California recently passed the law for assisted suicide. It is essentially the same law that has been in oregon for some time now. It is a complex law with many safety measure in it. I am a hospice chaplain and we have been talking about it and how it impacts our work with folks at the end of life. I am not going to describe all the complex rules of this law here; one can read about the specifics of the law online at: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-guidelines-california-assisted-suicide-law-20160120-story.html. I think it is a very well conceived law as far as the legal aspects. Only a few doctors are now on board with it; most doctors feel very uneasy about it.
In this article I want to express why I think the law is a bad idea for California and society in general. This will not be a purely religious article, but an expression of rational/spiritual ideas for the reader to contemplate on the matter.
The assisted suicide law takes great pains to insure that the participant chooses to end their life by their own volition, and that the person actually takes the pills themselves without assistance. A person who is not coherent or capable of making their own decisions cannot do it. The candidate also has to have been diagnosed as having 6 months to live as best as can be determined.
These measures in themselves are essential and well thought out. Nevertheless the fact that is by self-volition is at the heart of the problem. If someone else were to do give the pill it would be murder. It is also murder for the person to do it as a conscience decision of sound mind, and from their own will.
If one believes in God and thinks in a spiritual way it is probably not hard to accept that to manipulate ones own death in any way is against the divine order of life. Even if one does not believe in God, on moral principle and feelings alone, there is reason to object.
The human faculty of prudence, or decision making, is not meant to operate apart from the spiritual in life, but to be tethered to God. To purely rely on ones own human self without acknowledging God makes a person natural and worldly. To tether oneself to God and humble ourself to his prudence makes a person natural and spiritual. This is the true balance of life.
To understand why assisted suicide is wrong Let us contemplate the providence of God in our lives for a moment. As humans we are not allowed to see the providence of God working in our lives as it takes place in the moment, but we can see it in hindsight in we meditate on our life. After a person has gone through a difficulty it is often heard that they can see why things had to happen as they did. But in the moment we can’t see this and are not meant to see it because we must choose from ourself in freedom. If we could see the providence of God in the moment then our human freedom would be compromised, and human freedom is absolutely sacred. God is in fact guiding us all the time with out end; but we are not meant to see this. We are under the influence of both heaven and hell at all times, but neither is allowed to compel us, they can only influence us, leaving us in freedom to choose. If either heaven or hell were to compel us that would compromise human freedom and that can never be. Freedom is the only means of salvation for it requires us to act from our own will. The reason freedom is the only means of salvation is that for a bond to form between any two people it is must be by the volition of each party. The bond in any relationship is mutual and reciprocal. This is true of God also. The bond with God is reciprocal, otherwise we could not ‘become’ anything. God himself cannot unilaterally make a person love him. He may be able to but even if He did it would mean nothing, because a person’s soul only takes from by the volition of their own will. Freedom of will is also why hell exists, because God cannot stop a person form hating him and rejecting him.
So it is our job as humans to inwardly listen to promptings of God. To not believe there is any God guiding us and watching over us makes us natural and reliant on our human prudence alone. To do so mires us in the human only which is an overexposure to evil. Every person ever born by by virtue of the process of birth has hereditary evil from head to toe. It is by the spiritual process of acknowledging and undergoing regeneration from Him that we can reject evil and become spiritual.
Our way and time of death is meant to be determined by God and his providence. It is our job to persevere to the end and to allow death to take place by natural causes.
There are spiritual consequences to willfully committing suicide. Swedenborg reports that to kill oneself equates to the sin of murder. Killing ourself is taking a life. There are degrees of this no doubt and to do so near the end is perhaps a lesser consequence. God only knows the measure of the consequences. But we are responsible to abide by moral and spiritual principle in our choices.
Only the infinite wisdom of God knows the time and place of a persons death. Time of death takes place by his providence and his prudence. Spiritual people on their death bed have often told me, ‘I am ready to die, I wish the Lord would hurry things up at this point but I know it is up to Him’. We often feel the same way with problems in life. They express a trust in his wisdom, even a sense that they still have a purpose, and I believe this is true. A person even in their last days serve a purpose for God. It could be that they still have something to learn before they die, or it could be that they have something to teach another by God’s providence. Their time of death can also be influenced because they are ready to fulfill a purpose in the spiritual world; it could be for themselves or some use they have to fulfill for another there. Some people die at a very young age and some at a very old age. Only God knows these things. The Lord maintains a perfect equilibrium between earth and the spiritual world and between heaven and hell; this divine work is accomplished by His divine prudence. We do not know these things, and must leave the time of death to his wisdom.
The Hospice philosophy has the right outlook on this. Hospice is a compassionate service for the patient and their family at the end of life. The ethic of Hospice is to do nothing to hasten the death nor to prevent death, but to allow it to take place naturally.
The issue of assisted suicide is complicated by the advance of modern technology. Sometimes people are ‘unnaturally’ kept alive by extreme means, for instance on life support. According to what we have shown here in the case of these extreme measures taking away the support would be an acceptable practice.