As a person of faith, ordained minister and professor of Christian ethics for more than three decades, I’m committed to seeking peace, justice and compassion in all things. For this reason, I’ve signed the Maine citizens’ petition to place the proposed Maine Death With Dignity legislation on the November 2019 ballot.

My religious tradition calls on the faithful to help reduce suffering in the world, including suffering at the bedside of those dying. For many, palliative care offers the comfort and support necessary to ease their way to a good death, but alas, palliative care is not always adequate to the task.

For others in the dying process, despite receiving the best palliative care, they find themselves ready to die, but unable to die. Too often they face a torturous ending. That’s painful for them, and that’s painful for their caregivers and family to watch.

The proposed legislation offers to the dying the option of a hastened death, with carefully delineated safeguards to protect them and their caregivers, by allowing them to self-administer a lethal dose of a prescribed medication. If passed, Maine would join seven states (and the District of Columbia) in making this option available.

Our faith traditions tell us that “blessed are the merciful,” but it’s not merciful to require the dying to suffer senselessly. Denying the dying person the freedom to end unnecessary, meaningless suffering is far from merciful; rather, it’s torturous. Torture in any form is morally wrong.

Again, it’s one thing to elect to bear suffering oneself. Elective suffering for a good reason or in support of a good cause may make a better world possible, as Jesus, Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. taught. It’s an entirely different matter to force someone to take on suffering against his or her will and for no good reason.

Choosing to end suffering by hastening one’s dying process may strike some persons as a moral violation, the crossing of a line that shouldn’t be crossed. As a Christian theologian, I see matters differently. Persons already in the dying process are not facing a choice between life and death. Instead, their choice is often between a protracted, unbearably painful death and a timely, more graceful exit, shaped according to their own beliefs and values.

The God I worship is a God of moral freedom, encouraging us to exercise our moral agency responsibly, in ways that humanize, demonstrate respect for personal dignity, and attend mindfully to the joys and sorrows of life.

The pressing moral question is not whether we should intervene and help shape the end of life. Rather, the question before us is whether to expand the options available to the dying in order to minimize unnecessary suffering. As the dying and their loved ones amply testify, having the option of a medically sound, legally accountable way to exit gracefully is a blessing for those whose faith and values permit them to consider electing that moral choice.

Making persons suffer against their will at the end of life is morally wrong, and it’s cruel.

As a person of faith, I hope and pray that Maine will join California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia and make assisted dying legally available, allowing adults of sound mind to make their own value choices at the end of life. Doing so, I suggest, is a faithful, principled, and compassionate way to affirm the dignity and well-being of the living and the dying.

The Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, Ph.D., is Willard S. Bass professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary and an ordained Presbyterian minister.

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