What’s your position on Euthanasia?

Mormon Heretic Mormon 26 Comments

First, we need to go over some definitions, because different organizations have different definitions.  The 2 most interesting definitions for me are the LDS church’s definition, and Stanford University’s definition.  Let’s look at them.

LDS church’s definition

Euthanasia is defined as deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. Such a deliberate act ends life immediately through, for example, so-called assisted suicide. Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes by removing a patient from artificial means of life support, as in the case of a long-term illness, falls within the definition of euthanasia.

Stanford University defines voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia.

Euthanasia may be conducted with consent (voluntary euthanasia) or without consent (involuntary euthanasia). Involuntary euthanasia is conducted where an individual makes a decision for another person incapable of doing so. The decision can be made based on what the incapacitated individual would have wanted, or it could be made on substituted judgment of what the decision maker would want were he or she in the incapacitated person’s place, or finally, the decision could be made by assessing objectively whether euthanasia is the most beneficial course of treatment. In any case, euthanasia by proxy consent is highly controversial, especially because multiple proxies may claim the authority to decide for the patient and may or may not have explicit consent from the patient to make that decision.

Finally, I can’t resist checking with Wikipedia

Euthanasia may be conducted passively, non-actively, and actively. Passive euthanasia entails the withholding of common treatments (such as antibiotics, pain medications, or surgery) or the distribution of a medication (such as morphine) to relieve pain, knowing that it may also result in death (principle of double effect). Passive euthanasia is the most accepted form, and it is a common practice in most hospitals. Non-active euthanasia entails the withdrawing of life support and is more controversial. Active euthanasia entails the use of lethal substances or forces to kill and is the most controversial means. An individual may use a euthanasia machine to perform euthanasia on himself / herself.

I encourage everyone to check out these links–I’m only trying to give a snapshot here.  So, while the LDS church officially opposes euthansia, they don’t have the same definition as Stanford University.  Under Stanford’s definition, then it seems the church supports passive euthanasia (refusing medical treatment, or allowing morphine overdose), and non-active euthanasia (removing life support). The church is against active euthanasia (assisted suicide).

So, I want to give 4 real-life scenarios, and see how people come down on this issue.  I want to use Stanford University’s definition, not the LDS church’s definition.

Case #1:  Passive euthanasia (refusing medical treatment.)  Larry Miller of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Following a diabetic induced heart attack, Larry’s feet were amputated due to his diabetic condition.  Larry contracted a rare disease called calciphylaxis, which calcifies blood vessels, blocking the flow of oxygen. It was discovered after the amputation wounds did not heal.  There is no cure for calciphylaxis. He could have survived a few more months if he chose to go through dialysis, but he chose not live like that.

Case #2:  Non-active euthansia. Eluana Englaro of Italy.

Eluana Englaro, 38, died on Monday night [Feb 9], only a few days after doctors removed her feeding tubes. She had been in a coma since 1992.

Her death was announced as the Senate was about to debate an emergency bill designed to keep her alive.

The emotive case inspired protests from both sides, and much soul-searching.

Case #3:  Active Euthanasia (assisted suicide-fatal diagnosis).  Chantal Sébire of France.

before and after tumorHere was a woman who was in excruciating pain with no end in sight. Her cancer was in her sinuses and face, but as she said, it would probably take years for it to kill her and pain meds didn’t help.  The article states, “She also lost her senses of sight, taste, and smell[3] and suffered severe pain that she refused to relieve with morphine due to its side effects, stating, “drugs are chemicals, chemicals are poison, and I won’t make matters worse by poisoning myself.”

She eventually moved to another European country, to get access to the drug Pentobarbital, a barbiturate that is not available in French pharmacies but is used elsewhere in the world for the purpose of physician assisted suicide.

Case #4:  Active Euthanasia (assisted suicide, non-fatal diagnosis).  Maxine Poris of Charleston, SC.

She suffered from fibromyalgia, from osteoporosis, from acid reflux, from a degenerative joint disease. Two knee replacements and one hip replacement didn’t help — she told people it felt like she was walking on tree trunks.

