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