Euthanasia over the years has been described as a “gentle way to ease the pain of a suffering individual” (Torr 12). There are many who justify this feat as a way to eliminate unnecessary terminal pain, and who value the quality of life, rather than the quantity of it. However, it is in particular that we focus on how religious groups see and view the act of euthanasia. Although religion has the ability to divide the world, the issue of euthanasia is one where world religions unite and refute to accept a suffering human being, having the ultimate choice in terminating their life.
The term “euthanasia” is derived from Ancient Greek and it means “good death” (Torr 12). “Euthanasia, and the public’s awareness to this matter, can be traced back to a court case in 1975, when Karen Ann Quinlan consumed an immense amount of alcohol and tranquilizers at a party one night. This resulted in an irreversible coma that left her unable to breathe without a respirator or eat without a feeding tube. Her parents requested that she be removed from this situation, but the doctors objected to this idea.
The court stepped in and allowed Quinlan’s parents to have her respirator removed. Although Quinlan lived for another nine years (her parents did not remove her feeding tube), the case set a model for a patient’s right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. This case recognized that some lifesaving treatments are not always appropriate, and permitted the removal of these treatments as a form of “passive” euthanasia” (Torr 13). Paradoxical to the idea of passive euthanasia, is the person most influential for bringing attention to the issue of mercy killing, Jack Kevorkian.
Kevorkian, who has admitted in helping over 130 people die, has been described as “unorthodox and radical in his ethics and performance” (Torr 14). He did not know a lot of his patients personally, and many were not even terminally ill when Jack assisted in ending his patient’s lives. “Kevorkian was convicted on murder charges after administering a fatal injection into a patient suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. The judge in this case would not allow testimony about the patients pain and suffering, and emphasized that whether the victim consented to this end is legally irrelevant in a murder case”(Torr 14).
Not everyone wants a lingering death. ” That is a very thought provoking quote from Derek Humphry who wrote and supported the notion of voluntary euthanasia being perceived as ethical and humane (17). He justified suffering as a means of “relieving unbearable suffering, as long as it is limited to fully informed adults who specifically request it” (18). The most common reason to seek an early end is “advanced terminal illness that is causing intolerable pain and suffering to an individual” (18). We hear of this plea all too often, when there is no hope and all too much suffering for the patient and their families.
Many supporters of euthanasia propose that the decision of death by euthanasia is “highly personal and that it should be permitted to those who choose to accept it as an end to the chronic pain” (19). Humphry’s thoughts on this subject are not without rational reasoning and insight. He pays special attention to hospice programs and the “phenomenal assistance that they provide with affection, concern, and comfort” (19). Some hospice programs claim that their care is so complete; there would be no reason to consider euthanasia.
Humphry disagrees and states that “a lot of terminal pain can be controlled by medicine and drugs, that take away from some individuals desire for a personal quality of life, rather than a prolonged one filled with suffering and pain”(19). Voluntary euthanasia and its compassion for the dying, is another thought that some may justify assisted suicide with. Marcia Angell, an executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, asserts that “voluntary euthanasia is often the most humane way to administer a fast, painless death to somebody that has been in excruciating and hopeless pain” (Angell 46).
Angell proposed that the problem of “dying in agony” will never go away (47). In her view, “it is time to incorporate physician-assisted suicide into our medical system under certain well-defined circumstances” (48). Many Christians who believe in euthanasia justify it by reasoning that “the God whom they worship is loving and tolerant, and would not wish to see them in agony” (Spong 40). They do not see their God as being as vengeful as refusing them into heaven if they rapidly end their life to avoid prolonged, unbearable suffering.
This does not mean that religion itself condones these actions, for as we will find, Christian citations do not allow for this. Euthanasia supporters enjoy life and love living, and their respect for the sanctity of life is as strong as anybody’s. Yet they are willing, “if they are dying in suffering and pain, to forgo a few weeks or a few days at the very end and leave under their own control” (Humphry 22). The segregation of religious beliefs used for this paper are united in their creed and opinions against the utilization of euthanasia practices.
Physical suffering is an unavoidable element in the human condition. According to Christian teaching, “suffering, especially suffering in the last moments of life, has a special place in God’s saving plan; it is in fact a sharing in Christ’s Passion and a union with the redeeming sacrifice which he offered in obedience to the Father’s will”(LaRue 96). As Christian’s we are taught to be strong and courageous in the battle of suffering and that God has the ultimate power of healing.
By going ahead with euthanasia we are denying God’s love and guidance. We are temples of God’s being and do not have the choice of when it is right to die. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy and that is what you are”(LaRue 92). The most important document dealing with euthanasia is the Declaration on Euthanasia which specifically states the Roman Catholic Church’s view on suffering and euthanasia.