She couldn’t sleep most nights because she suffered from insomnia. She would tire after walking just a few blocks — or if it was hot, cold or windy outside. She was having bracing pains in her jaw and chest, pains her doctor told her was due to an enlarged heart.

a group called the Final Exit Network would travel to her home in Charleston, S.C., and guide her to her death.

Finally, the Stanford University site talks about the morality of euthanasia.

Debate about the morality and legality of voluntary euthanasia has been, for the most part, a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century. Certainly, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not believe that life needed to be preserved at any cost and were, in consequence, tolerant of suicide in cases where no relief could be offered to the dying or, in the case of the Stoics and Epicureans, where a person no longer cared for his life. In the sixteenth century, Thomas More, in describing a utopian community, envisaged such a community as one that would facilitate the death of those whose lives had become burdensome as a result of ‘torturing and lingering pain’

I expect most people will endorse cases 1 and 2, since they seem to be in line with the LDS position.  It seems to me that the Catholic Church, and Evangelicals hold a much more conservative position than the LDS do, especially when one considers the case of Terry Shiavo, which I did not highlight.  Terri’s case is quite similar to Eluana.after years in a coma

Please compare the decision that Larry Miller made with Eluana and Maxine.  How would you want to be treated in Eluana and Maxine’s position?

Comments

comments

Comments 26

  1. Interesting topic.

    for the record, I agree with Case 1 and 2, but also 3 and maybe 4. Maybe 4 could hold out a bit more.

    I wouldn’t directly assist someone to die but if it’s me in that situation I’d end it all with an overdose or just a bullet. No reason to live in constant pain when you know its all going to end soon anyway. I’d say we Are master of our own domain and that we add far too much to that ‘not kill nor do anything like unto it’. They use it for abortion, suicide, death penalty…..

  2. Well, the “Roman Way” is when someone just quits eating. That pretty much is how many people have accomplished 3 and 4, together with Grail to make it easier. Anyway…

    On vacation my wife was asked what she did and said “I put people to sleep for a living” and after a chatty conversation, the other person mentioned that she did not know that was legal. “Oh, I also wake them back up — anesthesia, not euthanasia” …

  3. While I know that the church position is against assisted suicide, I feel just Chantal’s (case #3) is completely justified. She had a cancerous tumor growing in her face, which was going to cause her death anyway.

    As for Maxine, I’m a little more torn. Her death was not imminent, but she was in tremendous pain. If Larry Miller’s condition didn’t result in imminent death, would he have been more likely to consider death by a suicide drug?

    I think a death by a suicide drug is much more compassionate than forcing someone to starve themself to death. Larry Miller didn’t even have to make that choice.

  4. Euthanasia is interesting because the church’s position is articulating specifically by altering the definition. It’s an interesting way to go about defining your position. But we are more “progressive” on this than other faiths are. I think maybe it would be more interesting to compare 3 & 4 to our position on suicide in general, that we don’t know when someone is in too much psychological pain to continue to live, that we believe it’s not cut & dried for those who commit suicide. 3 & 4 seem like suicide to me for the sick person, but those assisting are the ones committing euthanasia. I would not recommend suicide for them, neither would I condemn their choice without a better understanding.

  5. My aunt was brought back from death after suffering a massive heart attack. After several more years of great suffering, at 92 years of age she stopped eating and drinking. She died a few weeks later. She told her children, “The Lord tried to call me home once, and you refused to let Him. Now I will complete what He once tried.” She was living with her daughter, wife of a GA, when she died.

  6. “While I know that the church position is against assisted suicide, I feel just Chantal’s (case #3) is completely justified. She had a cancerous tumor growing in her face, which was going to cause her death anyway.”

    However, I think that it was entirely her choice to reject pain medication. MH writes that “pain meds didn’t help,” but the quote from the article says that she refused the drugs, saying they were poison. That was her choice and nobody else’s. It’s interesting to see that in the end she chose death by pentobarbital (drugs/chemicals/poison), choosing to be given a fatal dose and essentially poisoning herself.

  7. J.Ro,

    You’re right. I guess the pain meds didn’t help because she refused them. 😉 I agree that there is some hypocrisy on her part for calling medicine poison, and then poisoning herself, but still, we do claim each individual has the right to approve/deny medical help, even if there reasoning my be faulty.

