There’s a lot of talk these days about euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Much of the talk appears to be so polarizing that we can forget that there is a lot of common ground that all Christians share. At the most basic level Christians on both sides of the debate are distressed at the idea of terminally ill people suffering excruciating pain. As Christians, we are passionate about alleviating human suffering. Where Christians disagree with one another is the degree to which we should go to end suffering. Very few people would argue against terminally ill people receiving palliative care—defined as the active relief of suffering. Arguments arise, however, over the question as to whether we should extend this concept of “care” to include the intentional ending of a human life. There is, of course, no room in this brief article to delve into all the nuances of this debate. Let me suggest, however, a few points from a biblical perspective that I believe are worthy of consideration:
1. God is the giver of life and only He has the right to end life. One does not have to support the prolonging of death through active medical intervention to oppose the active ending of life. In other words, it’s one thing not to prolong a life—it’s quite another to directly intervene to end it. The Bible teaches that it is God who gives life and only He has the right to end it. We must be very careful not to take into our hands a right that belongs only to God.
2. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us that we must do everything possible to prolong life as long as we can. While we should not actively end a life, we also don’t need to resort to “heroic measures” to keep a terminally ill person alive. This is where palliative care comes in. Palliative care has roots that go back as far as the 4th century when Christians in Europe cared for the sick and destitute. Today, palliative care is used to help seriously ill and dying patients remain as comfortable and pain free as possible, especially during the end stages of life.
3. Finally, I am concerned that we as a society are heading down a road from which there will be no turning back. Once a decision is made to permit euthanasia in one particular case with strong moral and emotional claims, what is to prevent the government from continually expanding the boundaries of approved death? Might the reach of euthanasia be expanded to include those suffering from chronic depression? How about children who want to die? What about individuals whom we view as no longer productive? What if I’m just tired of living? Once the horse is out of the barn there may be no way to get it back in.
It breaks my heart that the very young are considered expendable through abortion. Now we are also trivializing the lives of those at the other end of the spectrum through euthanasia. How long before we reach the point where all of life is considered disposable? I write this column with a great deal of emotion because my own father passed away on November 6, 2015 at the age of 96 after having suffered a massive stroke days earlier. Following the stroke, we knew there would be only one outcome to my father’s illness. Rather than seeking to end his life early, however, we treasured those final days we had with him where his children, grandchildren, and daughters-in-law each had the opportunity to thank him for being a part of our lives and to tell him we loved him. We left the time of his death in God’s hands and treasured as a gift each moment we had with him.
My prayer is that we will not be so anxious to end life that we miss the blessings God wants to give us along the journey of dying.