Answering judge’s questions on assisted suicide

[notice]Philip Rosenthal.Philip Rosenthal of ChristianView Network (right) answers ethical questions about euthanasia which were asked by Judge Fabricius today, according to a Twitter report on the assisted suicide hearing in the Pretoria High Court.[/notice]


Judge Fabricius asked a set of questions in court today regarding euthanasia. The same questions are repeatedly asked and answered in just about every debate on the issue.

Journalist Katherine Child, in her Twitter coverage of today’s proceedings, quotes the judge:

Want to argue for or against euthanasia? Then answer Judges qu: What is diff between switching off life support or giving fatal injection?” “Judge is essentially saying some docs commit euthanasia anyway… but do it under guise of a high dose of morphine to end pain. Heart stops.”

“Judge arguing the case for lawyers as clearly they are not doing it. Says Right to Life is waived in war, abortion, turning off life support.”


What is difference between doctor assisted suicide and switching off life support?

  • In any law or ethical issue one has to draw a boundary somewhere. In any such debate each side is going to ask the difference between that and another apparently similar action in order to motivate a boundary shift. It was such progressive pushing of boundaries on killing that developed into the Nazi holocaust. First, doctor assisted ‘mercy killing’ of the terminally ill, then doctor killing of the mentally disabled, then the killing of labour camp prisoners who were deemed medically too weak to work. In all instances the selection of those to be killed was done by doctors, who had lost their consciences in the earlier euthanasia programme. Initially the labour camps were political prisoners, but then Gypsies and Jews were added. Nevertheless, in accordance with their medical euthanasia criteria, they only killed the weak — and worked and underfed the others until they qualified for such extermination.
  • Firstly, giving a fatal injection is active and intentional killing, while switching off life support is a passive action, which may or may not result in the death of the patient. Depending on their health, they do have a chance to survive and some do live beyond this.
  • Secondly, one draws a distinction between “ordinary care”, that is nursing type care such as food, water and warmth (usually that can be given at home) and “extra-ordinary care” that requires modern, expensive and limited resources to sustain life. We all needed ordinary care for example to survive when we were infants and in many cases when we are sick. Turning off life support is terminating “extra-ordinary care”. A hospital cannot practically keep every dying person indefinitely on life support, as it has limited such machinery. It is meant for short term emergency situations where an otherwise healthy person for example needs help after an accident. The pro-life movement does not require or expect such “extra-ordinary'”life support to be used for terminally ill or aged persons and in fact in many cases would discourage this.

*What is the difference with abortion?

  • Ethically not much. Abortion is murder too. That moral boundary has already been crossed unjustly in 1997. Nevertheless, with abortion, there were a set of false arguments used in motivation that cannot be used in defence of assisted suicide. For example: denial of the personhood of the unborn; the alleged infringment of the mothers rights; that the unborn are small and unseen and thus unimportant compared with the born.

What is the difference with war?

  • War (and police action) is undertaken by the state and not ad-hoc by private individuals, which is deemed terrorism. The state has a responsibility to protect its citizens against attack and crime and the right to use force to do so. Not every use of force by the state is justified, and the case for a particular war needs to be carefully motivated and limited to that necessary. In these instances, the state acts using force using authority delegated by God (Romans 13).

What about doctors who commit euthanasia under the guise of giving high doses of morphine?

  • The allegation that certain doctors are assisting suicide under the guise of administering a high dose of morphine to end pain is a serious one. Such was the instance of State v Hartmann where Dr Hartmann was found guilty of murder and lost his right to practice medicine by the Medical Council (now Health Professions Council). The fact that certain doctors unethically flout the law is not an excuse to legalise such. Rather they should be prosecuted. Nevertheless, it is accepted that a doctor in administering pain relief medication to a dying person may marginally shorten their life — the intention of the doctor in this instance is to relieve pain and not to kill.


  1. ” Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”
    God bless.
    Peter Throp (Value life.)

  2. Hugh G Wetmore

    Thanks, Philip, for your clear answers. Terry, the judge knew what he was doing – setting a precedent for eventual euthanasia. The State, DFL etc argued their opposition to this request well. He simply interpreted “dignity” as meaning “no suffering”. It is not.
    Many people handle terminal suffering with courage and dignity. Many suicides are not dignified at all; but it is falsely assumed that if a doctor approves and assists, then somehow it restores the ‘dignity’ of a suffering person. He has crossed a line. Now it is easy to argue that Senile Dementia is ‘undignified’. Because the sufferer is not mentally capable of making an informed decision, then others can do it for her/him. That’s where the ‘dignity’ slippery slopes leads. (Hitler is already a role-model for Wits SRC Chair … ). The well-tested Hippocratic Oath should be observed: no medically-assisted euthanasia.

    The Right to Life has been breached by ‘legal abortion’. Now it is to be breached at the other end: old age. There is not “Right to Death” in the Constitution. Don’t sneak it in surreptitiously under “the Right to Dignity”.

    • Vivendra Reddy

      “ Dear Hugh, you seem to miss the point of Jesus’ words from the Cross.  Peter is quite right, as the people who nailed Our Lord to the Cross thought that they knew what they were doing, yet Jesus said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” We have to intercede to ask God to grace them with true knowledge.   Faith, Hope  and  Love/charity”.   Viv Reddy.

  3. Your one answer states the stae will kill off the weak – and weaken those that CAN work till they can be killed (as in Nazi Germany) The final answer – regarding WAR – the state is obligated to PROTECT its citizens. So which “State” are you talking about??