What a difficult issue Euthanasia is for a Christian!
Up front I support Euthanasia and I am against it at the same time. How is that you may ask? Well this blog is an insight into my musings on the topic: With possibly no resolution at the end (Spoiler Alert).
The Catholic Church is absolute black and white on the subject with this statement: “Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a foetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying.” There is a part of me who says yes, I agree. And there is a part of me that sees shades of grey. And there is a part in me that is horrified at the shades of grey and debates rage internally saying its the fact that there are shades of grey that should move a person to a black and white position as who decides at what level of grey Euthanasia is no longer acceptable? For example, there are stories out of Belgium where legal permission has been granted to people suffering depression to undergo Euthanasia. Click here to read a news story on the Belgium Experience. However…..
Here are a couple of stories that have impacted my thoughts on Euthanasia.
As I was growing up, my Mother was a Nurse, or a Sister as they were called in those days, in a geriatric hospital in Picton. It was called Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. From time to time, I would find myself walking the wards during Mum’s evening shifts and I have sharp memories of the lifeless forms that inhabited bed after bed. Some I remember would not look out of place in a Zombie Apocalypse. But these were people. Living people: albeit only just. Although “only just” often went on for a long time with the interruption of the death process by Doctors and Medicines. I remember one man that my Mother pointed out who had fallen during an outing and had had a large part of his skull removed and so he no longer had a round head but one with a significant divot that took out about a third of his skull. Mum never said this often, but every now and then, she would say “Medical science keeps people alive beyond their natural life.”
Go forward 15 years and I am now Senior Pastor of Nowra City Church and I am in my early 30’s. There was a great couple in the church called Ken and Olga Clifton. Olga’s father, now a widower, was well advanced in age – around 90 if my memory serves me correctly and simply due to his age, his quality of life was poor. He decided he had lived his life and it was time to move on. Unfortunately for him, assisted suicide is illegal in Australia and so his only option was to refuse food and water. From memory it took about 9 days for him to die. This is was an extremely difficult time for him and the family. Certainly Olga and I have spoken at length about Euthanasia and I know she supports a person in her father’s position choosing when its time to die. I remember being great effected at the time.
In San Diego in early July 2016, Betsy Davis emailed her closest friends and relatives to invite them to a two-day party, telling them: “These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness and openness.” And just one rule: No crying in front of her. The 41-year-old artist with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, held the gathering to say goodbye before becoming one of the first Californians to take a lethal dose of drugs under the state’s new doctor-assisted suicide law for the terminally ill. Here is a pic from her pre Euthanasia party. I read multiple articles on Betsy and had both sides of the debate speaking to me inside my head as I processed this young lady’s situation. What if this was me? What if this was my daughter? Does either one of those questions change my theology or position?
The reason I do not support Euthanasia is because I feel that as Christian I must champion the sanctity and value of life and the fact that God holds our life in His hands. This last point is my acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of God in this debate. Hebrews. 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes the judgment.” Who appoints this date with death – God does. Job 14:5 teaches us that God has numbered our days, that it is the Lord who gives us life: Job 33:4, “The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
The bible also says not to murder (Exodus 20:13), but like one website I was reading said, “if Euthanasia is legalized then technically it’s not murder”. I guess my comment about that is that God’s laws don’t yield to the US Supreme Court or that of any other land – although I suggest with some laws the US Supreme Court have made, they think God’s laws do indeed yield to them. But that’s a topic for another day.
Job’s wife, during Job’s immense suffering suggested to Job that he curse God and die. (Job 2:9). In other words, to suicide or euthanize himself. This he refused to do.
During my research on this topic years ago (I have attempted a few times to write on this topic), I came across this statement on the value of life. (I would post credit but did not record the author). “Genesis 9:6 was instructive for our forbears and should be for us as well: Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God has He made man.” This scripture is more than a prohibition on the taking of innocent life. Being created by God, we are stewards of our lives rather than owners. Created to be like God, our lives have an eternal purpose; set apart for, and owned by God. Since we are created in the image of God, our lives have intrinsic and immeasurable value. This is the source of the “sanctity of life” concept. Because we are created in God’s image, people have an inherent and God-given dignity. This is a far cry from the fluctuating self-esteem (based on wealth, abilities, etc.) that is mistaken for dignity by non-Christians. (end quote).
