Twenty years ago, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, the late evangelical philosopher-theologian, and Dr. C. Everett Koop, the pediatric surgeon (and future surgeon general), predicted that if abortion became accepted in America, it would be a very short time before infanticide and euthanasia were also accepted. The two spelled out their arguments in a book and video series called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? At the time, many criticized them for being alarmists: Americans, it was predicted, could never sink that low.
Last November’s broadcast on 60 Minutes of the killing of 52-year-old Thomas Youk by Jack Kevorkian is as important a milestone for the euthanasia movement as “Jane Roe” was for abortion advocates in the early ’70s.
As with abortion, the challenge always begins at the extremes and our emotions are worked over to produce bad law. In the process, theology also takes a beating as various clergy, who seek the approval of men rather than the favor of God, are trotted out to help make the secularists’ case; the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, for example, included many who claimed the label “Catholic.” Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe) was selected as the poster woman for the abortion movement because she was denied an abortion after she claimed to have been raped. The fact that she later acknowledged she had not been raped and eventually moved to the pro-life side does not matter. McCorvey was used to impose on the rest of the country a practice many find abhorrent and most still believe is the taking of a human life.
Now a man who was said to be “suffering” (again, an emotional appeal) and who “wants to die” (though one wonders what his decision might have been within a pro-life support system) is presented as a victim of bad law. The antireligious bigots will again tell us that this is between a patient, his physician, his family, and “his God,” and not the business of anyone else. But it is our business, not only because we are to be the keepers of our brothers and sisters, but also because once a principle is violated, it may not be long before euthanasia becomes involuntary and the authorities come after you or me when someone determines that our right to life has been forfeited, as it was in 1973 for the unborn.
Broadcast Claire of Death
CBS correspondent Mike Wallace and others who defended Kevorkian’s televised euthanasia suggested that the killing will help foster debate. That’s like saying the Holocaust wasn’t totally evil because it began a useful debate about the humanity of Jews and led to the creation of the modern Israeli state. Wallace later revealed that he favors euthanasia and that he and his wife have an assisted suicide pact. It might have been helpful to have had that kind of full disclosure on the show, rather than after the fact.
Defenders of Kevorkian have revealed their strategy. Following Kevorkian’s arrest on first-degree murder charges by law enforcement officers of Waterford, Michigan, there were indications that the defense will appeal, not to the law, but to the jury’s emotions. If emotions rule, why not hold the trial in Oprah Winfrey’s studio and let her audience decide the question of Kevorkian’s guilt or innocence? It appears we are now to be a government ordered around feelings, not laws. We will now hold “truths” to be self-evident only until we decide to feel differently about those truths, or about truth itself. The polls will guide us. In Gallup, USA Today, CNN, NBC, Wall Street Journal, CBS, and New York Times opinion surveys will we trust.
According to a November 26 article in the New York Times, “Law professors and experienced defense lawyers, said Kevorkian, could again argue that the law is out of step with society’s desire to help ease the pain of terminally ill people.” Right or wrong won’t be the issue, but the way jurors “feel” about the law. “The law of murder was not drafted with these sorts of things in mind,” said University of California at Berkeley criminal law professor Franklin Zimring. 0. J. Simpson is acquitted of murder because of the “feelings” of jurors about race and other irrelevant matters; President Clinton escapes accountability to the law because of opinion polls and a new definition of when a lie is not a lie (it’s not a lie at all if it’s a lie about sex; and now Dr. Kevorkian wants to rewrite the definition of murder, as others have done with abortion.
It is not easy to argue from an analytical perspective when others are arguing from an emotional perspective. Not everyone studies history and philosophy, or reads the Bible and regards it as the ultimate guide to life and to God. But everyone experiences feelings.
Still, it is important that as many as possible understand where further erosion of the unique value of human life will lead us—and that they say so without apology. Are human beings merely creatures made up of material and energy that have been shaped by pure chance in a random universe with no Creator, no purpose for being on Earth, and no destination after we die? Are we more complex than a cabbage, but of no greater moral significance? Or, are we created in the image and likeness of an objectively existing, personal, and Holy God, who loves us, who knew us even in our mother’s womb, and who has a home waiting in Heaven for those of us who come to Him through His son, Jesus Christ—Himself once an unborn child whose mother might be described in today’s terms as having experienced a “crisis pregnancy”?
