Is poverty itself reason enough to allow someone to opt for doctor-assisted suicide? The question seems ludicrous – poverty is a condition that can change over a lifetime, and is hardly comparable to terminal lung cancer (an example of the “reasonably foreseen” death that’s previously been used to justify euthanasia).
Yet a recent survey found 27% of Canadians agree with allowing doctor-assisted suicide in cases of poverty. This is one in four people you might meet!
The survey was done by Research Co. and the results were released on May 5. Almost immediately it began making headlines with 11% of respondents saying they “strongly agree” and 16% that they “moderately agree” poverty was reason enough to let people kill themselves.
We might be surprised, but the reality is, once suicide is an option and personal autonomy is valued, it’s not clear on what grounds someone would be prevented from asking for death because of poverty. After all, why shouldn’t the poor be able to make these kinds of decisions for themselves? If assisted dying is available to all Canadians, why should the poor be considered less able to choose?
Christians know we are commanded to have compassion for the poor, not seek to eliminate them.
But in a society where the government provides both social support services and medically-assisted dying, there is a financial incentive to reduce the cost of what gets provided to struggling people. This inevitably puts the poor in a vulnerable situation, a situation where they should receive the support and advocacy of their neighbors around them in a system that can be cold and impersonal. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Prov. 29:7). Insisting that the poor have the full capacity to make a choice for euthanasia misses all the ways they might not feel like they have much of a choice.
This survey also demonstrates how far opponents of euthanasia have to go in influencing public opinion. Do people really understand what they’re saying when they answer a poll question like this? The most charitable interpretation is that the poll responders wanted to emphasize the personal autonomy of a poor individual. But a personal choice is never made in isolation.
Ultimately to declare poverty as reason enough to consider euthanasia is to devalue the worth of all the poor. To say poverty is enough reason for one person to consider no longer living is to say this kind of suffering decreases the value of that life.
This comes into starker contrast looking beyond our borders to take in the poor worldwide. Tell humans who are barely getting by that they don’t need to struggle anymore, tell them that they can decide their life has no value and they can quit it. What would they say about this attitude to the life they’re fighting tooth and nail to keep?
Suffering does not erase the meaning and value of being alive. But in a modern world where personal fulfillment and the individual’s choice matter above everything else, this message will be a challenge for Christians to drive home.