Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 Posted: 3:50:00PM HKT
|The three panel speakers at GCF's Euthanasia Forum held yesterday: Dr Alastair Campbell, Dr Alex Tang, and Rev Dr Tan Soo Inn. (Photo: CPS)|
For the three panel experts at a Christian Euthanasia forum conducted yesterday, there was no question about whether the community of believers should oppose its legalisation - it was more an issue of definition and scope.
One of them felt that in the midst of extensive debate euthanasia had lost its original meaning of a 'good death'.
Coming against conventional understandings of euthanasia as refusing treatment, an opportunity to get rid of old folks, the Advanced Medical Directive, or doctors as killers – he added that doctors have a license only to save – Dr Alex Tang, the Director of the Spiritual Formation Institute, Malaysia, and a paediatrician at the Johor Specialist Hospital, redefined it in the light of what Scripture approves.
Citing the figure of Jacob as the example of someone who had died a good death, Tang pointed out three characteristics.
“Jacob accepted his death at the appointed time,” he said, framing physical death as one of the realities of life on earth.
Secondly, the patriarch was able to place his life in the context of the ongoing history of God’s salvation. Finally, he perceived earthly death as the point of entry into another life to fulfill God’s purpose.
Emphasising that Christians should not cling on to life, Tang used the model of Jesus Christ, who gave up His life as a redemptive act, and who also died as an act of surrender.
“Euthanasia for Christians is to live well and to die well at the appointed time,” he said.
The forum, entitled Euthanasia: A Christian Perspective, was organised by the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship (GCF), an inter-denominational ministry consisting of professional groups including doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, scientists, counselors, and marketplace professionals to help Christians see and reach their workplaces as mission fields, and also provide a biblical voice via such forums.
For yesterday’s talk, which received a room packed with attendants from various Christian circles, GCF also invited Prof Alastair Campbell, Director of Centre for Biomedical Ethics at National University Singapore, and Rev Dr Tan Soo Inn, Chairman and Training Consultant of Graceworks, and chaplain of the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship (CMDF), a sectional group of the fellowship.
Rev Tan, who was formerly the senior pastor of a large church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, broadened the debate by bringing in the importance of hospice and palliative care for terminal patients. In addressing his topic, he revisited the painful personal experience of caring for a loved one – his wife – who suffered from cancer in the early 1990s and went to be with the Lord some time later.
Tan expressed his concern that Christians could tend to emphasise theological position to the extent that they neglect the day-to-day practical life issues of the care of a suffering, terminal patient who is beyond healing and recovery.
Recalling his own struggles during his wife’s ailment – his wife felt she failed her children, while he felt his world had fallen apart and his son was also burdened with worry – he spoke of the need for Christians to support the hospice movement, whose fourfold purpose is the relief of patients from pain, psychological and spiritual care for patients so they can come to terms with and prepare for death, programmes to help patients live as actively and creatively as possible, promoting autonomy and self-esteem, and helping families cope during the patient’s illness and in bereavement.
On the legalisation of euthanasia, Tang showed using a case study in the U.S. State of Oregon where the bill was passed more than a decade ago allowing for Patient Assisted Suicide that it did not lead to Oregon becoming a ‘suicide capital’ as earlier predicted; out of its large population, only 541 persons opted for it, and out of that, only 341 actually took the lethal medication.
More surprisingly, of those who opted for PAS, only 39 percent articulated fears of being a burden to their families and communities, and less than three percent took the option for ‘financial’ reasons.
“Oregon didn’t become a suicide capital,” said Tang. “No other states followed.”
The issue became a moot one, according to him, and doctors focused more on developing palliative care as an alternative, better pain control, and better diagnosis and treatment of depression, and better medications with minimal side effects.
For text of my talk, click here