STUDY THREE: EUTHANASIA AND SUICIDE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016

A. WHAT IS EUTHANASIA?

The word ‘euthanasia’ is derived from the Greek eu = good or beautiful and thanatos = death.

A.1 What euthanasia is not

The following actions are NOT usually considered to be euthanasia:

Allowing a terminally ill person to die when there is nothing more that medicine can do for them.

Withdrawing or withholding life sustaining treatment which is judged to be either medically futile or overly burdensome for the patient.

The use of strong analgesics in order to control severe pain where the dosage required to bring relief may hasten oncoming death.

Commencing treatment that would not provide a benefit to the patient.

Withdrawing treatment that has been shown to be ineffective, too burdensome or is unwanted

“Turning off" life support in intensive care units

The giving of high doses of pain killers that may endanger life when they have been shown to be necessary

Note: some pro-euthanasia advocates term the second and fifth points above ‘passive euthanasia’; others do not consider this euthanasia as there is no intention to kill. This seems to be a very fine line that is being drawn here; while the intention may not be to kill, the knowledge that death will almost certainly follow turning off life support systems is present in the large majority of such cases. The difference is between deliberately causing the death, and allowing the natural course of dying to take place by withdrawing medical intervention.

A.2 What euthanasia is
Euthanasia is the intentional killing of a person with the presumed intention of bringing their suffering to an end. This is either voluntary [at the person’s request], or non-voluntary, decided by persons other than the patient without their request or consent.

The Queensland CHerish Life website http://www.cherishlife.org.au/resources/brochures/euthanasia-commonly-asked-questions provides the following definitions:

Euthanasia is the deliberate and intentional killing of a human being by a direct action, such as a lethal injection, or by the failure to perform even the most basic medical care such as the provision of nutrition and hydration, necessary to maintain life.

Voluntary euthanasia - this refers to patients who are mentally competent and who ask to be killed in order to relieve either physical or emotional distress which they declare unacceptable. In response, someone would intentionally kill them.

Medically assisted suicide - this refers to a situation where a person would be provided with the means of committing suicide and then would personally perform the act.

Involuntary euthanasia - this refers to people whose consent is not sought or given, or who cannot express their wishes, because of immaturity such as a newborn infant, mental disability, mental or physical illness or coma. In these instances, it is decided by others that the person should be killed.’
[Note: www.euthanasia.com/definitions  distinguishes between non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia – referring the former to the definition of involuntary euthanasia given above, and the latter to euthanasia performed contrary the patient’s expressed wishes.]

 

B. HISTORY OF EUTHANASIA

B.1 Legal history

BC 400 Hippocratic oath: ‘I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel’.

14th -20th centuries: Anglo-American common law tradition punished or disapproved of suicide and assisting suicide

USA 19th century: If a person advised suicide to another, and that other killed himself, the advisor was considered guilty of murder. A criminal code formulated between 1857 and 1868 prohibited ‘furnishing another person with any deadly weapon or poisonous drug knowing that such person intends to use such weapon or drug in taking his own life.’

1920: German authors Binding and Hoche wrote a book titled ‘Permitting the destruction of life not worthy of life’, maintaining that people who ask for death should be able to obtain it from a doctor.

1935: The Euthanasia Society of England was formed to promote euthanasia.

1939 + [Nazi Germany]: Hitler ordered the killing first of new-born and very young disabled children; this later extended to older children and adults. This was a deliberate removal of ‘unproductive’ citizens. [See quote from Schaeffer below.] [Go to www.euthanasia.com/galen.htm to read a sermon preached against this practice by a German bishop in 1941]

1966: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 6 states: ‘"Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his / her life."

1982: In the Netherlands ‘a State Committee on euthanasia was created. Composed of medical and legal experts, it laid down guidelines for euthanasia and assisted suicide. The following year, the first attempt was made to remove the criminal provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide from the Dutch legal code. Attempts were made again in 1986. Like previous attempts, they failed but the practice continued along the guidelines laid down by the State Committee. Tens of thousands of people have been given euthanasia in this period’ [sourced in 2006 from a webpage no longer available].

1994: London - House of Lords - Select Committee on Medical Ethics - 14 members (initially at least 6 favoured euthanasia, 2 opposed). Final unanimous report against legalisation

1994: New York - State Task Force on Life and the Law - 25 members with wide range of views - unanimous 217 page report against legalisation.

1995: Canada Special Senate Committee - 9 members. Final majority report recommended against legalisation. A minority thought that some limited forms of legal recognition may be acceptable

1995/6: Northern Territory legalizes euthanasia

1997: Australian Federal Government over-rules NT legislation.

1997: Parliament of Tasmania Committee investigating legalising voluntary euthanasia. 5 members (initially 4 in favour of euthanasia). Final unanimous report against legalisation

1998: Oregon State legalizes assisted suicide

1999: South Australia Parliamentary Select Committee - 4,000 submissions and evidence from 72 people over a 12 month period - all recommendations from the inquiry emphasised improved palliative care rather than legalised euthanasia

2000/1: Netherlands legalizes euthanasia, effectively decriminalizing it. A list of guidelines was set.

