The Southern Baptist Convention’s top spokesman for moral concerns applauded a rare attempt by Republicans in Congress to block a District of Columbia law that would make assisted suicide legal in the heavily Democratic district.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, urged Congress to act quickly on H.J.Res. 27, a joint resolution disapproving of action by the District of Columbia Council approving the Death with Dignity Act of 2016, in comments quoted Feb. 14 by Baptist Press.
“Assisted suicide has nothing to do with dignity,” Moore told the denominational news service in written comments. “It turns human life and death into marketable goods and undermines the inherent worth of every person, regardless of age, health or mental ability.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform committee passed the legislation Feb. 13 by a vote of 22-14. According to the Washington Post, it is one of only a handful of times in the four-decade history of D.C. home rule that members of Congress have tried to use their constitutional power to overturn a city law, and the first since the GOP took control of both Congress and the White House in January.
Jessica Grennan, national director of political affairs and advocacy for Compassion & Choices – a nonprofit organization that advocates for patient rights — said the action interferes in “the democratic process in setting local policy” in the nation’s capital and “clearly contradicts” the D.C. Home Rule Act passed by Congress in 1973.
Part of the ERLC’s 2017 legislative agenda is to “monitor and be increasingly vocal against the rise of physician-assisted suicide” legislation in the United States. Currently six states — California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – allow the practice, and 15 others are considering doing the same.
The Southern Baptist Convention has passed four resolutions opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide since 1992, most recently in 2015.
The 1992 and 1996 SBC resolutions opposed “any action which, of itself or by intention, causes a person’s death” and called on federal, state and local governments “to prosecute under the law physicians or others who practice euthanasia or assist patients to commit suicide.”
A 2001 resolution protesting legalization of active euthanasia by The Netherlands called the practice “immoral ethically, unnecessary medically, and unconscionable socially.”
The 2015 SBC resolution affirms “the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death,” while urging churches and Christians “to care for the elderly among us, to show them honor and dignity, and to prayerfully support and counsel those who are providing end-of-life care for the aged, the terminally ill and the chronically infirmed.”
Polling last year by LifeWay Research found that two-thirds of Americans say it is morally acceptable for terminally ill patients to ask their doctors for help in ending their lives. Among evangelicals, 42 percent agreed that physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives, while a majority (58 percent) said no.
Moore, who took the helm at the ERLC in 2013 after teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said in 2015 article that arguments in favor of assisted suicide presume “that death is just a natural part of life.”
Quoting Bible passages describing death as the result of Adam’s curse and the “last enemy” to be destroyed in the Kingdom of God, Moore concluded that things like abortion and euthanasia are not just “liberal” or “mean” but “part of an ongoing guerilla insurgency against the image of the Creator himself.”
The law giving Congress oversight in the district requires action on legislation passed by the D.C. council within 30 days. If the disapproval resolution passes the House within that window, observers say it could stall in the Senate until the clock runs out.
The White House has not said whether President Trump would sign the measure.
“As they come our way and they get passed by both houses and come this way, we will issue statements of administration policy,” press secretary Sean Spicer said when asked about the assisted suicide bill Feb. 9. “At this time, they are not at that position.”
While the terms euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are often used interchangeably, experts say there is a difference.
Euthanasia, transliterated from a Greek word meaning “good death,” involves intentional termination of life by another person, typically with the patient’s permission.
Assisted suicide, which entered the political lexicon in the 1990s with physician Jack Kevorkian’s controversial “suicide machine,” is enabling a terminally ill person to end his or her own life using medications prescribed by a doctor.
Ethicists distinguish between “active” euthanasia, where a lethal drug dose is the actual cause of death, and “passive” euthanasia, which involves “letting nature take its course” by not providing or discontinuing treatments – such as feeding tubes or ventilators — to prolong the patient’s life.
The latter is generally regarded as ethical and legal, while the former in many jurisdictions is a felony.
Some argue that active euthanasia, usually a quicker means of causing death, is sometimes actually more merciful than the usually slower and more painful passive form.
Others say any act of euthanasia or assisted suicide violates the Hippocratic Oath. (The phrase “first do no harm” most often associated with the 2,000-year-old text is not in the original document but from another of Hippocrates’ works called Of the Epidemics.)