By Adriane Heins
“We are really at a very precarious moment in the issue of physician-assisted suicide,” warns Wesley Smith, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.
Smith is one of the nation’s premier expert thinkers in bioengineering and a leading voice in speaking against the media frenzy regarding Brittany Maynard’s suicide.
He addressed the LCMS in a March 10 webinar as part of the Synod’s “Free to be Faithful” education and awareness initiative, which focuses on life, marriage and religious freedom.
“It’s becoming increasingly hard to have a debate around these issues because a debate presumes a common frame of reference, a common morality,” Smith explains. “We don’t have that anymore. We have a society that is … torn by completely different values systems.”
Three states have legalized physician-assisted suicide — Oregon, Washington and Vermont — indicating that while society’s primary goal used to be “the protection of the lives of all its citizens, of promoting righteousness and proper behavior,” according to Smith, society now has a new purpose: getting rid of pain and suffering. But “if the purpose of society is eliminating suffering, that very quickly metastasizes into eliminating the sufferer.”
The argument, he says, is “highly emotional. It’s not based on reason. As you saw with Brittany Maynard, it’s a stampede of emotion.”
Maynard, who became known worldwide for choosing to end her life rather than suffer the effects of brain cancer, “rejected hospice out of hand,” Smith explains, but she also wrote frequently that she wanted to “put herself out of her family’s misery.”
“As a society, because we’ve become so emotionally driven and because preventing suffering has become so overriding … families are actually supporting the suicide of a family member who is ill,” Smith notes.
In the Alamo
Also of concern is a society-wide return to the 20th-century propagation of eugenics, Smith explains. Eugenics is the belief “that all human beings are not equal. Eugenics denied human exceptionalism, the unique value of every human life.” This rejection of the sanctity of life, Smith notes, has now been “replaced with a ‘quality of life’ ethic, where those who are deemed to have lesser value always ‘get it in the neck.’ ”
Smith points to the Netherlands, where doctors can euthanize babies if they are born with an illness or disability. “Eight percent of all infants who die in the Netherlands are killed by doctors,” he explains. And it’s not just in the Netherlands. The Groningen Protocol, the “bureaucratic checklist for killing [those] babies,” was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine “without criticism.”
The disregard for human life, both around the world and now at home, sometimes leaves Smith feeling “like I’m in the Alamo, hoping that Sam Houston is raising an army, and I don’t even know that there is a Sam Houston,” he admits.
“Society doesn’t accept [Christian] values anymore,” Smith says. “The media is about to do with assisted suicide [the same] as it did with same-sex marriage: assume that there’s only one view.”
The result, Smith believes, is that each state will, in the next year or two, undergo attempts to legalize assisted suicide. Efforts in California, New Mexico and Montana are already underway.
Those who are Christian or pro-life will see increasing challenges in the medical field as well. “We are at a crisis point,” he warns. “In 10 years, if you are a believer in the Hippocratic Oath and the sanctity of life, if you don’t want to be a killer, you may not be able to be in medicine.”
Smith has already heard of medical and nursing schools in the United States that have blackballed those who disagree with assisted suicide. “Overt Christian and religious and pro-life kinds [of students] are not being allowed into the schools,” he says. “That kind of dissent is not welcome.”
The prevailing mentality, he explains, is an “abandoning and a rejection of everything we are supposed to do as human beings: care for each other to the end.”
Called to such a time as this
Smith, however, remains optimistic. “Just because it’s Dunkirk at the moment doesn’t mean there won’t be a D-Day,” he says.
While “We’re up against a cultural crisis at the same time as a health-care crisis while at the same time believing human life doesn’t have value,” he explains, “we are called to times such as this, not allowing ourselves to become discouraged, standing strong as examples of what it means to care for people.”
Within the Church, Smith encourages education and pro-active discussions. Even in Christian denominations, “There’s a lot of wobbliness, and I think that upholding life within the Church, talking about Christian values … is appropriate and necessary and essential. It is the purpose of clergy and church workers.”
“Pastors need to start bringing this up,” he encourages. “Pastors need real education … there are a lot of clergy who are afraid to bring this up because they’re scared of being divisive … and are afraid of offending people in the pew.”
Instead, he says, “It’s very important to act as Christians. Loving somebody and discussing [life] has the most powerful impact of all.”
“Christians live the love of their faith,” he says simply. “We lead by example.”
If you were unable to watch the webinar, you can view the archived version here.
Also visit here to learn more about the Synod’s initiative to support life, marriage and religious liberty.
Adriane Heins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness and editor of Catechetical Information for LCMS Communications.
Posted March 11, 2015