End-of-Life Comfort Care is not Euthanasia

Euthanasia or physician induced suicide is drastically different from comfort care in the final days or weeks of someone’s life.

Here are some clarifications:

Euthanasia – the intentional physician induced killing of a person for his/her alleged benefit.  The physician ensures that the act is not “botched,” and is typically done by physician or nurse-administered lethal injection.  This is currently legal in a some countries but it is illegal in all the States in the Union.

Physician aid in Dying (PAD) or assisted suicide – here the physician prescribes the lethal injection while the patient self-administers it.  Some form of this practice is legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana.

End-of-Life Comfort Care or Hospice Care – the palliation or alleviation of symptoms at the end of life for terminally ill patients.  The physical goal here is to treat pain and respiratory distress using narcotics which ease the dying process.  Emotional and spiritual care are typically a part of hospice as well.

I have made the argument (here) that euthanasia (and suicide assisted in any way) is a crime against God because we do not have the right to give or take life.  But it is important to realize that comfort care given to a patient who has arrived in the final stages of illness is NOT an assisted suicide.  Comfort care is a compassionate act aimed at making physical and emotional pain manageable in the last few hours to weeks of life.

What about administering narcotics like morphine or fentanyl to patients with end-stage illness?  Doesn’t that directly lead to the patient’s demise?

The answer is NO.  They help ease the patient’s passing, and they are not meant to actually kill him.  The disease pathology ultimately causes the patient’s demise.

As pneumonia or airway complications are usually the final road to passing in many terminally ill patients, the narcotics used in comfort care also help in alleviating the respiratory distress that can become a problem in the last day or two of life.

Anyone who watched a loved one pass away from terminal illness can probably attest that comfort care is almost a polar opposite to euthanasia.

Our God is a God of love, mercy and compassion.  His children must demonstrate and practice these communicable attributes we have received from Him. Compassionate care for terminally ill is in line with these godly attributes.  I do not think it is a stretch to apply this verse to the goal of comfort care at the end of our patients’ lives:

“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Cor 1:3-4

2 comments on “End-of-Life Comfort Care is not Euthanasia

  1. thanks for this post. End of life care is almost never talked about and Christians are often caught unawares. In my case, I struggled very much with the administering of some of those palliative drugs because I was told that they speeded up death, and I wish I had this information back then. God has blessed us though your blog, not only do we get a theological perspective through it, but we also have a theological perspective applied to the medical field from your medical experience, but all with a Gospel perspective. So, I hope you know how much your work is needed 🙂 and also how much it is appreciated by us, your readers.

    • Rodi, so sorry you went through a terminal illness with your dad. There is so much fear even among Christians when you have to face a serious illness and medical procedures because most people do not understand them very well. Especially with end of life issues.

      There are those who think that comfort care is essentially an assisted suicide, but it is not so. It just makes the inevitable more painless. The question is, does it hasten death? An overdose could. But I could make the argument that by allowing the patient to struggle with their breathing without the meds, they could tire faster and expire faster, while struggling… So I think the meds definitely help without having to worry that we are taking a loved one’s life in our hands….

      Now… Withdrawing active life support in terminally ill is a bit more complicated, but some of the same principles apply… May be the subject of another post…

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