Religious morals over choice of death by dignity


Screenshot of Brittany Maynard from CBS News.

Haley Keding

She visited Yellowstone National Park with her husband, traveled to Alaska with her best friend and saw the Grand Canyon with her family. The only thing left on her list was to die.

Brittany Maynard, a terminally ill woman, died Nov. 1 in her Portland home surrounded by close friends and family. Maynard was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer earlier this year and planned to die by death with dignity, instead of allowing the cancer to take her life.

According to the Death with Dignity National Center, death with dignity is when “mentally competent but terminally ill adults voluntarily request and receive a prescription medication to accelerate their death.” These laws exist in three states: Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

While some states made death with dignity lawful, many religions have their own teachings about death, which dictate the morals concerning of death with dignity.

Murali Shanker, a professor in the department of Management and Information Systems, practices Hinduism, which he said is more of a philosophy than a religion. To him, Hinduism teaches that it doesn’t matter if we choose to die or not because the mind, or awareness, is more important than the body.

“The people who realized we are just awareness have chosen their own time of death,” Shanker said.

In Hinduism, the development of the mind is key. Shanker said he supports someone who would choose to end his or her life because awareness is what will carry on to the next life, not the body. However, if he were in that situation, he would act differently.

“If tomorrow somebody said, ‘you have three months to live’, I might not take my life,” Shanker said. “I would use that experience and my current state of mind to strengthen my mind.”

While Hinduism teaches death with dignity is OK depending upon the individual’s state of mind, Christianity teaches otherwise.  

Ted Schumacher, a campus worker for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, said the Bible teaches the “sanctity of life” and that we cannot choose when and how we die.

“God brings us into the world and I think God should take us out,” Schumacher said.

Frank Kurtz, an associate for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, also said it’s not up to him to choose his date of death but sympathized with Maynard as he thought about her situation.

“I would be praying, ‘Lord take me now,’ but there must be some reason why it’s not time yet,” Krutz said. “God’s plan is perfect.”

Christianity teaches belief in Jesus will allow a person to enter heaven. Both Schumacher and Kurtz said they believe that if a Christian chose to die with dignity, God would still welcome that person in heaven.

“I don’t think that God would say, ‘because you chose to die I’m now going to go back on my word,’” Krutz said.

Islam similarly teaches death with dignity is wrong. Mahbobeh Vezvaei, a professor in the department of mathematical sciences, said Islam teaches even killing an ant is sinful, let alone yourself.

“According to the Islamic law, it is sin and prohibited,” Vezvaei said. “You cannot intentionally hurt yourself at all.”

Contact Haley Keding at [email protected].