However….I can’t help but struggle with my Mother’s observation that “Medical science keeps people alive beyond their natural life.” Whilst doing some study at Fuller Theological Seminary, I wrote a paper based around Job on the topic of how to support and care for the terminally ill: The Paper was titled First Do No Harm. Click here to read the paper. Here are a couple of relevant paragraphs:
“Death is both inevitable and irreversible.” Over the last century the decline in mortality has been significant but has had some interesting cultural ramifications. In the Journal, Annual Review of Sociology, John Riley in his article Dying and the Meanings of Death, reports “Most deaths now occur not among the young as they did at the turn of the 20th century where the life expectancy was not much above 30, but among the old. In the United States, people aged 85 and over account for only 1% of the total population but for 17% of all deaths.” George Fitchett in Wisdom and Folly in Death and Dying, writing in the Journal of Religion and Health says “Advances in medical science and technology have all but eliminated the acute diseases that once were the major causes of death. This has created a radical change in the demographic characteristics of those who are dying. At the turn of this century fifty-three percent of those who died in this country were under the age of fifteen”. This major shift as to who is dying as well as the West’s preoccupation with “perpetual youth, beauty, sexuality, and strength has typically disguised, avoided, denied, and embellished death resulting in alienation of the dying” according to the article in the journal Public Health Reports titled Terminal Care: Issues and Alternatives.” The article goes on to say the isolation has been encouraged by a change in societal institutions, most prevalent of which is the change in family structure, away from the traditional almost tribal nuclear family to a more disconnected modern family. Within the extended family, the processes of the life cycle were an accepted and natural part of daily life, with birth and death on a continuum in nature. Ill persons were cared for in their homes by their families, and the burials of those who died were attended by all members of the family. This is simply not the case these days.
When we consider the terminally ill, “technology has influenced care for the terminally ill even more dramatically by creating a population of people who experience their dying over an extended period of time.” One article I read coined the phrase that there are many people who are currently “living dying.” Now technically we are all living dying but the phrase applied to the terminally ill has a particular poignancy. So the demographic shift of who is dying, mixed with the obsession of youth and beauty in our culture and the change in the modern family, married with death being delayed by medicine, all lead to the terminally ill experiencing social death before biological death. This conclusion is reinforced by the research reported on in Coping with Loneliness Among the Terminally Ill published in the Social Indicators Research Journal concluding that “the terminally ill are particularly prone to loneliness.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a highly acclaimed book titled On Death and Dying back in 1969 where she identified the 5 stages of grief that a person journeys through once they have been diagnosed with a terminal disease. This has both been positive and negative “ Our present state of care for the dying is one in which a unique and personal human experience has been transformed into a series of psychological stages to be monitored and facilitated by specialists in the techniques of doing so has dehumanised the care process.”
The point that I want you to take out of the above two paragraphs is the change over the last 100 years of who is dying. This is primarily due to advancements in medical science. So does the medical profession ever overstep the boundaries when it comes to keeping people alive? I would suggest they do. Then I think of the scripture that says that God numbers our days. In the extreme, if I was going to hang my entire theology of life on that verse, then I would be preaching that we should never be involved in any medical procedures. I am sure somewhere in the world there is a church or a movement that preach exactly that. (JW’s for example won’t accept a blood transfusion). But clearly I don’t subscribe to the no medical involvement idea. But is there a limit? And is refusing medical help when say terminally ill, considered to be Euthanasia? As a Pastor, I have walked with many terminally ill people through the dying process. I have often thought post their death, that if the terminally ill person had died 20 days earlier, it would have been so much easier for them and indeed their family. So this medical science issue is a conundrum for me when attempting to have a positon on Euthanasia. One that I don’t think I have resolved.
Another issue I struggle with with Euthanasia is, it can present a compelling case in terms of the terminally ill. But what if it was expanded to include other issues, like for example the Belgium experience of people with depression being given permission to die. And what about people who can’t speak for themselves such as people in a coma or severely disabled? If the Belgium experience has already exposed shades of grey where does the grey stop? And who determines the shades of grey? Do we as a society Euthanize people with extremist views? Should terrorists or potential terrorists be on the list?
This blog article is in no way meant to fully examine both sides of the argument but rather put up some of the thoughts on both sides that I am wrestling with whilst highlighting the complexities of landing on a definitive position.
So my definitive position is……Will let you know when I have one.
But……I do strongly believe in the sanctity and value of life and that we as humans do live yielded to the Sovereignty of God.
Anyway, that’s what I think.
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