Full Legislative History
Resolution Number: 1991-A093
Title: Establish Principles With Regard to the Prolongation of Life
Legislative Action Taken: Concurred As Amended
Final Text:

Resolved, That this 70th General Convention set forth the following principles and guidelines with regard to the forgoing of life-sustaining treatment in the light of our understanding of the sacredness of human life:

  1. Although human life is sacred, death is part of the earthly cycle of life. There is a "time to be born and a time to die" (Eccl. 3:2). The resurrection of Jesus Christ transforms death into a transition to eternal life: "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead" (I Cor. 15:21).
  2. Despite this hope, it is morally wrong and unacceptable to take a human life in order to relieve the suffering caused by incurable illness. This would include the intentional shortening of another person's life by the use of a lethal dose of medication or poison, the use of lethal weapons, homicidal acts, and other forms of active euthanasia.
  3. However, there is no moral obligation to prolong the act of dying by extraordinary means and at all costs if such dying person is ill and has no reasonable expectation of recovery.
  4. In those cases involving persons who are in a comatose state from which there is no reasonable expectation of recovery, subject to legal restraints, this Church's members are urged to seek the advice and counsel of members of the church community, and where appropriate, its sacramental life, in contemplating the withholding or removing of life-sustaining systems, including hydration and nutrition.
  5. We acknowledge that the withholding or removing of life-sustaining systems has a tragic dimension. The decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment should ultimately rest with the patient, or with the patient's surrogate decision-makers in the case of a mentally incapacitated patient. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding the so called "right to die" issues, (a) must take special care to see that the individual's rights are respected and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored, and (b) must also provide expressly for the withholding or withdrawing of life-sustaining systems, where the decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining systems has been arrived at with proper safeguards against abuse.
  6. We acknowledge that there are circumstances in which health care providers, in good conscience, may decline to act on request to terminate life-sustaining systems if they object on moral or religious grounds. In such cases we endorse the idea of respecting the patient's right to self-determination by permitting such patient to be transferred to another facility or physician willing to honor the patient's request, provided that the patient can readily, comfortably and safely be transferred. We encourage health care providers who make it a policy to decline involvement in the termination of life-sustaining systems to communicate their policy to patients or their surrogates at the earliest opportunity, preferably before the patients or their surrogates have engaged the services of such a health care provider.
  7. Advance written directives (so-called "living wills," "declarations concerning medical treatment" and "durable powers of attorney setting forth medical declarations") that make a person's wishes concerning the continuation or withholding or removing of life-sustaining systems should be encouraged, and this Church's members are encouraged to execute such advance written directives during good health and competence and that the execution of such advance written directives constitute loving and moral acts.
  8. We urge the Council of Seminary Deans, the Christian Education departments of each diocese, and those in charge of programs of continuing education for clergy and all others responsible for education programs in this Church, to consider seriously the inclusion of basic training in issues of prolongation of life and death with dignity in their curricula and programs.
Citation: General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of...The Episcopal Church, Phoenix, 1991 (New York: General Convention, 1992), p. 383.