There has been a lot of talk in the news, through the years, (and recently) on the subject of euthanasia. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the following statement posted on mormonnewsroom.org:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life, and is therefore opposed to euthanasia. Euthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. Such a deliberate act ends life immediately through, for example, so-called assisted suicide. Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes by removing a patient from artificial means of life support, as in the case of a long-term illness, falls within the definition of euthanasia. When dying from such an illness or an accident becomes inevitable, it should be seen as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer.”
As a lifelong member of this Church (we’re also sometimes called LDS or Mormons), I always understood this to be the Church’s policy on euthanasia and prolonging life. While I can’t separate a lifetime of being a Mormon from how I think, I very likely would be against planned, flat-out euthanasia even if I weren’t a member of the Church. I’ve pondered a bit on the subject today, as the topic has been in the news lately, and then, just today, I’ve noticed the Church’s statement being circulated on Twitter and Facebook, although I’m fairly certain the statement isn’t new. It’s made me think about an experience I had once.
I remember working the graveyard shift as a CNA in a nursing home over 15 years ago. Most of the nurses and CNAs were Christian, like me. An elderly patient had been very near death for days, and was unable to communicate. Her blood pressure started going up, which the nurses knew could be an indication that she was in pain. Enough time had passed since the last dose of pain meds that the patient could have more pain medicine, but the nurses also knew that another dose could likely be just enough to push our patient over the line, and she would die. We didn’t want her suffering in pain, and it was officially time to give her more pain medication, but the nurses still struggled at the thought of it. I remember having a prayer together in the nurses station, and the nurses then deciding to give her the appropriate meds for her pain, as was their job, and leaving whether that affected the timing of our patient’s death in the hands of God. I remember we all walked down to her room together, to find that our patient had passed on during our short discussion and prayer, which probably was less than 10 minutes. She had gone home to her Heavenly Father. Perhaps she even knew of our prayer on her behalf, and our concern for her pain. I was thankful that her suffering was over. I was also thankful Heavenly Father had removed the weight of having to give that last dose of pain meds from shoulders of the nurses working that night, even though they would have done nothing wrong in giving our patient the scheduled dose of pain medication, as prescribed by a doctor.
I was also thankful for prayer that night. I believe that end of life choices are best handled with prayer, as the Church suggests in its statement. Even though we weren’t having a euthanasia debate that night, some of the feelings we felt and thoughts we had were the same. We were on sacred ground, and we felt it. We felt compassion for our patient’s suffering, while also feeling respect and awe for the gift of life that God had given.
Although it is simple to reject flat-out “assisted suicide” that is planned and purposeful, many of the same feelings must still be wrestled with as we make decisions about pain management and/or artificial means of keeping someone (or ourselves) alive. To make these decisions, we need the Lord’s help so that we can feel peace about our decisions. It’s also helpful to get informed about end of life care, so that we can make our wishes known in advance, if possible. A good place to start is to have a conversation with your family and your doctor. I know that laws vary from state to state, but most states have information and forms for people to use in creating living wills and advance directives.
Click here to view Mormon Newsroom’s statement: