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The Christian case for right-to-die

This guest commentary originally appeared for The Quad-City Times

Like many other faith leaders, I have spent a great deal of time helping people and families in difficult times, particularly as a Hospice chaplain. Understandably, death is a topic that most people want to avoid talking about. But spiritual leaders embrace dying as a natural part of life. And while it may be uncomfortable at times, I believe it’s important that we encourage honest discussions about the inevitable transition each of us will face.

When we know our time here is coming to a close, some of us want our doctors to do everything they can up until the very end; we want aggressive treatment. Some of us want to be cared for by health care professionals in a controlled setting like a hospital or a nursing home. And some of us would like to die at home, surrounded by family and friends. All of these desires are personal and valid.

We need to have these conversations as individuals, but we also need to have them as a larger society.

In my experience, I have seen far too many people suffering from terminal illness face the end of their lives without access to all the options and choices that could have eased their passage. That’s why I strongly support legislation to give mentally capable, terminally ill adults the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they may choose to self-ingest if their suffering becomes unbearable.

I know that some members of the clergy are opposed to any law that would make it easier to cut short the dying process. The people I was with as a Hospice chaplain came from many different paths in life. My role was to be with people wherever they were on their spiritual journey, providing care and spiritual counsel that met their needs, not mine. For some, when their suffering and incapacity induced by terminal illness made their life too much to bear, they asked me for a compassionate alternative. In Iowa, there is no alternative. When suffering and incapacity induced by terminal illness make our life too much to bear, a compassionate alternative must be available to us.

I am far from alone in this belief. A recent national survey conducted by LifeWay Research, a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources, found that more than half of all Christians and those of other religions agree with the statement: “When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician’s aid in taking his or her own life.”

The LifeWay Research results show that many people of faith believe that asking for help in dying when you are experiencing extreme end-of-life suffering is a moral option. As a person of faith, I firmly believe this principle to be true. All terminally ill individuals of sound mind should have the option of medical aid in dying with the choice guided by their faith and in consultation with their family and doctor.

Life is to be cherished and filled with meaning and purpose. But when suffering and incapacity induced by terminal illness makes life too much to bear, a compassionate alternative must be available to us. Medical aid in dying is just such an option.

Martin is a retired Hospice Chaplain and member of Scott County Action Team for End of Life Options Act.