some people. And the questions are worth asking. But euthanasia is not the answer, and we shouldn’t allow genuine concerns to stampede us into something that is so full of deception and destruction.
Certainly, we’re troubled by situations where continued life seems painful or pointless. But there’s a big difference between saying we don’t understand how a life can be worth living, and saying it, therefore, isn’t worth living. No matter how disabled, no matter how painful, no matter how inconvenient, a human life, whether mine or someone else’s, has a God-given, inherent value that cannot be measured and which must not be violated.
Having said that, we also need to see that there’s a fundamental distinction between allowing death and causing death. It’s okay to decide against cancer treatments that will cause great distress with little hope of healing. It’s okay not to use respirators and other equipment to revive someone whose time has come. But euthanasia is not about the right to die. It’s about the right to kill. Withholding useless or excessively burdensome treatment is very different from actually injecting people with three-dollar death.
A number of Jewish and Christian theologians, ethicists, philosophers, and scholars have issued a declaration titled “Always to Care, Never to Kill,” which says:
No one should be subjected to useless treatment; no one needs to accept any and all lifesaving treatments, no matter how burdensome. In making such decisions, the judgment is about the worth of treatments, not about the worth of lives. When we ask whether a treatment is useless, the question is: “Will this treatment be useful for this patient, will it benefit the life he or she has?” When we ask whether a treatment is burdensome, the question is: “Is this treatment excessively burdensome to the life of this patient.” The question is not whether this life is useless or burdensome. We can and should allow the dying to die; we must never intend the death of the living. We may reject a treatment; we must never reject a life.
The declaration then adds,
“Once we cross the boundary between killing and allowing to die, there will be no turning back… Once the judgment is not about the worth of specific treatments but about the worth of specific lives, our nursing homes and other institutions will present us with countless candidates for elimination who would be “better off dead.”
An unspeakable evil occurs whenever a human life, whether your own or another’s, is judged to be not worth living and destroyed. And yet the advocates of suicide and euthanasia come cloaked in the rhetoric of love and compassion and dignity and freedom and progress. If you want to know the rest of the story, I urge you to read Rita Marker’s book Deadly Compassion (Morrow, 1993), from which I’ve drawn a great deal of the factual material in this program. The more you know about some of the people spearheading the euthanasia movement, the less appealing it is.
Derek Humphry’s first wife, Jean, suffered from breast cancer. When she became too weak for sexual relations, Derek found another woman with whom to satisfy his urges. He said he did this after Jean gave him permission, but when he told her he had actually done so, it bothered Jean terribly. At any rate, they both saw suicide as the rational choice for terminal patients, and one day Jean asked Derek if that should be the day for her to kill herself. Derek said yes and supplied her with a cup of coffee laced with fatal drugs. He kept some pillows nearby to put over her face in case the poison didn’t work.
Later, Derek married a second wife, Ann. Together, the two of them founded the Hemlock Society. Ann’s parents became members of Hemlock, and eventually, they decided to end their own lives. Neither had a terminal illness, but they were old and they weren’t as healthy or independent as they had once been. They wanted to die, and they wanted Derek and Ann to help. So Derek got the deadly poison for the occasion. However, Ann’s mother, after swallowing the poison, wasn’t dying quite the way she was supposed to, so Ann found a plastic bag and held it over her mother’s mouth until she was dead. “But,” Ann said later, “I walked away from that house thinking we’re both murderers and I can’t live like this anymore.” There was no memorial service. According to Ann, Derek became very impatient whenever she would express grief over her parents’ deaths.
And then one day Ann Humphry found out she had breast cancer. Three weeks after surgery and one day after Ann started chemotherapy and radiation, Derek went on what he called a business trip and then left Ann a message on their answering machine that he was not coming back. He didn’t like what he labeled the “unacceptable way” Ann handled her cancer. Derek said that “the ill person owes it to the other person to behave properly” (127)
To make a long story short, Ann Humphry finally took her own life. In a final note to Derek, she wrote: “There. You got what you wanted. Ever since I was diagnosed as having cancer, you have done everything conceivable to precipitate my death… What you did–desertion and abandonment and subsequent harassment of a dying woman–is so unspeakable there are no words to describe it.” Before she died, Ann also scribbled something about the death of Derek’s first wife Jean: “Derek is a killer. I know. Jean actually died of suffocation. I could never say it until now.” Now, remember, this is the same Derek Humphry who talks about love and compassion, freedom and dignity and being rational.