    She is also quoted as saying, “One would not allow an animal to go through what I have endured.” There is a tremendous amount of truth to that statement. If the tumor were in an animal, putting the animal down would be considered humane.

    Maxine’s case is really interesting to me, as she obviously suffered from some painful, debilitating illnesses, yet death was not imminent. I have had the experience to watch a sister die a slow death from cancer, and a brother die instantly from a car crash. Following my brother’s death, the social worked remarked that most people would prefer a quick death. However, for the people left behind, it is absolutely terrible, because the living had not chance to say goodbye.

    From experience, I must agree. Death of a sibling is such a painful experience, yet it was nice to be able to say goodbye to my sister the night before she died. It was much tougher to deal with my brother’s sudden death. From that point of view, it was really nice that Maxine talked the issue over with her daughters, they went to a movie the night before her death, and they were at peace with her decision. The Miller family had a similar opportunity to say goodbye to Larry.

    My sister has been gone for 10 years, my brother for 2. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about them. Even though my sister suffered for 21 months, it was still nice to say goodbye. I never got that chance with my brother.

  8. The first case is certainly acceptable.

    The second case may be moral, but I am wary of. Particularly if it involves withholding food rather than removing a heart and lung machine. Terry Shiavo exemplifies the dangers of this kind of action- her husband had previously insisted on her being kept alive- then he said that she would want to live in a coma like she was. However, by that time he was now living with another woman- and Terry’s parents opposed her being denied care. It all made me very uneasy- particularly the way people seemed so willing to accept the husband’s position.

    Now maybe he was being truthful and Terry really would have wanted to be denied a feeding tube… however the situation made me feel uneasy with his motives, and I feel that in such situations we should lean towards life.

    Cases 3 and 4 are murder. Understand that I do not judge the people committing suicide- pain can make you really crazy. I know because I’ve experienced intense long lasting pain- for years. So I understand the desire to die, and don’t feel that I can condemn them for committing suicide- even though I believe it is wrong to commit suicide.

    However, they didn’t just commit suicide. Another person who was rational and in control killed them. Once you start saying it’s okay to kill innocent people, next thing you know, undesirables will be shipped off to death camps.

    The slippery slope argument is not always false, and should not be so quickly dismissed in this instance. We’ve already seen how abortion has led abortionists to think it’s okay to let babies essentially die from exposure when they botched the abortion.

    I am constantly amazed that people can’t look around and seen that our societies morals have essentially reverted to barbarism. All in the name of tolerance- yet tolerance can not be maintained in a society without strict morals.

  9. MH, the right to make decisions about how one’s medical treatment plays out is a very important one. It’s a good thing to point out. Mostly, in Chantal’s case, the irony of the situation really struck me. Which brings out my real feelings on the matter. So here come my opinions:

    Refusing medical treatment is one thing (i.e., DNR orders). That’s a choice that should be made by the individual, and I might add that it really should be made with consideration to all the implications involved. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Now, active euthanasia, as in cases 3 and 4, is something I see as (hopefully not making too many upset here) wimping out. Dealing with my own chronic illness, at times I know I would not be sad for it to be over. But one of the biggest things I’ve learned in light of the gospel is that there are major lessons to be learned from chronic conditions. I think that when you decide to opt for active euthanasia (of yourself), you are giving up on the important lessons that you may be here to learn.

    Lest I be accused of speaking as an outsider, I’ll point out that I do know well the depression of being sick for years, with no reason to expect an end to it (I mentioned a currently-unspecified degenerative neurological condition in a comment a while back). I am no stranger to serious pain (cluster headaches, aka “suicide headaches”, are no fun). I also believe that in the end, there will be some sort of reward for enduring such things. Everybody has hard things to deal with in life, and they’re all different for each person. I believe that’s for a purpose. And while sometimes it feels unbearable, I think sometimes we forget that the Savior suffered it all so that he could “succor his people.” There is a lot of strength to be found in the atonement, aside from forgiveness of sin. In the end I suppose it’s one’s own choice, but I do see active euthanasia as giving up. If it’s my time to go, then it’s my time, and God will make the arrangements, so to speak.

