Writing@CSU Home Page | Writing Gallery | Talking Back | Volume 5, Issue 1
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control and autonomy in the last stages of their disease. Once they reach a point where life is no longer meaningful to them, they do not want to have to wait for their illness to kill them. The knowledge that assisted suicide is an option restores some sense of control, providing comfort to patients in their last days. This feeling is best expressed in the words of those who have actually been in this position. Terminally ill patient Charlene Andrews says, “having the choice [to commit assisted suicide] gives me comfort… I don’t want to be one of those people who have their life prolonged unconsciously… There is a real human need for control over one’s life. We are terminal and we know when we have a few weeks left. We know when we’re unconscious. We know when we’re at the end.”


Many opponents of assisted suicide say that they understand the feelings of patients like Charlene Andrews, but that there are more important factors that outweigh this desire for control. Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family believe that man is made in the image of God, and life has sacred value. Therefore, it is completely immoral to end the life of an innocent person, no matter how valid the reasons may appear. Most Christian theologians hold that suicide is a sin, as it violates the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill.’


I realize that religious beliefs play an important role in the lives of many Americans, and are often accepted as absolute truth by these individuals. What they do not seem to realize, however, is that assisted suicide, despite the terminology, is really quite different from suicide in the traditional sense. Suicide performed by those who are mentally ill is distinct from making a rational choice to end one’s life due to an incurable illness. Oregon requires that patients are mentally competent adults and must make their request on three separate occasions, ensuring that the decision has been well-thought-out.

The group ‘Californians for Compassionate Choices’ maintains that both doctors and patients resent the use of the term ‘suicide.’ According to terminally ill patient Jack Newbold, “I’m not committing suicide, and I don’t want to die… I’m not killing myself; cancer is taking care of that. I may take the option of shortening the agony of my final hours.” It is hard for me to comprehend how anyone could deny a patient in such a difficult situation the chance to have some control over their distress. Why ask them to prolong their suffering, whether physical or mental, any longer than they wish to? Why would the supposedly benevolent God of these religious critics require an individual to experience this additional suffering?

Some Christians have actually come to support assisted suicide, after

considering these very questions. Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong argues that “choice of death with dignity…is a moral and a more godly choice than passively enduring a life pointlessly devoid of hope or meaning. I believe this option is rooted in the Christian conviction that life is sacred… It is because we honor life that we want to end it with our faculties still intact, our minds still competent, and our dignity still respected.” It should also be remembered that there are millions of atheists, agnostics, and individuals who do not feel that assisted suicide conflicts with their spiritual beliefs. If a person’s religious beliefs make them feel that they cannot participate in assisted suicide, then they do not have to. But those who do not subscribe to these beliefs should be given access.


Looking beyond solely religious arguments, some critics assert that we will value life less and less if assisted suicide is legalized in America, and will eventually neglect the Death With Dignity guidelines that are currently in place. This idea is central to the most common argument against assisted suicide, the ‘slippery slope’ argument. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, argues that if assisted suicide is legalized throughout the United States, we will travel down a slippery slope to a place where “a 20-year-old depressed but healthy student would be as entitled to ‘death with dignity’ as the terminally ill.” Dobson is

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