How can I support medical aid in dying if my religion says that ending one’s own life is wrong?
It is called “medical aid in dying” because anyone who uses it is already actively dying, from an incurable disease, and has at most only six months to live. But even if you believe that shortening a difficult dying process at the very end is equivalent to ending one’s own life, remember that faith is a personal issue as well as a community expression. We all have our personal beliefs – religious, spiritual, naturalistic, ethical – so it is valid for someone to believe that accessing aid in dying is wrong. However, many people believe otherwise. One individual’s personal faith should not limit another’s right to choose which end-of-life medical option is best for them and their families.
What about the afterlife? Will someone who used medical aid in dying still be with God?
Some people believe in an afterlife; some people don’t. Ultimately, an individual’s own beliefs should dictate how to deal with the idea of an afterlife. A person who is terminally ill can talk to their family, their loved ones or clergy about any such concerns.
If they live in a state where medical aid in dying is authorized, is a clergy person forced to comply with a congregant’s wishes to use it?
No. Clergy members have no specified role in aid-in-dying laws; it is a process involving a dying person and healthcare providers. The person who chooses aid in dying will often include their loved ones in the decision and ask for support from their faith community. But it is a process the dying person must initiate and carry out themselves, until the end when they self-administer the medication to achieve a peaceful death.
What should I do if I have a congregant who is terminally ill and wants to access medical aid in dying, but their family is resistant?
It is important for families to have conversations about the end of life well before someone is in the position to require them, and often faith leaders can encourage that. Even before a terminal diagnosis, someone who is gravely ill should plan a time to talk to their loved ones about their final wishes and what they consider to be a good death. Ultimately, though, a deeply personal decision like this lies with the individual, and hopefully their family can come to respect whatever that decision may be.
Isn’t God a healer?
Of course! However, healing can happen a number of ways. Healing can take the form of peace of mind knowing that if your suffering becomes too great, you can end it. It can also take the form of comfort in knowing that a loved one didn’t suffer more than they needed to at the end of life. And sometimes healing is what comes after death. Even with this, the understanding and decision of what healing is should be left to the individual.
Isn’t suffering sometimes a good thing?
Beliefs around suffering depend on the individual and the faith tradition. Our understanding of suffering and its purpose in our lives will likely vary from the people around us, so we need to allow people to make their own decisions about how to deal with pain and suffering at the end of life. One individual’s beliefs shouldn’t dictate how those who don’t share them live their lives.