When we talk about “euthanasia,” what exactly do we mean? Today, we usually hear about euthanasia in the healthcare context. For our purposes, “euthanasia” amounts to doing, or not doing, something to intentionally bring about a patient’s death. Because there’s so much confusion surrounding the term, let’s make sure we understand what euthanasia is not.

It is not euthanasia to administer medication needed to control pain. That’s called good medical care. It is not euthanasia to stop treatment that is gravely burdensome to a patient. That’s called letting the patient exercise the moral option to refuse extraordinary medical means. It is not euthanasia to stop tube-feeding a patient whose diseased or injured body can no longer assimilate food and water. That’s called simply accepting death.

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In these circumstances, pain control, refusing extraordinary means, and stopping feeding may all allow death. But—and this is crucial to our understanding—unlike euthanasia, their purpose and intent is not to bring about death.

Actually, euthanasia could be called a form of suicide, assisted suicide, or even murder, depending on the patient’s level of involvement and consent. To define euthanasia this way, though, seems to diminish its threat. After all, aren’t there laws or, at the very least, strong social taboos against suicide, assisted suicide, and murder?

Unfortunately, when it comes to the sick and disabled, this is no longer entirely true. And the rationale and cultural forces behind the movement that brought this about threaten even more to tear down the legal and social barriers to killing.

Most of us know about Jack Kevorkian and his efforts to “help” ailing people commit suicide. Many of us may not realize, though, that Kevorkian’s maverick image masks a serious crusade that is building on emerging legal and cultural trends. Our society is poised to accept euthanasia on demand—and worse. What we don’t know about that could kill us.

In sum, it is vitally important to understand that everyone’s most basic right—the right to life—is in jeopardy when our law and collective morality no longer view all persons as equally worthy of life, solely on the basis of our common humanity. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also in our own best interests to protect and cherish weak and vulnerable members of our human family.

In order to do that, we must educate ourselves and others about the growing threat of euthanasia, vigorously oppose its legalization, and pray for the wisdom and compassion to properly comfort, care for, and dissuade those considering suicide.

The information on euthanasia is a PowerPoint Presentation (2007) prepared for American Life League by Julie Grimstad, executive director of Life is Worth Living, Inc.