Joni Eareckson Tada Speaks to Christian Today on Euthanasia

|PIC1|Top medical professionals last month joined with leading US disability rights advocate Joni Eareckson Tada at a special seminar by Christian social concern charity CARE to reject the proposed Assisted Dying Bill.

Speakers at the event unanimously rejected the Assisted Dying Bill and the concept of the ‘right to die’, instead stressing the need for the Government to provide better palliative care for terminally ill patients preceding their death.

CARE has commenced a campaign against Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Bill following a House of Lords debate on the report.

As the issue of euthanasia and assisted dying continues to be debated in the British Parliament, Christian Today was able to interview leading US disability rights advocate Joni Eareckson Tada on the issue. The full text of the exclusive interview is shown below:

CT: Parliament is presently discussing a proposed euthanasia law for those with terminal illnesses. Why do you believe this is so dangerous for disabled people?

JONI: Once you establish by law the right for terminally ill people to end their lives with the assistance of the National Health Service, then the door has been cracked open for other medically-fragile people to want the same right. For now it’s those with cancer. In the future, it may well be those suffering from motor-neuron disease. From there, the care givers of people with Alzheimer’s may campaign for their loved one to be given “aid in dying.”

CT: Do you believe economics factors into a discussion about euthanasia?

JONI: Health care costs are skyrocketing, as well as increased spending limits on UK’s National Health Service, decision-makers are beginning to look at the “cost effectiveness” of extending the lives of people who are terminally ill, or even severely disabled. And it’s scary. Privately, some politicians are looking for ways to control the billions of dollars spent on the care of those who are terminally ill or severely debilitated. Those of us in disability advocacy are increasingly concerned that end-of-life decisions will be made based on a person’s “burden” on the health care system. This may eventually put at risk the disabled and the elderly. It is these groups of people who are caught in the middle of this debate.

CT: How has it come to this?

JONI: We are seeing the erosion of the distinction between private and public morality. In the past, people of different beliefs were able to disagree on lots of issues, but at least they did agree on standards of public morality and justice. This is no longer the case. People are making moral decisions according to their private set of values. The problem is, you can’t use lethal force for private reasons; euthanasia can never be a purely private issue, after all, the protection of citizens from the private use of lethal force is a fundamental obligation of the state. But when we abandon this obligation and provide legal help to terminally ill people who wish to kill themselves, our whole concept of ordered freedom and liberty is threatened. The public good has degenerated into a competition of peoples’ private wishes. Proverbs 14:34 says that “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” We exalt God's righteousness when we promote the common good of all.

CT: Some people are asking the question: “If people want to end their lives, don’t they have a right to do so?” What do you say to them?

JONI: Exercising a right-to-die is not like choosing Coca Cola over Pepsi. It’s impossible to frame a “desire to die” with legislation. No one can regulate what people do behind the closed doors of their homes, but if terminally ill people lack the psychological wherewithal to commit suicide, is this the kind of shortcoming British society should be helping people compensate for? I don’t think so. It’s the obligation of the state to protect and defend life.

CT: Why do you believe people would ask for a lethal prescription to end their lives?

JONI: Most terminally ill people do not want to kill themselves; they want relief of a certain symptom, whether it be relief from pain, from the fear of becoming a burden, or from depression. I’m convinced most terminally ill people don’t want to kill themselves; they want assurance that their pain will be affectively managed, and that they won’t be “left alone” when entering the process of dying. Parliament would do better to provide more funding for research in better pain management, or educating doctors on available pain treatments. And it would be wonderful if more volunteers would help the hospice movement; it would be great if Parliament could provide more help to developing hospice services. This would be a compassionate answer to a terminally ill person’s cry for help. Second Kings 18:32 says, “Choose life and not death!”

CT: Please tell us more about how this issue affects people with disabilities.

JONI: Euthanasia promotes the attitude that life lived in suffering provides no meaning, that life lived with a handicapping condition is not worth living. Euthanasia promotes the premise that suicide is preferable to life lived in a wheelchair.

Society seems to have a double-standard: If a homeless, jobless woman went before a court asking for help to end her life because she couldn’t endure her circumstances, that judge would send her to a shelter for the homeless and put her in a jobs skill training program. But if a severely disabled person confesses that he wants to end his life because he can’t endure his circumstances, he would most likely find empathy. We are basically saying that a person with multiple sclerosis makes a reasonable, rational choice if he wants help in ending his life. There are all sorts of options to help a disabled person live life in a meaningful way: independent living services, personal care assistance, group living, adaptive equipment, support groups, and so on. Christians must not allow society to redefine the word compassion as “3 grams of Phenobarbital in the veins.” Compassion is coming-alongside a suffering person to provide help and hope in Jesus Christ.

CT: What can the average person do to combat the current thinking in society that it’s okay to kill yourself if you are terminally ill?

JONI: We must be aggressively for helping the elderly and the disabled find relief, assistance, help and hope. This could translate into volunteering at your local hospice, or providing funding for hospice care, it could mean supporting pain research and cure, and working within your community and your church to provide daycare options for the elderly. If we understand that the human person is made in the image of God, that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, then we are serving God when we serve those who are the least of the brethren. Second Corinthians 5:16 says that we are “to regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Each person has value and dignity because each person bears the image of God!