Lutheran bishops in Michigan oppose physician-assisted suicide
ELCA News Service, October 26, 1998
CHICAGO – “We Lutheran Christians believe that life is a gift from God, temporarily entrusted to us as faithful guardians of a sacred trust,” wrote the three bishops of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) synods in Michigan. They issued their public statement in response to Proposal B on Michigan’s Nov. 3 ballot “to legalize the prescription of a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill, competent, informed adults in order to commit suicide.”
“The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has spoken against the use of physician-assisted suicide as an acceptable means for making end-of-life decisions,” said Bishops Gary L. Hansen of the ELCA’s North/West Lower Michigan Synod, Robert A. Rimbo of the Southeast Michigan Synod and Dale R. Skogman of the Northern Great Lakes Synod.
“Those who promote this last, fatal escape as a right should remember that such a right may evolve someday into an expectation and, finally, a mandate to die. This may lead to the situation where some individuals and families will be forced to put financial concerns above loved ones’ needs,” they said.
“The dignity of the human person is of inestimable value in our faith. This is at the heart of the current discussion on self-determination with regard to the time and place of one’s death. Knowing that people of good will disagree on these serious matters, we call upon all parties to conduct public deliberation with respect, and to refrain from personal attacks and ridicule,” said the bishops. “We call for calm, for reflection and prayer,” they added. “We need to know … how we are to become better stewards, rather than ‘owners’ of human life.”
“We oppose the legalization of physician-assisted death, which would allow the private killing of one person by another,” said the ELCA’s 1992 message on end-of-life decisions. “Public control and regulation of such actions would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. The potential for abuse, especially of people who are most vulnerable, would be substantially increased.”
A group named “Merian’s Friends” led a petition drive to place the proposal on the Michigan ballot. It gets its name from Merian Frederick, a woman battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1993 in the presence of Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
The Denver-based Hemlock Society, a national right-to-die organization, praised “Merian’s Friends” for getting the initiative on the ballot. “This is a carefully crafted piece of legislation which has excellent safeguards to protect dying patients, physicians and the public,” said Faye Girsch, the society’s executive director. “It is a right which should be granted to all Americans.”
On the Nov. 3 ballot Michigan voters will be asked to approve or disapprove Proposal B, which would:
“1) Allow a Michigan resident or certain out-of-state relatives of Michigan residents confirmed by one psychiatrist to be mentally competent and two physicians to be terminally ill with six months or less to live to obtain a lethal dose of medication to end his/her life.
“2) Allow physicians, after following required procedures, to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to enable a terminally ill adult to end his/her life.
“3) Establish a gubernatorially appointed, publicly funded oversight committee exempt from Open Meetings Act and whose records, including confidential medical records, and minutes are exempt from Freedom of Information Act.
“4) Create penalties for violating law.”
Oregon is the only state with such a law on the books.