Religious Groups’ Views on End-of-Life Issues

Religious Groups’ Views on End-of-Life Issues

In the following summaries, religious leaders, scholars and ethicists from 16 major American religious groups explain how their faith traditions’ teachings address physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia and other end-of-life questions. (For an in-depth look at public opinion on end-of-life issues, see “Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatments.” And for an overview of the political, legal and ethical dimensions of the end-of-life debate, see “To End Our Days.”)

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The denomination teaches that life is a sacred gift and that only God should determine when life ends. “We simply feel that it is not our prerogative to end life,” says Edgar R. Lee, chairman of the church’s Commission on Doctrinal Purity. “God is the giver of life, not us.”

At the same time, the church allows that life need not be sustained at all costs when there is no hope for recovery. “We leave room for people to [reject] artificial means of life support,” Lee says. Indeed, he adds, the church “does not frown on” the use of pain medication to alleviate suffering, “even in cases where it might contribute to hastening death.”

For more information:
Assemblies of God statement. “Euthanasia, and Extraordinary Support to Sustain Life.

Buddhism

According to Damien Keown, emeritus professor of Buddhist ethics at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Buddhists generally oppose assisted suicide and euthanasia. Buddhism teaches that it is morally wrong to destroy human life, including one’s own, he says, even if the intention is to end suffering. Buddhists are taught to have a great respect for life, Keown says, even if that life is not being lived in optimal physical and mental health.

However, he says, Buddhists also believe that life need not be preserved at all costs and that one does not need to go to extraordinary lengths to preserve a dying person’s life. This means, for instance, that while a terminally ill person should not be denied basic care, he or she could refuse treatment that might prove to be futile or unduly burdensome. “The bottom line is that so long as there is no intention to take life, no moral problem arises,” Keown says.

For more information:
Keown, D. 2005. “End of Life: The Buddhist View.” The Lancet, volume 366, pages 952-955. (PDF)

Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church strongly opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The church teaches that life should not be prematurely shortened because it is a gift from God, says John A. Di Camillo, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa. “We don’t have the authority to take into our hands when life will end,” he says. “That’s the Creator’s decision.”

Catholic thinkers like Di Camillo contend that the decision to take one’s own life often comes as a result of issues like poor pain management, despair and loneliness, or the feeling of being a burden on family and others. These conditions, he believes, can be addressed with better palliative and psychological care. “We don’t give enough attention to people near the end of life because we’re afraid of the end of life and don’t want to come to grips with it,” Di Camillo says.

At the same time, the church recognizes that a dying person has the moral option to refuse extraordinary treatments that only minimally prolong life. “The predominant distinction or criteria for legitimate refusal of treatment is whether the treatment in question is considered proportionate or disproportionate,” Di Camillo says. This means patients can legitimately forgo “treatment that doesn’t give a reasonable hope of physical or spiritual benefit, such as resuscitating someone who is at the very end of life,” he says.

For more information:
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2012. “Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: Beyond Terminal Illness.” (PDF)
Priests for Life. “Brief Reflections on Euthanasia.”

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, believing that taking one’s own life or the life of another violates God’s commandments and his plan for each person. “While acknowledging the suffering experienced by many, we firmly believe in the sanctity of human life and in its role in God’s plan,” says Lyman Kirkland, a spokesman in the church’s public affairs department.

However, the church teaches that when someone is dying, it is acceptable to forgo excessive or extraordinary therapies. “The church does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes” – removing a patient from artificial life support, for example – “falls within the definition of euthanasia,” Kirkland says, adding that “families should not feel obligated to extend life by unreasonable means.”

For more information:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Euthanasia and Prolonging Life.”

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) opposes physician-assisted suicide and other efforts by medical professionals to speed a patient’s death. Destroying life created in God’s image is contrary to core church teachings, says the Rev. Roger Willer, the ELCA’s director of theological ethics. “Life is a gift from God, to be received with thanksgiving, and there is an integrity of the life process that should be respected,” he says.

At the same time, Willer says, the church teaches that there is no requirement to take extraordinary steps to keep a dying person alive a little longer. “Allowing something to happen is different than actively hastening death,” Willer says.

For more information:
ELCA Message. 1992. “End of Life Decisions.” (PDF)

Article continues HERE