Euthanasia — How Do Christians Respond?
- Own Body
- Quality of Life
- Extraordinary Means
- Nutrition & Hydration
- Slippery Slope
The Christian perspective on the subject of "assisted suicide" is simple. We believe in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death. There are over 60 passages of scripture in the Bible that relate to the sanctity of life, beginning with "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Ultimately, we believe that God is the giver and taker of life and that His will in such matters takes precedence over man's will. Below are some discussion topics related to euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Top of page Own Body
The argument that "everyone has a right to do with their own body as they see fit" does not hold up. For example, prostitution has consistently been held to be illegal as are other crimes because they are not committed in a vacuum. There is no such thing as a "victimless crime." There are important societal spill-over effects. Certainly euthanasia is not about a private act. It really gives one person the ability to facilitate the death of another person. Thus it is a public matter. It can lead to abuse, erosion of care for the most vulnerable people. The "right to die" movement would change laws so that doctors, relatives and others can directly and intentionally end another person's life.
Top of page Unalienable
The Christian view is consistent with the Declaration of Independence, that our Creator has endowed us with certain unalienable rights, and among these is life. Life is the first right. Without this one, any others are without effect.
Top of page Quality of Life
As put by Chuck Colson: "One of our major problems as Americans today is that we want only the joy, not the sorrow. Many of us mistakenly believe that life is life only when it is healthy and comfortable. But God knows better. To make us whole, He makes sure that we experience every season—not only the springtime of youth but also the austerity of winter. As C. S. Lewis remarked, this fullness of experience is so necessary to our souls that 'perpetual springtime is not allowed'." (Breakpoint magazine article "Mercy Living")
Top of page Pain
Modern pain killing medicines offer most dying patients relief. Avoidance of pain as a reason for mercy killing is an ineffective medical argument.
As Christians, we believe God has a reason for everything under heaven, yes, even suffering. Many persons who are on their deathbed have been brought to Christ. Even more often, someone on their deathbed has brought someone else closer to Christ. And we cannot know if the Lord will cause a miracle to occur. We believe that life is a precious thing.
The National Hospice Organization through the vote of its Delegates on November 8, 1990 stated that "the National Hospice Organization rejects the practice of voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide in the care of the terminally ill." Hospice uses sophisticated methods of pain and symptom control that "seeks to enable patients to carry on an alert, pain-free life" so that their last days may be spent with dignity (National Hospice Organization, http://www.nho.org).
Top of page Burden
Many people, the terminally ill and those later in life, may fear being a burden to one's family or to society. And as caregiver, we may resent burdensome claims on our time, energy, and pocketbook. But as Gilbert Meilaender says: "Learning not to resent [the claims on our time and energy] is likely to be the work of a lifetime. If we decline to learn the lesson, however, we cease to live in the kind of community that deserves to be called a family, and we are ill prepared to live in the community for which God has redeemed us—a community in which no one stands on the basis of her rights, and all live by that shared love Christians call charity" (Christian Century, September 11-18,1996). In fact, suffering gives the non-suffering an opportunity for witness and service. A child once remarked about visiting an older person in a vegetative state, that God wants to see who the Good Samaritans are! Christians are called to share one another's burdens. Not allowing our brothers to share our burdens could be a form of pride or even selfishness.
Top of page Extraordinary Means
Natural death does not require that extraordinary means be used to artificially prolong someone's life. Thus, in situations where a patient's vital processes have ceased their spontaneous functions, and where no hope of recovery remains for the patient, "life support" machines are not a requirement. Refusal of "heroic means" to sustain life is quite different than initiating procedures that cause death, for example by lethal injection.
Top of page Nutrition and Hydration
Food and water are considered "ordinary" care necessary to sustain life, along with comforting the patient as best as possible. Nutrition and hydration are not "medical treatments." Administering food and fluids is not considered "extraordinary means" and withdrawing them, which by itself would cause death, is not acceptable. Indeed, withdrawing of food and water is an excruciating and painful way to die. It takes from 3 to 10 days to die from dehydration and up to 40 days to die from starvation. An exception would be when a person's death is truly imminent and he can no longer assimilate food and/or water (such as massive organ failure). If a person's death is imminent within hours and nutrition and hydration itself is an excessive burden to the patient, then the focus "becomes palliative care, helping the person to live as comfortably and as fully as possible until the time of natural death" ("When Does 'Compassion' Become Euthanasia?" Living magazine,article by Mary Senander, Summer 1995). The purpose is never to take direct action to cause death. Palliative care does not seek to lengthen OR shorten the days of a dying person.
Top of page Slippery Slope
Mercy killing or assisted suicide must be considered in light of the evidence of the ramifications. It can be compared to saying "I'm only going to try cocaine one time." But it is really much more serious than that. Consider Nazi Germany. In 1939 Hitler formed medical organizations to administer the destruction of patients with mental illness and children with disabilities, and to oversee all euthanasia operations. By 1945, 275,000 men, women and children with mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and old age had been killed in established killing centers. Being conditioned to death, Germany progressed to the holocaust.
In the Netherlands, after having legalized euthanasia, a 1990 study showed nearly 12,000 cases in which doctors actively caused death, of which about 6,000 were without the patient's consent. If the United States were to practice active euthanasia to the extent practiced in the Netherlands, taking into account the population differences, there would be approximately 200,000 euthanasia deaths annually in the United States, with approximately 100,000 deaths caused without the consent of the patient.
As our society progresses toward a culture of death, the so-called "right-to-die" will become an obligation-to-die, for example, for anyone who believes that they are a burden to someone else—either financially or otherwise. And by what rationale would the trend be confined even to that? The ramifications are terrifying, but totally logical. For example, what's to keep an upset teenager from believing that suicide is a natural option? Christ says choose life. Life is valuable from its beginning to natural end.
In America, the terminalists came for the unborn child, but I didn't speak up because I was no longer an unborn child;
Then they came for the newborn spina bifida child, but I didn't speak up because I was "normal";
Then they came for the Down's child, but I didn't speak up because I was too intelligent;
Then they came for the handicapped, but I didn't speak up because I was uncomfortable with someone appearing less than perfect;
Then they came for infirm seniors, but I did not speak up because I was healthy and middle-aged;
Then they came for the healthy, "non-productive" retired, but I did not speak up, but I did begin to wonder;
Then they came for me, but by that time there was no one left to speak up.
by Len Beckman
(A paraphrase of Rev. Martin Niemoeller's WWII piece, "I Didn't Speak Up").
For more information on euthanasia, be sure to read the article, Alternatives to the "Living Will."