Euthanasia: Can Death Be Friendly?

Death by Choice, by Daniel C. Maguire (Doubleday, 1974, 224 pp., $6.95), Death by Decision, by Jerry B. Wilson (Westminster, 1975, 208 pp., $7.50), Freedom to Die, by O. Ruth Russell (Human Sciences, 1975, 352 pp., $14.95), Beneficent Euthanasia, edited by Marvin Kohl (Prometheus, 1975, 255 pp., $4.95 pb), and The Morality of Killing, by Marvin Kohl (Humanities, 1974, 122 pp., $9.75), are reviewed by Sid Macaulay, Southeast regional director, Christian Medical Society, Decatur, Georgia.

In late January, 1975, Dr. and Mrs. Henry Pitney Van Dusen, elderly members of the Euthanasia Society, took an overdose of sleeping pills to carry out a suicide pact. He had been the president of Union Seminary in New York from 1945 to 1963 and was one of the founders of the World Council of Churches. For the last five years of his life, Dr. Van Dusen was severely debilitated; a stroke had left him unable to speak or write. His wife, who suffered from severe arthritis, died from the overdose; Van Dusen vomited up the pills but died two weeks later of a heart ailment.

Ethicist John C. Bennett, a long-time friend of the Van Dusens, wrote, “There was no doubt in my mind that they sincerely believed that in this act they were doing the will of God for them.”

C. S. Lewis describes our Lord’s dilemma in contemplating his sufferings: “Hence the Perfect Man brought to Gethsemane a will, and a strong will, to escape suffering and death if such escape were compatible with the Father’s will, combined with a readiness for perfect obedience if it were not.” Can we know the will of God on hastening our own death? And who among us will realize a redemptive purpose in his or her suffering? Euthanasia is a complex issue that ...

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