It is here that the doctrine condemns crimes against life. “Intentionally causing one’s own death, or suicide, is therefore equally as wrong as murder; such an action on the part of a person is to be considered as a rejection of God’s sovereignty and loving plan. (LaRue 95)” The Roman Catholic Church believes that the act of killing, either of one’s own self or another person, “is a violation of the divine, and offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity”(LaRue 96).
We know that the degree of pain and suffering can vary greatly from one person to another, and to accept and legalize euthanasia would thus authorize one person to kill another based on “indeterminable, variable, and subjective expressions of suffering” (LaRue 72). A Bishop at a Catholic conference once stated that as a community, Roman Catholics are challenged to remember the call to choose life. Christ, through his life, death, and resurrection to new life has given new meaning to existence. Death is not the ultimate evil. Jesus’ exercise of power is one of healing, liberation, and restoration to wholeness LaRue 81). Islam is one of the monotheistic religions following suit with Judaism and Christianity. The Shari’a is a comprehensive system that covers all aspects of individual or collective human life. The primary sources of the Shari’a are the Qur’an, which is to Muslim God’s very words, and the tradition of teachings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (LaRue 355). When an issue is clearly settled by the Qur’an or Tradition the verdict is final.
“It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His messenger, to have any option about their decision… f anyone disobeys Allah and His messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path” (LaRue 356) The devotion of human life is a basic value of God. In Islam, there is a conviction that they did not create their own beings, therefore they do not own themselves. They are however, entrusted with the self for care, nurture, and safe maintenance. “God is the owner and giver of life and His rights in giving and taking are not to be violated” (LaRue 356). Islamic belief is very much based upon the respect of human nature and the body, and although they acknowledge that suffering exists, there is no repentance for taking one’s own life.
The concept of “a life not worth living” does not exist in Islam (LaRue 356). It is believed that there is “no pain large enough to alleviate by killing one’s self, and that most suffering can be conquered medically or with surgery”(LaRue 357). Another aspect of pain and suffering in regards to Islamic traditions is patience and endurance. These beliefs are remarkably respected and highly rewarded in Islam. It is the understanding of what you can “patiently endure that will be rewarded by Muhammad” (LaRue 357). When an Islamic believer is afflicted with pain, even the smallest amount, God forgives him of his sins and his wrongdoings.
It is seen as a fresh-start and a dedication to one’s faith. When a person is undergoing excruciating pain they hold on to the notions of accepting and enduring because they know the suffering they are experiencing now will benefit in the hereafter. Euthanasia in Jewish tradition is prohibited. A person’s soul is not something that we have the choice to extinguish, and we also cannot direct someone else to assist in ending our human existence. Jewish law maintains that one has no absolute ownership of one’s body. We are given a body for a fixed time.
We are accountable in keeping it safe and free from harm, and the only real rights we have to our bodies are to prevent it from destruction and loss (LaRue 46). Life has intrinsic value whether it be for 100 years or a few moments. Therefore, the quality of life during any of these moments never loses its value, our worth and its significance is infinite as we have all been created in the image of God. Discussions concerning euthanasia in Judaism generally emphasize two legal categories: “that of goses or gosses and that of terefah.
Goses refers to a person in the final stages of life; terefah is concerned with a person suffering from an incurable terminal illness” (LaRue 45). In either case euthanasia is not accepted in any shape or form and is strictly forbidden. Jewish tradition states …. “the message of Judaism is that one must struggle until the last breath of life. Until the last moment, one has to live and rejoice and give thanks to the Creator… ” (LaRue 48). Saving somebody from pain and suffering is still no reason to end a human life, your own, or someone else’s.
World religions have come together on this issue, and all value the existence and blessing of human life. For however different traditions may be, the intrinsic force of a human life is a gift from God and is not ours to decide when we have had enough. It is God’s decision, and when he decides our time is through on this earth, he will let us know and take us to a higher place. Although it is painfully hard to watch somebody we love suffer, and the many questions of why we must endure and undertake such agony can sometimes question our loyalty to faith.
It is with this research knowledge that I have understood, that no matter what religious beliefs one may have, God has the ultimate plan and the suffering will end in God’s time. It is fulfilling to have researched various religions and to have seen that no matter who you pray to, He only allows the suffering because there is something greater to experience when the pain is gone. It reminds me of the saying. “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. ” And even though terminal pain and suffering does end in death and loss, it teaches us to believe in our faith, and that suffering in one way or another is not forever.