Professional religious leaders might lack
training in medical ethics,
O FOR LIFE-ENDING DECISIONS
A MEMBER OF THE CLERGY
APPROVES OR QUESTIONS CHOOSING DEATH
but they usually have experience with death and its aftermath.
And especially if the clergy-person has known the patient for years,
he or she might be a very strong witness for
the patient's long-standing plan to die at the best time.
Generally society respects members of the
We look to them for moral leadership if nothing else.
So if a member of the clergy of some religious group
examines all of the documents created in the death-planning process,
talks with the patient and the family,
and carefully considers the options—a
chosen death or a natural death—
his or her ethical opinion is likely to be respected.
There will always be some religious groups
that have official positions against intentionally ending human life.
But even the most conservative religious groups have exceptions
which permit the withdrawal of extraordinary life-support measures
if such medical treatment only prolongs the process of dying.
If the patient belongs to a respected
one of its religious leaders could write a concurring opinion
about the wisdom of the patient choosing death at this time.
Or the clergy-person could raise doubts about the choice of death.
And in any funeral or memorial service for this patient
it might be relevant for the clergy-person to explain his or her part
in withdrawing life-supports or some other method of choosing death.
If a clergy-person endorsed the life-ending decision,
people more distant from the choice might find it easier to accept.
But, of course, if the patient and the
family and friends
have no connections with religious organizations,
this safeguard will be omitted.
Or perhaps some secular equivalent of a member of the clergy
could be asked to review the decision.
This safeguard asks for a respected member of the community
who is not as emotionally involved as the family and friends
to agree that this life-ending decision is wise and
or to raise doubts about the wisdom of choosing death at this time.
Let the patient and/or the family decide which
advisors (if any)
would be best positioned to review the proposed
The patient and/or the family will know whom to trust with this role.
The most straight-forward way for this safeguard to
is for the member of the clergy selected by the patient
and/or the family
to write a short statement explaining why in his or her opinion
death at this time
and by the chosen means is better than
death at a
later time from natural causes witout making any choices.
The clergy-person could also suggest a delay in death
if that seemed wise from his or her perspective.
As said before, this is an optional safeguard.
But the patient and/or family that wants to make a very strong case
that this chosen death was a wise and compassionate decision,
taken with due consideration of all perspectives both medical and
then a written assessment by a member of the clergy
will make the decision more difficult for strangers to challenge.
This safeguard might be fulfilled in conjunction
with the safeguard
calling for the application of
religious doctrine to the proposed death.
HOW THE DISAPPROVAL OF A CLERGY-PERSON
WILL DISCOURAGE IRRATIONAL SUICIDE
AND OTHER FORMS OF PREMATURE DEATH
The basic purpose of all safeguards for
is to prevent foolish choices
and to permit wise outcomes.
People who want to withdraw life-supports prematurely
are not likely to ask for the approval of a member of the clergy.
Likewise, suicidal persons will not be able to convince
professional religious leaders that death is the best course of action.
And similarly, relatives intent on mercy-killing
will not consult their priest or minister before doing the evil
Members of the professional leadership of all
(with the notable exception of suicide cults)
are known to affirm the value of human life.
They will not approve any irrational suicides;
nor will they cooperate with any plot by family members
to get rid of a rich and/or troublesome relative
merely because it suits the wishes of some family members.
The stated disapproval
of a member of the clergy,
especially when reasons are presented for questioning the proposed
might cause everyone involved to
re-examine their thinking.
And wise religious leaders can help patients and
to choose the best time to die.
January 17, 2007; revised 3-15-2008; 5-22-2008; 2-6-2010; 5-19-2010;
1-29-2012; 2-22-2012; 3-23-2012; 8-2-2012; 8-22-2012; 12-6-2012