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    Cicero,

    You have a very loose definition of murder. If that’s your definition, then I guess every bartender who serves a drunk driver who kills someone is also guilty of murder. So are veterinarians who kill horses for breaking a leg. If you want to disagree with euthansia, that’s fine, but don’t play fast and loose with definitions or you’re the one guilty of a “slippery slope.”

    Regarding Terri Shiavo and Eluana Englaro, if we believe the purpose of this life is to give us our free-agency, then clearly Terri and Eluana have no free-agency. What is the purpose of their existence? They are little more than a mannequin. As such, it seems absolutely cruel to keep them alive merely to prevent our feelings of loss. They are not living in any practical sense–they can’t walk, talk, or feed themselves. Toddlers have more agency than they do.

    If a horse breaks its leg, we don’t put them in bed and feed them for the rest of their lives. For some reason, if we were to do this, it seems inhumane. How can keeping these 2 people alive be considered anything but torture? I remind you that D&C 138:50 “For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage.” Well, what sort of state are these 2 individuals, being neither alive or dead?

    Furthermore, in these 2 cases, how much money does it cost to keep them alive? We would never think to do this to a horse. Cicero, if you had to personally foot the bill to keep them alive for 16 years, would that change your mind to keep them alive? Yet, we are all paying to keep people like Terri alive–money that could be better spent on procedures that are more effective in improving quality of life for people who really have an honest hope of living a quality life.

  11. We’ve had assisted suicide in Oregon for a number of years now. Studies have failed to uncover any cases of abuse. It was established by voter initiative, and was reauthorized by initiative again after the legislature tried to kill it. Washington just adopted a similar law. The Bush administration tried to kill Oregon’s law, but it was upheld by the Supreme Court. Under the law, a patient must have a fatal disease, must be judged not to be just depressed, must request on two occasions to have a prescription for the fatal overdose, and must be capable of administering it themselves without any assistance from another person. This is a bit different from active euthanasia as the person is committing suicide. Active euthanasia is more like what Dr. Kevorkian was doing. He killed people who didn’t have a fatal disease and were just depressed.

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    J Ro,

    What are the lessons one gains from chronic illness? What is the purpose of non-ending suffering? Even with your cluster headaches, I suspect there are periods of relief, or at least periods where the pain is not as intense. I’m not sure that Maxine or Chantal experienced periods of relief.

    Now don’t get me wrong–I think an appreciation of life can be gained from suffering. But when the suffering is endless, I don’t understand the purpose. Joseph Smith in the King Follett sermon even said there is no such thing as “endless punishment”. All punishment must end. For suffering in this life to be only ended by death seems unusually cruel. When suffering creates such depression that death is welcome, then the suffering seems cruel and pointless to me as well. All tests have an end, and if death is the only way to end it, then it seems tortuous to keep that test going on indefinitely.

    We don’t get to choose our debilitation. IMO, Larry had it much easier than Chantal. Larry knew his time was short by refusing dialysis. We should all be so lucky to know when the end is near. But if God is in charge of deciding who suffers a short death, and who suffers a long death, then it seems rather capricious. Why was Larry blessed with the option to end his life quickly, while Chantal, Maxine, Eluana, and Terri are denied this option? Not only are they denied, but in some cases criminalized?

  13. Post
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    geb,

    I would applaud Oregon’s law, and encourage similar measures be adopted in other states. In the Stanford definition, active euthanasia would define cases 3 and 4. In both cases, the death was self-administered. Maxine and Chantal were merely given instructions and/or substances to induce their death. But the patients did administer their own death without assistance, as I understand it (though it is not completely clear in the article if Maxine received helped administering the dose.)

    I fully recognize a need to have this sort of thing regulated. I’m not really in favor of Dr Kervorkian just going around willy-nilly as he did, though I sympathize with his point of view.

  14. I’m living Case #4 — with a few more complications actually.

    I have lupus, and I am in continual pain which is only somewhat lessened by light narcotics. (I choose not to use stronger painkillers because I don’t wish to become homebound and unable to serve others.) Like the person in case #4, I have pericarditis (inflammation of the chest wall with pain and shortness of breath), rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia in all 13 pain spots, chronic colitis with diarrhea and vomiting, three compression fractures in my back and neck, multiple joint replacements, etc. etc.