It was instructive to hear spokesmen for 60 Minutes explain why the tape of Youk’s murder was aired. They said the program considered euthanasia an important issue that is worthy of national debate. But, in a 1992 story on a pro-life Indiana congressional candidate whose campaign commercials featured images of aborted babies, CBS declined to broadcast those pictures. Apparently CBS does not consider abortion to be worthy of national debate or the televising of the results of an abortion a contribution to that debate. Reporter Wyatt Andrews said of the congressional candidate, “Michael Bailey . . . began airing what could be the most tasteless ads ever shown on television. What’s more, he’s a candidate, protected against censorship. No one can stop him.”
As the Media Research Center noted, CBS did stop him by covering the pictures of aborted babies with a large gray screen. With pictures go policies, and because the networks are pro-abortion they won’t show pictures of an aborted child. Because they are pro-euthanasia, they think showing a video of Dr. Kevorkian killing a man will help advance the debate about a “serious issue.” The “advance” they hope to achieve will bring the public closer to their position.
Thin End of the Wedge
In addition to moral and spiritual considerations, there is a pragmatic reason to oppose the pro-euthanasia movement. When Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to nationalize the American health care system, one of the proposals for reducing costs (thankfully rejected by the Democratic Congress) was the establishment of a special board that would decide who would receive costly operations, such as organ transplants, and who would not. Decisions would be made based on such things as “productivity,” age, potential lifespan, and other utilitarian rationales. The bureaucrats, “ethicists,” and even clergy who would have made these choices would operate in a vacuum without ever having to meet the person whose life they would hold in their hands. This is where the failure to uphold the sanctity of human life is leading us.
It will lead us even further. Dr. Peter Singer, an Australian bioethicist who rejects the concept of human life as sacred, was recently given an endowed chair at Princeton University. Singer thinks newborns should be tested for genetic acceptability. If they flunk the test (the terms of which will be created by elitists like himself) they forfeit their right to live. This is the type of eugenics promoted by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and practiced by her ideological descendants, including Singer and Kevorkian.The pro-euthanasia movement has been around a long time, but only recently has the outrageousness of Jack Kevorkian gained it serious attention.
In the Schaeffer-Koop book, the authors quote an Associated Press story about a British doctor, John Goundry, who predicted a “death pill” would be available and perhaps obligatory by the end of the century. He was quoted as saying that doctors should be permitted to give a “demise pill” to old people if they ask for it. He also said, “In the end I can see the state taking over and insisting on euthanasia.” In the ’70s this still sounded far-fetched. Now it is a current event. What once sounded like science fiction is now being debated in “serious” medical and journalistic circles.
Writing in the Swedish Medical Journal in 1977, Dr. Ragner Toss, a public health physician, said he wanted to open a suicide clinic for the more than 2,000 Swedes (at the time) who kill themselves each year. His purpose was “not to treat them, but to help them do it.” Dr. Toss directly related euthanasia to the choice women have been given about abortion. Some contemporary philosophers and physicians have ratified the “need” for such procedures, if not exactly for suicide clinics.
When the Founders of America wrote of rights being “endowed by our Creator,” it was not a pleasant-sounding religious idea, but a profound thought that differentiated this new nation from the “divine right of kings” philosophy of Europe. Take away God’s protection of human life, and human beings become their own gods, able to assert or repeal whatever “commandments” they wish for whatever reason—or no reason at all. Those protections allow us—in an environment that regards life as sacred because we are neither the authors nor takers of it except by narrowly defined due process—to make decisions about the “hard cases.” Such decisions should affirm the worth of all human life, even at its ending.
The Scriptures, which we are now told must never be used to decide anything anymore (a view that might render the Declaration of Independence unreadable), give us a unique perspective not only of who we are, but whose we are. To those who claim a right to do what they wish with their own bodies, including an unborn child who is not part of their body but a separate body temporarily renting space, St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, Who is in you, Whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
If we suffer, Paul added in Romans, we should “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship.” The Lord Jesus Christ suffered more than any human who has ever lived. Yet at His crucifixion He refused even the minimal painkiller of wine mixed with myrrh, which the Talmud suggests was used to deaden pain. Modern drugs make pain and discomfort far more tolerable, especially if we live in a nation and among family members who affirm the value of our lives to the last and who see the dying experience as part of living, something in which God can teach us all certain lessons.
