One article writer offers this simple description of euthanasia: “seeking to euthanize [oneself], with the aid of another person to ensure that death is quick and painless.”
Euthanasia is justified as the “mercy killing” of an elderly patient with Alzheimer’s or Dementia or helping someone to commit suicide (assisted suicide) in order to escape the end stages of a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Society argues that it is humane to put down an animal who is in pain, so why not a person with no hope of recovery? How does a Christian respond to Euthanasia and assisted suicide?
Right to Live, Right to Die?
Tim Keller asked, “What makes a human being worthy of rights [if] you don’t believe in the image of God anymore?”
He explained the secular position on Euthanasia this way: “the reason a human being deserves rights, protections, is because they have the capacity […] to reason, they have self-consciousness, they have the capacity to make moral choices, […] they are moral agents and therefore they are capable, or they are worthy of protection; they have rights.”
Keller argues that, according to the values of a secular society, those without “capacities” do not have the same rights.
Whether they are given the same chance to live or not is determined by the value given to them by their family or the wider community in which they live; they are not automatically protected by the belief that all life is precious.
Proponents of euthanasia say they simply want the right to choose how they die while they still have a chance. Unfortunately, this is not the only application of euthanasia.
Law courts have seen cases where individuals killed a spouse, parent, or child as an act of “mercy” when that loved one was suffering but did not ask to be killed.
Listen to the Pain
When someone asks for help ending his or her life or talks about taking the life of a suffering family member, this is a cry of desperation
To the person without faith in a living and loving God, it can seem as though everything is gone. Even the believer might ask, “if God is so loving, he will understand the choice I am making.”
James 1:19 advises, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Reflect back on the details and the emotions you hear.
While it seems offensive that someone should wish to play God with life, this person is in mental and physical anguish and needs to be heard. Pay attention to ways in which suffering has affected one’s outlook on eternity or on the meaning of life.
And for caregivers, too: watching a loved one die slowly is exhausting. This is particularly so for the individual who is caring for a parent or sibling over the course of a long illness.
A Christian cannot condone euthanasia, yet people lose their sense of perspective easily when they are in the middle of a situation. How do they get a break so they can view life and death from a different angle?
Help with the Suffering
The Christian can give more than a listening ear or a sermon: he or she can offer practical assistance. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Our Savior understands pain, but he endured it so we could turn to him and have the assurance he is with us. We are not alone, nor are we meant to live life in isolation. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Some writers wonder if sometimes death is selected for a person without their say-so or if there are many whose lives could improve if they received more support.
Marie-Claude Landry, Head of Canada’s Human Rights Commission, wrote movingly on the subject, “In an era where we recognize the right to die with dignity, we must do more to guarantee the right to live with dignity.”
Most people are apt to propose opinions about what someone should do in a given situation, but not everyone will step in and do something to help.
Landry’s comments stem from a concern that euthanasia is too easily offered where financial assistance could make life more bearable and offer someone a chance at living with purpose.
Christians who say they value all life and who realize that everyone was made in the Image of God can support people enduring a terminal illness or chronic pain or who are caring for loved ones with Dementia.
Those who are in the position to do so might donate funds, offer relevant services for free, or initiate giving campaigns.
No one has endless resources of time, energy, or money, but believers expect the Lord to take what little we can give and multiply it in miraculous ways. “Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Malachi 3:10).
Jesus’ healing always included a social component, too, because isolation makes suffering worse. Every time he healed someone, that individual was able to reenter society.
The woman with the 12-year bleed could be with people for the first time since she was a little girl. The man with the demon was spotted “sitting at the feet of Jesus” (Luke 8:35).
Jesus calls every person to be part of a community, so even if there is nothing else one can give, there is value in simply being with someone who is in pain.
Know God’s Perspective
The most important perspective on euthanasia is God’s perspective. Each life is of so much value to him that he sent his Son to die in order to redeem all believing sinners.
God hates death. He hates suicide. He hates killing. God declared, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Psalm 139:16 reinforces the fact that our lives are in God’s hands: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The beginning and the end of our days are determined by him.
The slow process of dying, of incredible pain, is a horror of this broken life because death is our enemy. Yet, by Jesus’ resurrection, death was defeated for all believers. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
This is a guarantee available to those who pick up their respective crosses and follow Christ until the very end of this earthly life. Christians do not seek death, they face it. They help each other face it.
Picking up the cross of constant pain is a courageous and faithful choice. The New Living Translation of Romans 14:8 frames Paul’s words beautifully, powerfully, and clearly: “If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
A Sufferer’s Perspective
Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic for over 50 years but has also embraced her God-given purpose to serve him.
She says, “Society is not a bunch of people way out there who sit around big tables and think up political trends or cultural drifts. Society is you. Your actions and your decisions matter. What you do or don’t do has a ripple effect on everyone around you.”
That includes making the choice to die. She points out that our lives and our deaths affect others more than we realize. Imagine asking a nurse or a close friend to leave a number of pills — not to administer, just to make them available.
How does this affect a person’s life over time, long after the patient or friend has died? It is a choice, which causes its own kind of constant pain: self-doubt, shame, guilt, and loss.
Decisions about when it is appropriate to end a life beg the question, “is it possible that if one were to have lived a little longer, he or she might have helped someone in an unimaginable way or even discovered a new purpose in spite of the suffering?”
Mercy and Meaning
For readers who are pondering this question right now — whether to commit suicide or to help someone else die before an illness gets any worse — God is passing through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with you.
This is where Christ walked before defeating death, so he is able to empathize, but he still urges you to choose life — to choose the abundant life he promised to everyone who would hold on until the end.
For anyone who knows a person contemplating such an end, consider sharing the image of Christ’s compassion by sharing your time, being an attentive and compassionate listener, and by sharing the hope of the gospel.