And then there’s Jack Kevorkian. He specializes in bringing death to people he hardly knows, mostly women. What’s more, in the name of being rational, Dr. Death has urged that we leave behind what he labels “the emotionalism of the Nuremberg codes.” That way we can pick up where the Nazis left off and experiment on humans. Kevorkian has advocated putting death row inmates under anesthetic and then doing various experiments and removing organs before finishing them off. He also has suggested offering this option to prisoners with sentences of more than three years. Likewise, Kevorkian has urged using “subjects”, as he calls them, including infants, children, and the mentally incompetent, for experiments “of any kind or complexity” before finishing them off by means of euthanasia.
And what about the Netherlands, where euthanasia is already common? Consider an official report from the Dutch government, released in 1991. The report said that in just one year in that tiny country, doctors gave injections of lethal drugs to 1,000 patients who had made no explicit request for euthanasia. And 8,100 patients were given deliberate overdoses of pain medication, not to control pain, but to hasten the patient’s death. This was not even discussed with 27% of the fully competent patients who died this way. And these numbers don’t include involuntary euthanasia on handicapped newborns, children with life-threatening illnesses, or psychiatric patients.
And that’s still just the people who were killed without their permission. What about those who gave permission while they were depressed but would have changed their minds when their mood changed–except that dead people can’t change their minds. What about those who gave permission, but only because a doctor suggested it first? Sick people have a tendency to comply with their doctors, even when the doctors have a license to kill. What about those who felt pressured to choose euthanasia because they’ve been made to feel like a burden by a society that is more eager to dispense three-dollar death than to provide the pain control and the compassion that would make a terminal patient’s last months as positive as possible?
We’ve seen how advocates of euthanasia sound idealistic and compassionate and rational. But remember what the Bible says: “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 14-15). The devil is such a clever liar that he can even make killing sound like compassion. So don’t be fooled by the apostles of three-dollar death. It is the rhetoric of killers and liars who, whether they realize it or not, are working for the most horrible killer and liar of all. As Jesus said, the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
The best way to resist these lies is to embrace one simple reality: We belong to the Lord.
If you’re not a person of faith, you can still oppose euthanasia for reasons that don’t seem very religious. If you know anything about history, you know how unwise it is for a government to offer a license to kill or to view some of its citizens as though they’d be better off dead. If you know anything about psychology, you know the devastating pressure people feel when if they fall into a certain class of people who are treated as a burden that should be disposed of. If you know anything about medicine, you know that legalizing three-dollar death is the worst conceivable way to deal with the problem of doctors misusing technology. Maybe right now you worry that doctors might use technology to keep you alive without your permission. But would you rather worry that doctors might use technology to kill you without your permission, as is already happening to thousands in the Netherlands?
There are plenty of reasons for opposing euthanasia. But faith in the Lord Jesus Christ gives the strongest reasons of all. The Bible says, “For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:7-8). This great truth gives us the conviction to oppose the evil of killing, the compassion to support the sick and suffering and disabled, and the comfort to live life and face death ourselves.
When you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, your conviction is that you’re not your own boss. You’re in the hands of God, the God who made you and everyone else in his image and for his glory, who treasures each and every human life. And that means killing others or yourself is out of the question. Even Derek Humphry concedes that his approach makes sense only if you reject God. Before offering all the deadly details about active euthanasia, he writes, “If you consider God the master of your fate, then read no further. Seek the best pain management available and arrange hospice care.” When you belong to the Lord, it is unthinkable to take into your own hands the judgment of whether a life is worth living. It is utterly repulsive even to think of destroying a life.
When you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, your commitment is always to care, never to kill, and to treat every person not as a burden but as a blessing. The disabled don’t need death. They need to be shown greater understanding. They need barriers to be removed so they have greater opportunity to live full lives. The elderly and the terminally ill don’t need instant death. They need the best possible pain management and the heartfelt kindness of people who will support them during the last part of life. Instead of the cold, quick answer of three-dollar death, Christ Jesus inspires the commitment to treat people with dignity and surround them with love.
And when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, your comfort is that you’re not your own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to your faithful Savior. You know that Jesus himself suffered brutal torment, which turned out not to be a waste but a triumph. You know that the Spirit of Christ is with you and in you, reminding you that God knows exactly what you’re going through and that he can bring good out of your suffering and sustain you no matter what comes. Best of all, you know that beyond suffering and death lies the certainty of life eternal.
So if you don’t already trust in Jesus, I urge you to do so today. Why try to go on without him?
Lord, we get ourselves in such terrible trouble without you to hold us and guide us and make our lives worth living. Protect us and our society from Satan’s murderous lies. Help people who feel trapped by pain and despair right now to be liberated from self-destructive thoughts. Help them to embrace the reality that they belong to you. Help all of us to trust and obey and honor you, the Lord of life. Thank you that we can live and die knowing we belong to you, and then live forever in your arms of love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.