Stephen McGarvey Christian Blog and Commentary

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Chipping Away at the Sanctity of Life

A chilling report from CNN yesterday indicitive of our society's slide down the slippery slope away from absolute truth and a moral code higher than pragmatism:

Three days after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, staff members at the city's Memorial Medical Center had repeated discussions about euthanizing patients they thought might not survive the ordeal, according to a doctor and nurse manager who were in the hospital at the time.

But beyond the discussion stage, there are those who suspect "mercy killings" were actually carried out:

Orleans Parish coroner Frank Minyard said investigators have told him they think euthanasia may have been committed.


"They thought someone was going around injecting people with some sort of lethal medication," Minyard said.


Dr. Bryant King, who was working at Memorial when conditions were at their worst, told CNN that while he did not witness any acts of euthanasia, "most people know something happened that shouldn't have happened."

Our true character is revealed in times of high adversity. Apparently the horrible conditions of the hospital provoked quite a bit of desperation among the remaining medical staff.

The staff was desperate, [nurse manager Fran] Butler said.


"My nurses wanted to know what was the plan? Did they say to put people out of their misery? Yes. ... They wanted to know how to get them out of their misery," she said.


Butler also told CNN that a doctor approached her at one point and discussed the subject of putting patients to sleep, and "made the comment to me on how she was totally against it and wouldn't do it."


Butler said she did not see anyone perform a mercy killing, and she said because of her personal beliefs, she would never have participated.

She also said hospital staff "put their heart and souls into patients, whether that patient lived or died."


But King said he is convinced the discussion of euthanasia was more than talk. He said another doctor came to him at 9 a.m. Thursday and recounted a conversation with a hospital administrator and a third doctor who suggested patients be put out of their misery.


King said that the second physician -- who opposed mercy killing -- told him that "this other [third] doctor said she'd be willing to do it."

Read the complete report:  Staff at New Orleans hospital debated euthanizing patients


As Bill Tammeus of the Kansas City Star-Telegram points out today, battlefield conditions are not the time to be sorting out deep moral convictions. The our worldview must be formed before an emergency is thrust upon us.

It may be impossible to know how we might react in similar circumstances. But I think it's well worth talking about before it happens. We can take the time to learn what our religion teaches, if anything, about what to do when faced with such a horrific circumstance, and we can have a little time to wrestle with whether we are in harmony with our faith's teachings.


This preparation may not give us clear answers on how to proceed, but it can give us some boundaries that may help in the midst of crisis and can give us some comfort that what we are doing can be justified ethically and morally. It also can alert us to the sometimes terrible complexities of the ethical calls we may have to make.

Clearly Tammeus is discussing the issue from a "universalistic" perspective, but there is wisdom in what he says. For Christian believers, our worldview is formed by the Holy Scriptures. We must base our difficult decisions in life on the principles derived from the Bible, and not succumb to the pressures of the moment.


Read the complete essay: Pondering the hard questions beforehand