Life of the Elderly — an Absolute Value? or Relative?

A recent article pointed out that the media has apparently taken the initiative to promote what I call “senior suicide.” They call it dignified death. They might just as well take the big leap and call it “a senior’s right to choose.” The media is glorifying the story of senior citizens who decide to kill themselves.

What is going on here? How did our culture come to this place? Why do Christians care?

An internet search on “right to die” or “assisted suicide” or other similar topics turns up a great deal of information. Many people will remember the late Dr. Kevorkian who campaigned vigorously for people’s right to kill themselves in certain situations, situations where he appointed himself to be the judge and jury. There are Supreme Court cases, organizations pro and con, and numerous individual stories of people who chose suicide. There are statistics, too, that show that many elderly people choose suicide rather than life, and only a few of those could even distantly be “justified” by a terminal diagnosis.

  • What is happening in the culture of the USA that increasingly presses for a societal right to end the lives of individuals?
  • Since we who follow Christ believe that life is God’s most precious gift, how does Christ want Christians to respond to this cultural trend?

Suicide might not look like a right for the society to end someone’s life. It seems at first glance to be something a person decides for himself. Suicide has been an issue in human society for as long as records tell the story. It isn’t a new thing.

What is new is the attitude of reporting about suicide. When an elderly person or a person who is terminally ill decides to commit suicide, the press seems to applaud the decision. It isn’t suicide when a terminally ill person chooses to allow nature to take its course; it is suicide when a terminally ill person packs up and goes to Switzerland where she can legally drink poison and die. The press describes this decision with almost the same awe as it shows for the vacation plans of the President and his family.

The culture of the USA is increasingly a culture of death. It looks on the surface like life, but in the heart of the culture, death is growing stronger.

  • The culture values the prevention of birth so strongly that the government is willing to run roughshod over the religious convictions of millions in order to provide sterilization, abortion and drugs labeled contraceptives (despite the fact that their actual function is to prevent implantation) at no cost to patients.
  •  The culture says that the killing of the unborn is justified because an unborn baby is an alien intruder in the body of a woman who does not need the inconvenience, an inconvenience so powerful that post-birth abortion has even been proposed as a legitimate option. 
  • The culture says that an elderly person’s suicide can be viewed as a “dignified death” if the elderly person is tired of living, for any reason whatsoever.
  • The culture has spawned a healthcare law that says it is appropriate to “manage” the provision of medical treatment according to a formula that assesses the cost benefit against life expectancy with the consequence that an expensive treatment w/ill rarely be authorized for an elderly patient, regardless of its potential benefit for the patient.
  • The same cost/benefit analysis can conceivably be used to deny or limit treatment of individuals whose irremediable disabilities make it likely that the benefit of some medical treatments would never be fully realized.
  • All these trends make it horrifyingly possible, maybe even probable, that a culture of eugenics could emerge under some other label, the term eugenics having been thoroughly discredited already.

The underlying theme of these cultural changes is a disregard for life. The theme that human beings have a right, even an obligation, to plan and manage the deaths of other people is a theme frequently promoted by media comments. The notion of planning families sounds like a liberating option until governments respond to population pressures by setting legal limits on family size. The notion of using money for healthcare wisely sounds like responsible fiscal management, until the whole process becomes entangled with a Pharisaical regulation embedded in a political budget process that has no relationship to the value of human life. It is becoming very clear that letting go of a cultural commitment to do whatever it takes to support life simply because life is precious comes at the cost of another precious commodity – freedom. Life is God’s first and most precious gift to humankind. After that, he gives liberty, the precious right to choose between good and evil, the precious responsibility to choose what God would choose. Christians are called to be salt and light in this secular culture. Christians have an obligation to shine the light of truth on the rising cultural trends. Christians have an obligation to behave like salt on food to change the flavor of the culture.

An individual Christian cannot make new laws or implement new policies nationwide. Yet each individual Christian must certainly want to do whatever will reshape the culture. Christians can speak and write and act with love for life. By our living testimonies, people will see our respect for life, our practice of treasuring and nurturing and preserving life, our commitment to the God from whom we all receive life. When we show Christ’s love for all people, even unborn people, even old feeble people, even poor, dirty, diseased people, even political opponents and social activists for causes we know are destructive – our willingness to love as Christ loved shines light on the truth and flavors the culture in a way that makes it better. We must not think that changing the culture or the government is all up to us. That is God’s work. No matter how faithful any one Christian might be, one Christian is unlikely to turn the culture upside down. On the other hand, God only needs one person completely committed to him to turn an empire upside down, as witness the impact of the apostle Paul.

As Christians, we respect everyone’s right to choose between good and evil. This is a God-given right. Our testimony is that in Christ, we choose life, the first and most valuable of all God’s gifts. Life is an absolute value, at every age.

For background and related articles, read Living on Tilt the newspaper