    Because I can’t hold down a fulltime job, I try to spend at least 40 hours each week in volunteerism of variosu types — in my congregation where I am youth pastor and secretary (I’m a member of Community of Christ, once known as RLDS), at animal shelters, as a volunteer librarian, as a literacy aide with my service dog Freddy (children read books to him to improve their reading skills), as a “picker” who collects furniture at the curb on trash day and refinishes it to be used in group homes for the mentally disabled, as a Spanish translator and chaplain at our local hospital, and probably some more things that I can’t remember now.

    The thing is that as long as I keep myself in a positive state of mind (which is actually more of a gift from God and certainly nothing that I can accomplish on my own — it’s more of a case of “after all that we can do” in which I receive daily grace as a result of putting one foot in front of the other.

    I am still a productive person, but because I recognize that productivity has always been the most important part of my self-esteem, I am actively working with spiritual mentors to prepare myself for the day sometime in the future when my usefulness is limited to prayer from my sickbed. (As if prayer is less productive! What an attitude!)

    I empathize with the lady in case #4. We have a member of our congregation who is similarly burdened, and she has fallen for the Adversary’s lie that she must be (and deserves the “privilege” of being) bedridden and focused on her suffering. On any given day, I’m in worse shape than she is, but I’m the one who takes her to doctor’s appointments, etc. I love her, and I empathize with her, but sometimes I get SOOOOO frustrated.

    I also empathize with the person in Case #3, but I agree that (in my own situation, not commenting on her circumstances directly) I am responsible to take those medications which enable me to continue living and to serve God, whether they are “poisons” or not. Side effects are unpleasant, but they are an intrinsic part of living in this historical time period, when life can be lengthened at the cost of discomfort. I’m not fond of the fact that my medication leaves me fat and dizzy and fatigued, with a mouth so dry that my lips bleed, I have mild dyskinesias (facial tics), and that I have permanent lupus scarring on my face. I’m not very pretty either (though not nearly as disfigured as the lady in case #3), and that’s just the way it is.

    I’ve provided hospice care in my home for two of my husband’s relatives, and I have enormous empathy with the so-called “passive euthanisia” of removing a patient’s life support machinery, and also of providing pain relief at the risk of putting the patient into a coma or even stopping their heart. Having said this, I also think that the dying person has a responsibility, if they are mentally competent, of making the decision for themselves, and also that if we are inclined to favor a DNR order for ourselves, we should put it into writing as a living will.

    I feel strange saying this (as my little piece of the Restoration doesn’t necessarily accept pre-existence as a revealed truth), but I think that the situation differs for everyday people versus those valiant souls who are born into (or becone converted into) the restored gospel. I am inclined to not give into my sickness simply because I’m inclined to at least pretend to have courage and diligence (“acting as if” is certainly a big part of my repetoire).

    I’m am adult convert, and had already been living with lupus for three decades before being baptized in 2008. For me, the restored gospel message of perseverence and endurance until the end is the answer to my questions about the life which I have been given.

    The *BEAUTIFUL* life that I have been given….

    This is, of course, only my $0.02, and I do not condemn anyone who chooses an easier path through chronic illness. That is, in the end, a matter to be settled between them and their loving Heavenly Father. I’m just telling you my story as I am living it at this moment.

    Thanks for listening, Utah cousins!!!

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    Karunya,

    I understand this is a completely personal decision, and I applaud your effort to remain positive and productive. Perhaps there should be a better effort for people suffering debilitating illnesses to receive mental health counseling in order to stave off the inevitable depression that results.

    I think every individual should have the right of self-determination. To me, it seems that Larry Miller had that choice, while Maxine and Chantal did not. When one compares Larry with Chantal and Maxine, the choices are not equitable. It seems unfair to me to say that Larry’s decision was right, while Chantal’s decision was wrong.

  16. “You have a very loose definition of murder. If that’s your definition, then I guess every bartender who serves a drunk driver who kills someone is also guilty of murder. So are veterinarians who kill horses for breaking a leg.”

    Hmmm… lets see:

    Case #1: A human being is in pain and wants to die. Another human being poisons that person- killing him.

    Case #2: A bartender serves Bob a drink. Bob gets drunk, then Bob goes and decides to drive home, during which he hits and kills another person.

