Experts: Is Maynard's 'right to die' a slippery slope to forced euthanasia?

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- One month ago today, 29-year-old newlywed and brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard legally committed suicide under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. Maynard's diagnosis and desire to end her life garnered widespread media attention in the weeks leading up to her November 1, 2014 suicide. Many people, including other cancer patients with similar diagnoses, urged Maynard to change her mind.

When Maynard followed through with her plan, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, publicly condemned her suicide. Maynard's mother, Debbie Ziegler, responded with a letter describing the emotional pain caused by others' public criticism of her daughter. In the letter, Ziegler asserted that the "right to die" is a human rights issue and that imposing one's own beliefs on a human rights issue is wrong. "To censure a personal choice as reprehensible because it does not comply with someone else's belief is immoral," she said.

Compassion and Choices, a self-described "aid in dying" advocacy group who helped publicize Maynard's story, has set up The Brittany Maynard Fund to help make "death with dignity" a "true option for millions across the country."

Because Compassion and Choices intends to use Maynard's story to push for expansion of "right to die" options, Christian Examiner asked two evangelical ethicists to evaluate Ziegler's claims about personal beliefs, the "right to die," and human rights.

Evan Lenow, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated that Ziegler's letter reflects the emotions of a grieving parent. However, he believes Ziegler is doing the same thing she criticizes others of doing.

"Her claim that the right to suicide is a human rights issue is an imposition of her own belief upon others who disagree--the very thing she accuses others of doing to her," Lenow said.

"We know from Scripture that God is the author of life, and we are called to preserve life. It is not our God-given role to end our own lives in the face of suffering," he explained. "Suffering can serve the purpose of pointing others to Christ as we trust in his provision for our lives."

John Kilner, Professor of Bioethics and Contemporary Culture at Trinity International University and past president of and senior fellow at The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, pointed out that some people view the humans rights aspect of a "right to die" differently than Ziegler.

"Years ago the U.S. Supreme Court carefully considered the matter of assisted suicide and could not find adequate grounds for a 'right to die' or a 'right to assisted suicide,'" he told Examiner. "One reason why such a right is not what this country stands for is that it privileges some over others.

"Brittany Maynard wanted her life to end, and she wanted the law of the land to give her the right to do so," he continued. "Plenty of other people--for example disability rights groups--fervently want the law of the land not to foster the option of ending life when patients or others deem it to be of insufficient quality. They consider the 'right to death' of some to undermine the 'right to life' of many more.

"Brittany's mother wants to force what she sees as her daughter's rights on others whose claimed rights she apparently is not as concerned about. That may be understandable; but asserting her family's rights over the rights of others whose personal stories are equally compelling is far from admirable. Thankfully the laws in most parts of the U.S. and the world recognize that," Kilner added.