Q&A on Terminal Sedation

Close up of Asian elderly women patient's hand on a drip receiving a saline solution holding on to the bed in hospital

Question: What is terminal sedation? Is it the same as physician-assisted suicide?

Answer: Physician-assisted suicide is defined as a physician’s act that is meant to intentionally end the life of a patient. Terminal sedation is practiced when a patient is drugged into unconsciousness and kept that way until death.

Although physician-assisted suicide is illegal in most parts of the world, terminal sedation is quietly allowed in most medical institutions. There seems to be an attitude that terminal sedation is acceptable because the practice does not immediately kill the patient, as is done with physician-assisted suicide. Terminal sedation allows the patient to die more naturally and gradually. Supporters of terminal sedation also note that death is accomplished with the use of legal pain medications that are simply given in larger doses.

In applying this issue with the Christian ethic, there are two considerations. Scripture teaches us that God alone has authority over life and death (Deuteronomy 32:39). We also know that our responsibility is to provide care as we preserve and protect human life (Genesis 9:5-6; Luke 10). Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and terminal sedation are all meant to end a life prematurely, usually for the purpose of alleviating suffering. When these acts assume authority over life and death, they go beyond the responsibility God grants to man. The second issue deals with the provision of comfort and care for others. When a loved one is suffering, he or she needs to be kept as comfortable as possible. That means medication can rightly be administered for the purpose of relieving pain.

In conclusion, the use of pain medication is acceptable when the purpose is to alleviate pain and to keep the patient relatively comfortable. Once the intent goes beyond the suppression of pain and becomes an intentional termination of human life, then it is an act that presumes an authority over life and death that God does not give to mankind.

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