VEC&BS Physician Assisted
Suicide Position Paper
On their meeting of 5 March 2003, the Board of Trustees of the
Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society adopted the following
statement on Physician Assisted Suicide as presented by their Faith
and Order Committee. We acknowledge our gratitude to the Massachusetts
Council of Churches Board of Directors. Much of this statement
is excerpted directly from the statement they adopted with minor
- The members of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society
share a common concern on the matter of physician assisted suicide.
After careful reflection and prayer, members of the Board of
Trustees seriously doubt, and some reject categorically, that
physician assisted suicide is an ethically responsible action.
- The dialogue about end of life issues must continue. We are
committed to work together to articulate a position about end
of life issues for women and men of faith today. This position
is based on our faith in the Author of Life and the role of Jesus
Christ and his Spirit in our lives.
- Physician assisted suicide is not the answer. A right and
good answer is found in the creation of measures that will effectively
diminish suffering, so that the terminally ill patient can
live and die with a maximum of consciousness and a minimum
Our reasoning in this matter involved the following (taken from
the Massachusetts Council of Churches Board of Directors statement).
- We believe that if physician assisted suicide is allowed
it will take the pressure off society to deal with end of life
- We are concerned about the impact of the
rising cost of health care delivery on end of life decisions.
It would be socially irresponsible if the lack of affordable
health care prompted people to consider the alternative of
physician assisted suicide, fearing that they were an economic
burden or that they were no longer “useful” and “productive.” Thus,
we support accessible, affordable, quality health care for all,
and are concerned that countervailing economic pressures could
narrow appropriate options for terminally ill patients.
- We are
convinced that the church, the medical professions, and society
at large, need to grapple with end of life issues. Sanctioning
physician assisted suicide might well short-circuit such involvement.
- We are particularly concerned that the individualizing of
end of life decisions about suicide removes social ties and support
for terminally ill persons. They might even feel social pressure
for them to use physician assisted suicide. In earlier days family
and church provided care and support for the terminally ill.
Today the church needs to recover its role and pay more attention
to how it can function effectively in such situations.
- We as
Christians also want to encourage those in the medical professions
to take up their responsibility to develop protocols dealing
with end of life issues such as the role of so-called heroic
treatment, the authority of the patients’ expressed desires
concerning cessation of treatment, and the clinical definition
We found the following statement illumines some
of the issues with which we were grappling in our reflections.
“On August 7, 1998, the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican
communion said that euthanasia ‘is neither compatible with
the Christian faith nor should be permitted in civil legislation.’ Lambeth
continued, ‘withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating
excessive medical treatment and intervention . . . may be consonant
with Christian faith in allowing a person to die with dignity.’ The
73d General convention of the Episcopal Church in July 2000 said
that ‘[T]he Episcopal Church should continue to oppose physician-assisted
suicide near the end-of-life because suicide is never just a private,
self-regarding act. It is an act that affects those with whom we
are in relation within the community, denying them the sense of meaning
and purpose to be derived from caring for us as we die. Moreover,
it threatens to erode our trust in physicians, who are pledged to
an ethic of healing. Finally, it denies our relationship of love
and trust in God and sets us up as gods in the place of God.’”