The Slow Road to Hell
As the Kevorkian trial proceeds, look for the networks to broadcast and newspapers to write about people who have had terrible experiences with dying relatives. Euthanasia, though it won’t be called that, will be portrayed as the most compassionate of choices for a terminally ill or elderly person. Case studies will be presented. People will assure us that they want to die and that by killing them we will be doing them and their families a favor. Think of the estate money that will be saved for the heirs by avoiding “needless” expenses.
Less than a year before Roe v. Wade was decided by the United States Supreme Court, the New York Times carried a column in its February 14, 1972, issue titled “The Right to Choose Death,” by Professor O. Ruth Russell. She wrote, “Surely it is time to ask why thousands of dying, incurable, and senile persons are being kept alive—sometimes by massive blood transfusions, intravenous feedings, artificial respiration and other heroic measures—who unmistakably want to die.” She said there are thousands of “dying, incurable, and senile persons” who are alive—not through any extraordinary means, but just plain alive. When Dr. Russell asserts that “some unmistakably want to die,” how does she know?
And how does she know whether these same persons might not change their minds and want to live if they were given the proper care, encouragement, and hope? Medicine records numerous cases of changed minds once people receive signals, especially from loved ones, that their lives still matter and that they are not “burdens.” It also records miracles beyond the explanation of doctors.
In The Screwtape Letters,” C. S. Lewis writes from the perspective of a chief demon about how to corrupt mortal man:
But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy (God). It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one— the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turning, without milestones, without signposts.
That is the road on which we have been traveling for some time—especially since Roe v. Wade. We pass signposts as we move ever closer to that day, but many are choosing to ignore them. Yet our proximity to that end does not absolve any of us from speaking truth and shedding light at a moment when Truth is too often rejected and “men love darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). Those who bear the name and calling of Christ have a special responsibility and privilege. The battle for life is a battle for the individual heart and soul. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn has written, “It was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between parties either—but right through every human heart, through all human hearts.” In the battle for the heart, we can speak truth to our fellow human beings in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our schools, places of work, and even on television and in letters to the editor of local and national newspapers. For the timid who fear rejection or defeat if they speak up, G. K. Chesterton observed, “The really pathetic people are the people who have surrendered to compromise and who cannot, henceforward, believe in anything, even in their own courage.”
Pro-lifers must find a way to “out-compassion” those favoring euthanasia. Perhaps we will have to argue the point from the perspective of self-interest, since that is where our opponents often begin. If the law allows Jack Kevorkian to kill people, what protection will you assert when they come after you and you don’t want to die? Death, once unleashed from its unnatural order, will be unstoppable. (Remember, God created the world and our first parents perfect and without death. Sin and death entered the world through their free moral choices to be “like God.”) In fact, abortion unleashed the death juggernaut and it will be impossible to fully halt it until we have again recognized that the unborn have the same endowed, unalienable right to live as anyone else. And to see that happy day, we will as a people again have to remember God, whom we have forgotten.
So there is much work to do, and it begins not in Washington, but on our knees. It begins not with political power, but with God’s power. It begins by realizing that our materialistic culture has brought us to the point of denying our humanity as something unique and noble—a thing made in God’s image for His purposes and called to be with Him forever. Move away from that truth and you remove the protection God uniquely places in, on, and around those who are human.
In the opening chapter of their book, Schaeffer and Koop write, “Cultures can be judged in many ways, but eventually every nation in every age must be judged by this test: How did it treat people? Each generation, each wave of humanity, evaluates its predecessors on this basis. The final measure of mankind’s humanity is how humanely people treat one another.”
By such measure, and in view of our current practices of abortion and infanticide (including partial-birth abortion) and the desire by certain elites to complete this unholy trinity of evil by adding euthanasia to the mix, future generations will judge us as having failed the test.
CAL THOMAS is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. His latest book, to be published in March with Ed Dobson, is Blinded By Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?