    Case #3: A horse breaks it’s leg and is in pain. A human being poisons the horse killing it.

    You argue that if I say the first is murder, then I must agree the other 2 are murder as well. That is silly. You are trying to create a strawman by forcing assumptions on me that I do not hold, because you don’t want to confront the truth.

    First lets take case #2: Did the bartender force Bob to drive home? No. Even if Bod drives home drunk does that mean with certainty another person will die? No, it does not. Which by the way, is why not only do we not charge the bartender with murder, we also usually don’t charge Bob with murder- even if he kills somebody, because the killing was unintentional. This is two worlds removed away from Case #1. In case #1, the person most closely in the position of the bartender in Case #2, would the pharmacist who supplies the killer with the poison- without knowing the killer is going to use it to kill another person.

    Now lets take case #3: This is the real issue, and displays a cold and deliberate feeling that is without natural affection. You are arguing that humans and horses are equivalents, and that if it’s appropriate to kill a horse then it must also be appropriate to kill a human being.

    In truth the life of horse is not of great value when compared with that of a human being. The belief that they are equivalent is the spirit of the devil. You are teaching his doctrine, that man is nothing more than an animal, and so human life is not special, and that we can kill humans as we judge best, just as we do other animals.

    Your saving grace is that you believe people own their own lives, and so you think that a person cannot be killed without his permission. Yet you then go on to talk about cost of care, which greatly disturbs me. It is one thing to deny a person care because they can not pay for it. It is quite another to kill a person because you don’t want to pay for their care. That is murder, and that is exactly the slippery slope I fear so much.

    In truth we do not own our own lives. Our Creator owns us. He has given all other living things into our stewardship, he has not granted us the possession of our own lives, He reserves that to Himself.

    You claim to be arguing based on logic, but in fact our disagreement has nothing to do with logic, it has to do with the different assumptions we start from. Your assumptions are devilish and false- which is why you end with false conclusions at odds with the commandments of God.

    The commandment from God is clear: “Thou shalt not kill.”

    Now in another place He says: “Thou shalt not allow a murder to live,” and in another that we may defend our lives and liberty, even to the shedding of blood. Nowhere does He say that we may kill others because they ask us too. Therefor the starting commandment “Thou shalt not kill” must be held paramount. (And He would clearly condemn those who kill another because they judge their life as being too expensive to continue.)

    Furthermore we have the direction of the prophet today, who confirm this position. If you set yourself against these teachings, you set yourself against God, and ensure your own damnation.

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    Cicero,

    “The belief that they are equivalent is the spirit of the devil. You are teaching his doctrine

    If you are going to put words in my mouth, then there is no use trying to debate. Please stick to what I said, and quit making up things I said.

    Regarding your “Case #1: A human being is in pain and wants to die. Another human being poisons that person- killing him.

    In every single case I mentioned, except Terri and Eluana who were comatose, the person administered the fatal dose to themselves. The drug was supplied no differently than a bartender. Please get your facts straight.

  18. Cicero,

    It is evident to me you have completely misunderstood my position. I do not advocate killing sick people, or even a Dr Kervorkian-type system. However, for terminally ill people, I think they should be allowed the free agency to take a suicide drug if they are mentally competent. The Oregon Law is a good model, and I think other states should adopt such a policy.

  19. My mother is in the lst stages of alhzimers. I feel that feeding her, and keeping her alive is torturing her. To show my love, I should be able to have the nursers at the care center stop feeding her and give her morphine to let her sleep, and even let the morphine end her lonely, nothing life. She would want me to help her go.

    1. JoAn,

      Withholding food from your mother who has Alzheimers is murder. And, yes, I am LDS, and yes, my mother had Alzeheimers and was under my care. She died of natural causes. Not feeding her was not on the horizon. Please, JoAn, recognize what is NOT God’s will, please.

  20. JoAn,

    Did she have a living will? I know people will come down on both sides of this issue, but I tend to agree with you. It’s a really tough decision, but I wouldn’t want to live in such a condition as your mother lives. (I’m not sure I understand your abbrevation–is that first or last?)

  21. Pingback: Euthanasia vs. Abortion: Is The Church Inconsistent? at Mormon Matters

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