- Understand different views about when and how life ends.
- Understanding of different arguments for and against euthanasia, and the alternatives.
- Awareness of different Christian views about suicide.
- Awareness of other moral dilemmas involved in assisted deaths.
- Reflect upon the things that make life worth living, and consider whether their absence might warrant someone choosing to end their own life.
- Analyse the decision of a character in Doctor Who to end their own life rather than face a continued existence after having their brain devoured by an alien creature.
- Analyse different types of euthanasia and reflect on the legal status of assisted suicide.
- Evaluate Christian responses to euthanasia, and assess the relevance of different Bible passages to the subject.
- Synthesise learning by writing a letter offering advice to a friend considering euthanasia.
Ask the students to think of things that make life worth living. Working in small groups, challenge each group to come up with a list of ten things, then have them feed their findings back to the whole class. Write the list up on the board as they do so.
Once you have compiled the full list, ask the students to think about how life would be without these things. Can they imagine ever losing so many of the things that make life worthwhile that they no longer feel that life is worth living? Explain that for several years, arguments have taken place about whether certain people – for example, those suffering with degenerative illnesses which profoundly reduce physical or mental abilities – have sufficient quality of life to make life worth continuing with. Some argue that people in such a situation should be permitted to bring their lives to an end in order to save them from unnecessary suffering. This is sometimes referred to as ‘assisted suicide’, or ‘euthanasia’. In today’s lesson, you are going to be thinking about euthanasia.
Introduce the clip from the Doctor Who episode Time Heist. You can find this on the DVD Doctor Who: The complete eighth series (BBC DVD, 2014. Certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the big choice made by Saibra during the course of the clip.
- Start time: 0.14.18 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.21.34
- Clip length: 7 minutes and 16 seconds
The clip starts with Saibra asking, ‘Well, so what are we supposed to do now? What’s the plan?’ It ends with Saibra saying, ‘A good man. I left it late to meet one of those.’ Stop the clip after the Teller (the alien creature) roars and the Doctor makes good his escape.
Ask the students why they think that Saibra preferred to end her life rather than let the Teller feast on her memories. Can the students imagine a situation where they would prefer to end their lives rather than go on living?
It is worth you being aware that later in the episode, it turns out that the ‘exit strategy’ doesn’t kill Saibra, but rather it teleports her away to safety. At this point in the episode that is not known, so this lesson is about the decision that Saibra thinks she is making, rather than what actually happens. This shouldn’t affect the lesson at all, unless one of the students has seen the episode and wants to be awkward.
Give out a copy of the article Five myths about death and dying from the Care Not Killing website, and read through it with the students. Please note that the article was originally written in response to a storyline from the soap opera Coronation Street:
While Care Not Killing is not specifically a Christian organisation – it describes itself as an ‘alliance of individuals and organisations which brings together disability and human rights groups, healthcare providers, and faith-based bodies’. However, the author of this particular article, Dr Peter Saunders, is also the CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
Ask the students for their response to the ‘five myths’ as outlined by Dr Peter Saunders. Was there anything in the article that challenged their assumptions? Was there anything in the article that they disagreed with?
Remind the students of the clip from Doctor Who. Point out that although the Doctor handed Saibra the device with which she killed herself, she was able to perform the deed on her own. Technically, this means that it wasn’t what we would consider assisted suicide. Assisted suicide is when a third party acts to end the life of someone who is physically incapable of acting on their desire to end their life.
Explain that assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is literally defined as ‘a gentle and easy death’. Give out the Euthanasia: a gentle and easy death worksheets and go through them with the class.
While Dr Peter Saunders is a Christian, the arguments he put forward in his article were not specifically Christian arguments. Can the students think of any specifically Christian arguments either for or against euthanasia. Do any of them know the positions that major Christian churches take on the subject? Give out copies of the following news story, where the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams – whose mother suffered from dementia and died a lingering death – gives his thoughts on the subject.
Ask the students whether or not they were surprised that Rowan Williams was against the legalisation of euthanasia. Were they surprised that his own experience of his mother’s illness had not made him more positive towards legalisation? Draw out from the students the main reason given by Rowan Williams and other Christian leaders cited in the article – that life is a gift from God, and it is not our place to decide when to end it.
Give out copies of the Euthanasia: What does the Bible say? worksheet and ask the students to work through the questions on it, either individually or in pairs.
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Ask the students to write a letter to a friend who suffers from a serious illness who has asked them whether or not they should seek to end their own life. Students should demonstrate an understanding of Christian perspectives on the subject while offering whatever advice they think appropriate.
YOU WILL NEED:
- A copy of the Doctor Who episode Time Heist and the means to play it.
- Copies of Five myths about death and dying article.
- Copies of Clergy opposed to euthanasia bill article.
- Copies of Euthanasia: a gentle and easy death worksheet.
- Copies of Euthanasia: What does the Bible say? worksheet.