The BBC’s ‘Choosing to Die’
BBC 1’s Breakfast News on 14th June 2011 discussed Sir Terry Pratchett’s controversial documentary Choosing to Die broadcast the previous night, with its strong promotion of assisted suicide/euthanasia. It featured businessman Peter Smedley, a sufferer with Motor Neurone Disease who died before cameras in the Dignitas clinic, Switzerland. Pratchett, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, eagerly promotes the legalisation of the sufferer’s right to choose when and how they should die. I found his conversation and selected scenes from the program disturbing and sickening. Death holds many fears – What will happen? Who will be there? Will I suffer? Will it involve pain or distress? What lies beyond it? Smedley chose to die prematurely, and others assisted him to do this.
Human life needs care and protection, not premature disposal in what appeared to be callous cold-blooded killing with a cocktail of barbiturates. The conversation included reports of the patient’s request for water near his final end. It was calmly reported that this request could not be granted as the poison administered to him orally might be diluted, with the risk of survival or lasting brain damage should he live. This sinister agenda deeply offended me. The Bible says, “Even the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” (Prov. 12:10)
Surely this is the central issue. Euphemistic rhetoric blinds us to reality. Phrases like ‘merciful death’, ‘relief of suffering’, ‘assisted dying’, ‘terminal sedation’, seem compassionate and kind. During the 1930s in Nazi Germany, Hitler launched a sustained program of eugenics, euthanasia, and extermination based upon stealth and the vile philosophy that some lives are inferior to others and not worth living. This intentional killing used euphemisms like ‘special treatment’ or ‘transport of patients’ as the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, the mentally impaired, certain ethnic groups and the terminally ill, were progressively targeted and eliminated – voluntarily or involuntarily. The medical profession was profoundly corrupted and complicit. Life became cheapened.
We understand the reasons why people fear pain, expense, indignity, dependence on others, and see sudden death as the final solution. Most of us recall similar rhetoric in the late 1960s as a sustained case for legalised abortion was made in the UK, based upon certain limited and strict criteria. We now have abortion on demand, and 7 million children have perished in their mother’s wombs – more lives than those lost in the Holocaust. The tight criteria advocated in 1967 have been almost totally abandoned in practice – a ‘slippery slope’ indeed. Will it soon be everyone’s duty to die, so as not to be a ‘burden’? None of us will know if a spell in hospital will lead to a cure or a legalized killing.
Whilst alternative and compassionate care for the dying is available, how can we possibly argue for assisted suicide? Palliative drugs can minimise pain, the Hospice movement offers compassion and tenderness to the natural end, wise counsel can relieve despair, people can die knowing that every extra moment of life was precious. This is true ‘dignified dying’. Families can communicate to the very last, and no one – family, friends or doctors – need suffer pangs of conscience for deliberately taking human lives unnecessarily, which by any sound definition is murder. The legalisation of euthanasia will smash down a fence that will rapidly lead to the justified killing of anyone considered ‘inconvenient’ to their family, the NHS, public finances, or the arbitrary decisions of relatives and the authorities. This will leave none of us safe should we become depressed, hopeless, critically ill, a burden on finances, or simply unloved or unwanted in ‘Broken Britain’ at the most vulnerable time of lives.
As a Christian Pastor for 31 years, I have sat at the bedside and witnessed the deaths of many people – Christians and unbelievers. Some of these I have led to faith in Christ and seen them receive the joy, peace, assurance of God’s pardon and entrance to his Heaven through the Gospel. Terry Pratchett, the creator of the fictional Discworld novels, seems blithely unaware of the reality of other very real worlds beyond death. The question that has always haunted me concerning the arguments for euthanasia, which can be summed up in the blunt statement ‘Best put them out of their misery’, is ‘How do you know for sure that this will be the outcome?’. Premature death may well mean that their eternal misery is about to begin, since there is not only a Heaven to gain but also a Hell to shun. Secularist thinkers may dismiss this idea, but my conviction is that dying people need hope, ‘the good news that brings joy’, and every possible chance to deal with the question ‘Are you ready to die?’. They need support and opportunity to discover Christ and get right with God before it is finally too late.
The sanctity of human life is based on the fact that it is created by God, and therefore belongs to him. He owns it, and he alone can decide if, when, and how it should end. It would be tragic for the BBC and others to create the impression that the depressed, the terminally ill, and those without hope at the most vulnerable time in their lives have only one option – suicide. For that is never the case.