Medical Ethics

by Garry J. Moes

“The great law of the living world,” philosopher Frederick Nymeyer wrote some 20 years ago, “is to survive.”

Today the great law is being broken. In our increasingly lawless age, the survival instinct is dying.

We have coursing among us like a poison vapor a pervasive death wish – the ultimate lust of a society which has given itself over to its base desires. The stubborn will to survive, once so admired in a dying individual, is being replaced by a will to die. Where once it was a sign of spiritual maturity to endure and overcome suffering, it is now “dignified” to wish death upon oneself in the midst of suffering. “Death with Dignity” legislation is thus, expectedly, being proposed in many quarters.

The phenomenon is being even further institutionalized. Organizations with names like Concern for Dying and America’s Society for the Right to Die are forming to promote it. Movements are underway not only to legalize suicide but to have it declared a fundamental right of man.

In California, America’s seedbed of social phenomena, there exists a “Hemlock Society,” with a name aptly reflecting the revival of ancient Greece’s glorification of death, as embodied in the demise of Socrates. In the Netherlands, Europe’s leading laboratory for experimentation in moral decay, such venerable institutions as the Royal Society for Medicine and the Synod of the Reformed Church have pleaded for “involuntary active euthanasia”- a euphemism translatable in no other way but murder of the weak and distressed.

Back when we called it “mercy killing,” at least our language recognized it as killing. Now, perhaps to mask our guilt feelings, we use terms like “Americans Against Human Suffering,” to cite a name associated with a ballot initiative collecting signatures for the November 1988 election in California. (The initiative, whose promotional campaign has a $2 million warchest, would legalize “assisted suicide” for those expected to die within six months.)

The New Jersey Supreme Court has now allowed the starvation of persons in a vegetative or comatose state even if they have never expressed a desire to die. According to this court’s decisions, third parties may take such actions and nursing facilities may not refuse to participate.

The Wall Street Journal (August 21, 1987) reported in sickening detail the wide practice of “voluntary” euthanasia in The Netherlands, where an estimated 1,000 to 7,000 individuals are put to death by euthanasia annually, despite the fact that the practice is still officially illegal.

The report prompted one Dutch doctor, Richard Fenigsen of Willem-Alexander Hospital in Hertogenbosch, to disclose that “involuntary” euthanasia – often without the knowledge of either patient or families – is also widespread in Holland. Citing documented cases, Fenigsen told the Wall Street Journal (August 29, 1987),“Perpetrators enjoy strong public support and total judicial leniency.” He said the practice is so widespread that many elderly are afraid to enter hospitals for fear they may never escape alive.

Such reports make it difficult to believe that only two decades ago it could be stated with accuracy and credibility, as Nymeyer did, that “Survival as an individual is universally accepted as being ‘the first law of life.’ “

If we are to save our instinct to survive, we will have to recall and implement Nymeyer’s further observations concerning the role of God’s moral law in our survival. Calling the great law of survival a “natural” law, he said: “Natural law and moral law, both, are designed to promote individual survival and welfare … God has not given a natural law and a moral law different in purpose and character. Both are for survival of the individual and the species.” (Origin of Damnation and Sin is Not by Inheritance but is Cosmological, Libertarian Press, 1967).

Our lusts and desires, including the urge for physical comfort, will have to be subordinated to the moral law of God. Only then will we recapture our will to survive and begin to protect ourselves from threats to survival. “Wants … are overwhelmingly powerful,” Nymeyer observed. “Wants should be looked upon as so irresistible that they control conduct … When wants are determinative whether life will be retained or lost, customary restraints on conduct – all laws – are in jeopardy.”

Used by permission of Chalcedon Report, P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, CA 95251.

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