Dying with dignity
Debate surrounding the morality of assisted suicide rose to a crescendo this fall due to California resident Brittany Maynard’s recent, highly publicized case regarding her pursuit of death with dignity through assisted suicide.
Physicians diagnosed Maynard with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in January and in April gave her six months to live. Maynard moved to Oregon where state law allows assisted suicide and passed away after ingesting a large dose of barbiturates as prescribed by a physician Nov. 2.
The Chimes surveyed 168 Biola students determining their opinion about this debate in light of Maynard’s case and compared to a November 2013 Pew Research Center survey. Results reflect a stark contrast between Biola students’ beliefs in comparison to the results of the Pew survey.
The Pew survey reveals all adults feel more supportive of a person’s moral right to suicide when they are in great pain with no hope of improvement or have an incurable disease, than when that person presents a burden, either on themselves or to their families. The survey also shows people who have at least some college education make up the highest demographic to believe in a person’s moral right to suicide.
The survey of Biola students’ displays a vastly differing general opinion. Low percentages across the board suggests students’ opinion strongly opposes people’s moral right to suicide, in any case. However, the students who did say people have a moral right to suicide coincided with the Pew survey’s findings — more believed that extreme pain with no hope of improvement or incurable disease should allow for suicide.
“Brittany Maynard’s story is just really tragic ... it’s also a nice thirty second sound-bite in favor of assisted suicide, ” said Scott Rae, professor of Christian ethics at Talbot.
A PERSONAL CHOICE
Two arguments, autonomy and compassion, swirl in the center of discussions surrounding the morality of assisted suicide, Rae said. Maynard cited her right to death with dignity, falling under both the autonomy umbrella, as well as the call for compassion, stating the symptoms she anticipated with her disease resulted in extreme pain.
“Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain?” Maynard wrote on CNN.com.
Most of these questions deal with autonomy and if this decision is based on autonomy, it makes assisted suicide a fundamental right, available to anyone of any age, for any reason, Rae said.
“From a distinctly Christian worldview, I think her premise is false,” said Rae. “We are not our own. We don’t own our bodies. They are a temple of God’s spirit. The Bible is pretty clear that God is in charge of the timing and manner of our death. It’s usurping a prerogative that belongs to God and God alone.”
Assisted suicide also comes up as an option to control a person’s experience of severe pain.
“A skillful physician can deal with virtually everyone’s pain at the end of life. There’s no reason why anyone should die in pain. If that’s true, assisted suicide, in my view, is an overreaction to a real problem, but an overreaction,” said Rae.
Students included comments on their surveys about the questions. A junior communication disorders major left all answers blank, and instead wrote, “I am no one to say or decide,” while a freshman bio pre-med student circled ‘no’ to each prompt, and commented, “there is always hope for improvement.”