Physician assisted suicide has been legal in Washington, Oregon and Montana for some years now, but the ethical dilemmas surrounding the law continue to be a struggle for many Americans.
At its monthly meeting Wednesday night, members of the Friends of Compassion discussed those dilemmas, including the ways faith plays a role in euthanasia.
The group, made of about 30 people, started the conversation by remembering Dan Treecraft, a Spokane resident and blogger who chose suicide over cancer treatment. Treecraft died two years ago after breathing from a cylinder of nitrogen gas. His friends and family supported his decision.
John Hancock, director of Friends of Compassion, said in his experiences, most people who choose euthanasia are those who don’t practice a particular faith.
Daya Goldschlag, who leads Zen meditation classes locally, said she was surprised people who didn’t practice a faith would be more willing to commit suicide than those who believe in a God waiting on the other side to embrace them.
Perhaps, some in the group said, that’s because most religions — particularly Christianity — fear God’s retribution if one takes his or her own life.
Others questioned whether euthanasia was a selfish way to exit the earth.
The Rev. Joe Neimiec Jr. said regardless of the religious viewpoints on the issue, people who choose to end their own lives deserve to be honored with a funeral on sacred ground.
“A lot of churches refuse to hold services on hallowed ground if someone commits suicide,” he said.
He added that family members left behind also need to be cared for by the faith community and/or friends and loved ones.
The group also mostly agreed that assisted suicide should be a family decision, not just a decision left to the person who is ill.
The question whether assisted suicide is moral or immoral, though, remained unclear.
Hancock said he views this life a continuous journey and getting old or sick is part of that journey.
“I think the soul has longer than just this life,” he said. “The soul is on this journey of understanding pleasure. Pain, suffering and getting old, losing my health and losing my intellect is part of that journey…Cutting off that last part of the journey short circuits the last opportunity to learn."
The discussion was part of an ongoing series on aging. The next meeting will focus on, "After We're Gone, Then What?" and will be held on Feb. 20.
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