Perspectives from the Physician-Assisted Suicide State of Oregon

(This was written while Terri Schiavo was dying)

A friend recently wrote me the following in response to Terri Schiavo’s case in Florida:

What we are seeing in Florida is not a mere tentative step, but a leap. Suicide is not legal in this country. It never has been. But now that the courts have ruled that Terri Schiavo had the “right” to end her life because it was “inviable” according to legally-drawn criteria, that line will become just as subjective as is that concerning abortion. People will be allowed-and even assisted-in ending their lives for any degree of “inviability” from physical injury to deep depression. I’m not saying it will happen tomorrow, but it will happen.

My response:

I live in Oregon, the physician-assisted suicide state. We were the first principality in human history to legalize physician-assisted suicide. (Though it was practiced in the Netherlands, it wasn’t legal.)

So here in Oregon what you describe isn’t happening tomorrow...only because it already happened yesterday (in 1994). Though it is supposed to be limited to terminal illness, well that’s slippery terminology, and deep depression has already been calculated as one legitimate factor to consider in this entirely legal kind of suicide administered by physicians at the “patient’s” request. So far only 200-some people have officially chosen this, but it has had a profound effect on the thinking of many and has undermined the integrity of the medical profession. (If one of the patient’s options is ending his life with his doctor’s help, it puts the doctor into the pre-Hippocratic role of the pagan healer/killer. Eventually he could become accustomed to non-healing options, which will be “easier” for all, including him.)

I worked with a group of prolife physicians, Physicians for Compassionate Care, in opposing this measure. We made a high quality video and distributed it to churches, along with written information (such as this article) trying to convince Christians to oppose and vote against physician-assisted suicide. The polls showed that many Christians ultimately voted for it. Many churches didn’t want to show the video or give their people any information about this “political” issue. They basically looked the other way. In 1997, three years later, we voted on the measure again...and passed it again, with most churches again not getting involved.

Just as evangelical Christians (including me) were nowhere to be found opposing abortion in 1973 (for the most part it was only Catholics), we managed here in Oregon to allow physician-assisted suicide ballot measure to pass (twice). And many Christians actually voted for it.

Oregon is also a state where unborn babies have been legally killed since 1969, four years before Roe v. Wade. When it comes to disregard for the sanctity of life, and the arrogance of playing God, we in Oregon are trend-setters.

But get ready, because unless something changes, the nation will eventually follow.

Here’s something I wrote that unforgettable morning in 1994 when we passed that original ballot measure. I was reeling from the implications of what had happened, and what it would ultimately mean for our state and country (at the end of this I share something about my father who was literally waiting for that measure to pass in order to commit suicide with a doctor’s aid).

Unless the church awakens to what Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop were warning us about 25 years ago (saying it starts with the unborn, and next it’s the newly born, handicapped, weak and elderly), we will discover that abortion was only the beginning...and we will wish we had done more to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9). Terri Schiavo is just one such person, but every one of them is important.

Children who managed to escape being aborted will one day grow up and “put to sleep” their weak and senile parents, taking the moral high ground, of course, as immoral people always do. They will say their parents lives are no longer meaningful, and if we love a weak and injured animal enough to put it to sleep, surely we should love our family enough to spare them of suffering by putting them to sleep too. (Private thoughts about not wasting “our” inheritance by keeping them alive will be strategically left out of the discussion, since they don’t sound quite as noble.) Some will be lovingly sincere but misguided, others will not be sincere.

Killing your parents may one day become heroic, just as killing your baby can be now (as long as it’s one hour before birth rather than one hour after, in which case you are a fiend).

But for His amazing grace, God would destroy America like he destroyed the Canaanite culture who burned their children on altars. He may still do so. Lord, have mercy on us. Have mercy on me; for I too deserve judgment.

Prayer and beseeching God for His mercy is not all we can or should do, but it is the best we can do. Martin Luther said, “As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, and the business of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray!”

D. L. Moody said that when he got to Heaven, “Next to the wonder of seeing my Savior will be, I think, the wonder that I made so little use of the power of prayer.”

More Perspectives on Terri Schiavo’s Life and Death

Photo by Isaac Quesada on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries