Most people in North America die what may be called a bad death. One study found that " More often than not, patients died in pain, their desires concerning treatment neglected, after spending 10 days or more in an intensive care unit."

The word Euthanasia originated from the Greek language: eu means "good" and thanatos means "death". One meaning given to the word is " the intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who dies." That is, the term euthanasia normally implies that the act must be initiated by the person who wishes to commit suicide. However, some people define euthanasia to include both voluntary and involuntary termination of life. Like so many moral/ethical/religious terms, "euthanasia" has many meanings. The result is mass confusion.

It is important to differentiate among a number of vaguely related terms:

Passive Euthanasia : Hastening the death of a person by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course. For example:
Removing life support equipment (e.g. turning off a respirator) or
Stopping medical procedures, medications etc., or
Stopping food and water and allowing the person to dehydrate or starve to death.
Not delivering CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and allowing a person, whose heart has stopped, to die.

Perhaps the most common form of passive euthanasia is to give a patient large doses of morphine to control pain, in spite of the likelihood that the pain-killer will suppress respiration and cause death earlier than it would otherwise have happened. Such doses of pain killers have a dual effect of relieving pain and hastening death. Administering such medication is regarded as ethical in most political jurisdictions and by most medical societies.

These procedures are performed on terminally ill, suffering persons so that natural death will occur sooner. It is also done on persons in a Persistent Vegetative State - individuals with massive brain damage who are in a coma from which they cannot possibly regain consciousness.

Active Euthanasia : This involves causing the death of a person through a direct action, in response to a request from that person.
Physician Assisted Suicide: A physician supplies information and/or the means of committing suicide (e.g. a prescription for lethal dose of sleeping pills, or a supply of carbon monoxide gas) to a person, so that they can easily terminate their own life.
Involuntary Euthanasia: This term is used by some to describe the killing of a person who has not explicitly requested aid in dying. This is most often done to patients who are in a Persistent Vegetative State and will probably never recover consciousness.
Traditional Christian beliefs concerning all forms of suicide were well documented by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274 CE). He condemned all suicide (whether assisted or not) because:

  • It violates one's natural desire to live.
  • It harms other people.
  • Life is the gift of God and is thus only to be taken by God.

Attempting to commit suicide was once a criminal act. It has been decriminalized for many decades in most jurisdictions in North America. However, assisted suicide remains a criminal act throughout North America, with the exception of the state of Oregon. In that state, it is permitted under tightly controlled conditions.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian was thrown into the nation’s headlines on June 4, 1990. In a Detroit public park, the doctor made 54-year-old Janet Adkins, suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, his first “suicide machine client.” (Kevorkian would soon abandon use of his infamous suicide machine. His patients then inhaled carbon monoxide.) In the process, Adkins became “ America’s first acknowledged case of medically assisted suicide.”

In the month that followed, Kevorkian went from being a relatively unknown pathologist to the notorious “Dr. Death.” Cornerstone magazine’s Sarah Sullivan was able to secure an interview with Kevorkian at that time. Portions of that 1990 Cornerstone article remain extremely relevant today. They offer a revealing glimpse into the thinking and agenda of the man who, after 27 assisted suicides, had become the brazen symbol for the moral/medical issue of the decade: euthanasia.

Strengthened by recent court victories, Kevorkian and the right-to-die movement are well on their way to making euthanasia as much a part of American life as abortion has become over the past three decades. Nonetheless, the legal and social battle over this issue is far from over. Kevorkian’s candid comments in the article that follows underscore the need for pro-lifers to make their voices heard now, before the issue is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

To many, Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s elaborate suicide machine and manners qualify him as the Rube Goldberg of Death. But his actions of June 4, 1990 were the result of deeply held opinions on the right-to-die issue.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian said: “I believe that there are people who are healthy and mentally competent enough to decide on suicide. People who are not depressed. Everyone has a right for suicide, because a person has a right to determine what will or will not be done to his body. There’s no place for people to turn today who really want to commit suicide. Teenagers, and the elderly especially, have nowhere to turn. But when they come to me, they will obey what I say because they know they’re talking to an honest doctor. I can talk a teenager out of suicide easily if he comes to me, because he knows if it’s justified I’ll help him do it.”

Regarding a preliminary injunction prohibiting him from committing “any acts to help a patient committing suicide,” Kevorkian was quoted as saying, “What’s the court got to do with medicine! They are dictating how medicine should be practiced. You know the court is dominated by religion... ‘Life is sanctity, this and that...’ so what! Instead of intimidating me; I’m intimidating them! There’s no law broken — they know it! They’re looking for a way to get me. They’re out to burn me at the stake figuratively. The problem with medicine today is that it’s under the Dark-Age mentality of mystical religion, which has permeated medicine to the core since Christianity took over.”

In every major city, Kevorkian would like to see clinics that he calls “obitoriums” set up to serve those wanting to commit suicide. “Now you would have to draw up a strict code of ethics to regulate these clinics. Both society and doctors, but doctors mainly, would work to establish the code of ethics. The origin of ethics, however, must come from the situation as it exists. And the code must fit the situation. And the ethics must change as the situation changes. That’s the way to keep control. Not by an inflexible maxim that applies for two thousand years, but an ethical code that will change a decade or two later.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian further states: “It’s ethical conduct within the framework of time and space. Ethical codes should never be set in stone. They can’t be, they must change constantly. That’s why we have problems today, because most of the ethics are dictated by inflexible religious doctrine: ‘Human life is divine, it cannot be ended.’ Who said it? I don’t feel holy. You can’t make one doctrine fit everybody. It’s between patient and doctor. That’s all it is. Nothing else counts. The code of ethics should be based only on medical knowledge. No theology, no philosophic doctrines that are abstract. Only what is really valid medically!”

We should counter with “What is to guarantee that the doctors will make the correct ethical choices in running death clinics?” Kevorkian responded angrily, “I can keep this controlled while I’m alive, but after I die you’ll get corruptible doctors running them. But that doesn’t scare me, that should scare society. That’s society’s problem.”

As Christians, do we really need to worry about Dr. Kevorkian and his provocative views on euthanasia? Aren’t Kevorkian’s ideas just the farfetched dreams of a “modern Dr. Frankenstein”? Dr. Kevorkian doesn’t think so.

“What I’m talking about is inevitable. The people who are opposing this are gonna lose eventually, just like they lost in birth control and everything else that happened in medicine. It’s an obstinate, futile opposition. The future, well it comes eventually.”

Dr. Jack Kevorkian is not the only one who thinks this way! Just look at Oregon.

In Addition: by Darrel W. Amundsen and Joni Eareckson Tada

Studies of suicide typically classify martyrdom as suicide. This, coupled with theological and historical ignorance, results in depictions of early Christians as morbidly obsessed with death and prone to take their own lives if unable to provoke pagans to kill them. This position is reflected in a Michigan judges recent ruling in the case of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Liberal theologians have now so amplified the misinformation that one advocate of doctor-assisted suicide exclaims, on the dust jacket of a recent publication, "This book will upset traditional Christian views about the right to choose to die." As states consider legalizing doctor-assisted suicide, the historical distortions that have now become part of the legal record in the Kevorkian case may well become a factor in public discussion and debate.

Back to Top