Suicide: Prolonging Life?

Hand in Hospital

I have written three blog posts on suicide. In the first, I looked at what the catechisms said on suicide. In the second, I explored some of the basic principles concerning suicide.In the third, I answered some difficult questions about suicide. In this post I want to look how Christians should approach the prolonging of life using treatment and medicine.

If you look at the post on catechisms you will see that they teach we should do whatever we can to prolong our lives. Thomas Watson calls it indirect suicide when we do not take our own life explicitly, but we do knowingly create circumstances where we die. The Roman Catholic Catechism because it modern addresses this matter more carefully than the older catechisms. Is the refusal to take medicine or treatments to prolong our lives the equivalent of suicide? Are Christians obligated to do whatever they can to live as long as they can? If we say, “no” to the previous question aren’t we drifting towards the place where doctors will be letting patients die unnecessarily instead of saving them?

What I am Not Talking About?
I am not talking about taking a drug to end your life because you are in pain, have been paralyzed, or have experienced some traumatic event. That is suicide and is never justified. Doctors and family members should not help their loved ones die. Any treatment given that is intended to kill the patient is murder. We should not kill ourselves nor should others help us kill ourselves. This also means that just because a patient wants to stop treatment does not mean the doctor must agree to the request. If stopping the treatment is the equivalent of suicide the doctor should not agree to it no matter what the patient wants.

But what about when we reach a point where all you are doing is putting off the inevitable? What happens when death is certain? Who gets to decide whether to “pull the plug” or not? When should we allow nature to run its course and when should we intervene? The question in this  post is, given the ability of modern medicine to prolong life almost indefinitely in some cases, how do we decide to stop treatment? First, though let’s look at some factors that have complicated this issue. Continue reading