Euthanasia: Mercy or Murder?

Terri Schiavo's name has been immortalized as her case, which has dragged on through an odyssey of court-ordered terminations and legal stays, finally climaxed in her death (click for background and timeline, then use Back button). It was a tug-of-war involving her estranged husband and parents over whether or not she is allowed to die. The legal wranglings and special circumstances surrounding Schiavo's situation present a host of legal, ethical and moral challenges. The core question: Should she be euthanized or is her husband—who long ago abandoned the marriage and her care, reputedly despite a huge settlement to pay for it—seeking to legally murder her?

Rendered a quadriplegic 15 years ago by a heart stoppage, Schiavo nonetheless remains responsive to conversation, requires no life support, requires only a feeding tube at mealtimes and would likely respond to therapy, according to 32 neurologists who swore so in an affidavit recently. Yet, Mr. Schiavo's lawyers argue for removing her feeding tube and allowing her to dehydrate when the last legal stay ends on March 18. Is her case one that exemplifies a hopeless prolongation of life? Not according to a large movement to save her, headed by her parents (see their Web site: In direct response, the U.S. Congress will soon vote on "The Incapacitated Person's Legal Protection Act."

We seek not to report extensively on the Schiavo case nor to unravel that particular knot here, but rather to get underneath the issue and broaden the survey to other kinds of right-to-die cases and the ethical topic of euthanasia in general. This seems all the more timely given this month's headlines. Clint Eastwood's film Million Dollar Baby, the theme of which was euthanasia, won Best Director and Best Picture along with several other awards. Best Foreign-Language Film went to Spain's The Sea Inside, also centered on so-called mercy-killing. Gene Edward Veith writes in an article linked to below, "...In a perfect storm of euthanasia-related developments—the same week as the Schiavo decision and the euthanasia-fest at the Oscars—the Supreme Court, which refused to hear an appeal from Mrs. Schiavo's parents, announced that it will rule on Oregon's law permitting physician-assisted suicide." The time has certainly come and is long past, many believe, to gain conviction on the matter. Yet, according to surveys, Americans seem all too willing to seek the death of others (active euthanasia), the same route Europeans have gone.

Many complicated issues prevail. One is clear: actively seeking death for anyone is anathema to a biblical worldview. American law as historically rooted in the belief in an inalienable right to life, disallows even taking ones' own life. However, while ever-improving life-saving and sustaining technologies move the lines of demarcation, assessing the gray areas becomes increasingly tricky. Conundrums include:

None of these vital questions are exhausted here and several are not dealt with except in a cursory or implied way. The debatable issues surrounding death by choice seem endless. But critics point out that, once the slippery slope of ending life intentionally for one class of people is approached, other classes will inevitably slide down that slope, as has happened in The Netherlands.

Few simple answers, no easy ones. Examine the arguments for yourself.

NOTE: Since the publication of this Special Focus, Terri Schiavo has died, 13 days after the court-ordered removal of her feeding tube. Controversy still swirls around her death and her family of origin is still at odds with husband Michael Schiavo. A marked increase in discussion among bloggers, talkshows, news outlets and other sources regarding related topics promises to continue for some time. Perhaps the most consequential debate will revolve around "sanctity of life" versus "quality of life" as concepts regarding end-of-life concerns. Discussions on such topics as balance of powers between branches of government and even marital rights and the definition of marriage will certainly be fueled, as well.

—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

Featured Articles: "First, the news..."

Euthanasia's Roe v. Wade—NEW
Professor Gene Edward Veith
A perfect storm could be brewing against the sick and injured with the Schiavo case, a recent spate of films promoting euthanasia and the Supreme Court agreeing to hear a so-called right to die law in Oregon.

Schiavo case puts human dignity on trial—NEW
Douglas Groothuis
Ethics professor and author of Truth Decay Groothuis paints the reality of the case of Terri Schiavo, whose story has captured the nation, in this opinion piece for The Rocky Mountain Times. He incisively relates society's compliance with abortion-on-demand and the right to die movement to the Nazi mindset, and contrasts that with a Judeo-Christian perspective.

Million Dollar Missed Opportunity—NEW
Wesley J. Smith
What Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning movie could have done, according to renowned bioethicist and lawyer Smith. The film and director, both of which won "best" honors at this year's Oscars, fell into the kind of "easy way out" mentality of those that Million Dollar Baby depicted.

Prescription for Chaos: Understanding the lethal Oregon case that’s hitting the Supreme Court—NEW
Wesley J. Smith
Widely respected bioethics expert Smith explains the legalities surrounding the Oregon assistued suicide case, the challenge to which the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear. "This case is actually less about assisted suicide than it is about 'federalism,'" that is, the federal government's right to enforce its laws uniformly across the States in regards to controlled substances.

Other End-of-Life Articles

Ethics & Life’s Ending: An Exchange—NEW
Robert D. Orr & Gilbert Meilaender
An exchange between ethicists Drs. Orr and Meilaender on some thorny issues surrounding end-of-life decisions. Dr. Orr claims, "It is commonly accepted that the timing of 80 percent of deaths that occur in a hospital is chosen." If this is accurate, then a number of those debates that may appear simple and clear on the surface must not be so easy to decide--even for biblical believers, who have more guidance. May be helpful for those facing such decisions.

Death Wish II: Euthanasia, the Second Time Around—NEW
Dr. Allan Carlson
Carlson describes the grim parallel between the euthanasia of Hitler's Nazi regime, its roots in a eugenics of socialist utilitarianism and rejection of Christian ethics with the rise of the eerily similar euthanasia movement of today. The three-fold worldview they share: a radical shift in medical ethics by practitioners themselves; the rise of an ethos that views "death as a positive instrument for progress," and; a connection of mercy-killing with the greater economic good. A chilling cautionary history with a biting contrast at the end.

The Movie "One True Thing" and Euthanasia
Dr. Kenneth Simcic
An overview of the legal and rhetorical issues involved in euthanasia. Some stern warnings are given as another country's experience with this practice is discussed. A bit dated, but valuable both in chronicling "how we got here" and as a broad, brief primer on the issue.

Books in Review: Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder
Michael M. Uhlmann
Review of Wesley J. Smith's 1998 release, Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder. Uhlmann applauds Smith's ability to arrive at the conclusion of what assisted suicide (so-called mercy killing) will look like for our society--which seven years later is slowly unfolding. He criticizes Smith's silence on the legal logic of abortion which got us here and his policy proposals. Uhlmann recommends the book as a good starting place for educating oneself on the issue. Read why.

Past Features: Bioethics

LeaderU Special Focus Features: Bioethics
Edited by Byron Barlowe
Choose from LeaderU's Past Features listing of Medicine/Bioethics by individual topic: abortion, cloning, euthanasia, genetic engineering, stem cell research and sanctity of life in general. Way too much to read all at once, this page provides "ground zero" for continuing education on these and many other vital issues of concern. Peruse the lists of free resources from a scholarly biblical perspective.