We are told that, as adults, we are free agents. We have the right to make our own decisions. In fact we are compelled throughout our lives to assume more and more responsibility and make decisions for our lives in both complexity and frequency. We are expected to make decisions on friends, careers, where we live, how we spend our income, what we do with our spare time, how many (if any) children we have and how they are raised.
Yet when it comes to “end of life” decisions we have no right to decide our fate. Why? One reason is that the Supreme Court has decided that dying patients (and their doctors) have no “legal” right to decide how and when their life ends, rather that right rests with the state legislatures.
How can this be? Why are we morally compelled to spend every prior minute of our lives learning and executing decisions affecting our lives only to have that right stripped from us near the end, when we have the benefit of all the wisdom we’ve gained from a life of responsibility?
Most people feel it is immoral to take a life, including their own. What is the genesis of this belief? Our moral and legal system is a combination of religious and secular beliefs. Historically, organized religion has acted as a vehicle for inculcating much of our moral foundation even though those beliefs are modified by cultural demands and changes. Opposition to the “right to die” comes essentially from religious beliefs, beliefs that are grounded in the concept of “God the creator.” God, being the creator, is “owner of everything” from the smallest particle, to the human body–and ultimately the entire universe. Government (from a religious standpoint) acts as “His” legal agent and enforcer. God is the creator of our bodies and we have no right to decide when that creation ends. Thus only God can decide when we die. To decide otherwise is sinful and a crime against God.
The concept of sin was, in fact, created by the human mind. As far as the “Church” is concerned, suicide (or other forms of willfully ending one’s own life) was not a sin until the fourth century A.D. That came about as a result of the teachings of St. Augustine. Suicide was becoming such a popular way of “getting to heaven” that the suicide phenomena was of concern to church leaders because of its adverse effects upon the stability of the church. Suicide was made a sin in order to discourage such actions on the part of the faithful. The consequential impact religious beliefs have upon our legal code has directly effected “end of life” decisions such as suicide, euthanasia, assisted suicide, etc. Thus, the right and the freedom to choose how and when one leaves this world has become subverted by religious doctrine and practices. A vast majority of our elected officials maintain a profession of faith and religious beliefs and are, for the most part, either unable or unwilling to separate their secular (worldly) duties from personal religious beliefs. In reality, which is more important, the right to make such decisions for ourselves or the rights of an inferential God and his de facto agent, the government?
Death is the most personally profound experience we can have as part of our human experience. Thus, it is the most important personal decision we can make. No one can legitimately propose that such a decision be left in the hands of an inferential god.
By their very nature, end of life decisions are decisions that only the individual has the moral right–and should have the legal right–to make.