2002: Belgium legalizes euthanasia

1988-2005: Bills attempting to legalize assisted suicide and/or euthanasia have been presented and defeated in the following states of the USA: Washington State, California [another attempt is tabled for 2006], Michigan, Maine, Hawaii, Arizona, Vermont, Wisconsin

2004: Dutch medical officials admit to carrying out ‘mercy killings’ of terminally ill new-borns. Legislation is in the pipeline to legalize euthanasia of infants.

2005: A Dutch hospital that established guidelines for doctors to euthanize newborn babies it considered too sick to live claims the practice is widespread. The Groningen Academic Hospital says the practice of killing infants that are deemed too physically deformed or too ill to survive very long on their own is already happening across the globe.

2008: Washing State legalizes assisted suicide.


B.2 Philosophical history
The philosophical history of the move towards acceptance of euthanasia centres on viewpoints regarding the sanctity or otherwise of human life, questions of ‘human rights’ and sociological questions. Francis Schaeffer has addressed these issues in his books How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

B.2.1 The loss of absolutes [impact of relativism]
Once the concept of absolutes is discarded both morals and values become at the best relative, and at the worst meaningless.

Schaeffer comments:

‘If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values.  If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.

‘But it is not only that we need absolutes in morals and values; we need absolutes if our existence is to have meaning  - my existence, your existence, Man’s existence.’ [p166, How Should we Then Live?]

B.2.2 The impact of materialism [naturalism]
In the completely closed system of materialistic or naturalistic science there is no place for God and man becomes merely part of the machine.

Schaeffer comments:

‘Man disappeared, to be viewed as some form of determined or behaviouristic machine. Everything is a part of the cosmic machine, including people.  … prior to the rise of modern science … the laws of cause and effect were applied to physics, astronomy, and chemistry. Today the mechanical cause-and-effect perspective is applied equally to psychology and sociology. … [this] arose not because of that which could be demonstrated by science, but because the scientists who took this new view had accepted a different philosophic base. … their world-view brought them to this place.

‘ … when people began to think this way, there was no place for God nor for man as man. … There is no place for love in a totally closed cause-and-effect system. There is no place for morals in a totally closed cause-and-effect system. There is no place for the freedom of people in a totally closed cause-and-effect system. Man becomes a zero. People and all they do become only a part of the machinery. [p167-168].

B.2.3 The impact of humanism and the theory of evolution
Darwin’s concept of evolution from molecule to man was popularized by Huxley and Spencer. The concept of the ‘survival of the fittest’ was applied not only to all of life but to people groups and to ethics as well. Schaeffer believes that these concepts opened the door to racism [p170] and comments on their logical conclusion in the Nazi movement in Germany:

‘Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), leader of the Gestapo, stated that the law of nature must take its course in the survival of the fittest. The result was the gas chambers. Hitler stated numerous times that Christianity and its notion of charity should be “replaced by the ethic of strength over weakness”. … the Christian consensus had largely been lost by the undermining from a rationalistic philosophy and a romantic pantheism on the secular side, and a liberal theology (which was an adoption of rationalism in theological terminology) in the universities and many of the churches. Thus biblical Christianity was no longer giving the consensus for German society. After World War I came political and economic chaos and a flood of moral permissiveness in Germany. Thus many factors created the situation. But in that setting the theory of the survival of the fittest sanctioned what occurred.’ [p170-171]

Schaeffer comments further:

‘In a quieter way, and yet just as importantly, some of today’s advocates of genetic engineering use the same arguments to support the position that the weak should not be kept alive through medical advances to produce a weaker next generation. Rather, they argue, genetic engineering should be used to propagate the fittest. Humanism had set out to make man autonomous; but its results have not been what the advocates of humanism idealistically visualized.’ [p171].

In Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Schaeffer again refers to Nazi Germany, quoting from Dr Leo Alexander:

‘ … the guiding philosophical principle of recent dictatorships, including that of the Nazis, has been Hegelian in that what has been considered “rational utility” and corresponding doctrine and planning has replaced moral, ethical and religious values …

‘Medical science in Nazi Germany collaborated with this Hegelian trend particularly in the following enterprises: the mass extermination of the chronically sick in the interest of saving “useless” expenses to the community as a whole; the mass extermination of those considered socially disturbing or racially and ideologically unwanted; the individual, inconspicuous extermination of those considered disloyal within the ruling group; and the ruthless use of “human experimental material” for medico-military research …

‘It started with the acceptance of the attitude basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived …’
[quoted on p341 of Whatever Happened to the Human Race, from an article by Leo Alexander titled ‘Medical Science Under Dictatorship’ in the New England Journal of Medicine 241:37-47, July14, 1949]

Schaeffer adds:

‘The first to be killed were the aged, the infirm, the senile and mentally retarded, and defective children. Eventually, as World War II approached, the doomed undesirables included epileptics, World War I amputees, children with badly modelled ears, and even bed wetters.

‘Physicians took part in this planning on matters of life and death to save society’s money. Adults were propagandized …

‘There was an organization specifically for the killing of children …

‘Alexander, under the heading “The Early Change in Medical Attitudes,” gives his warning. It all started with the acceptance of the attitude that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. That is exactly what is being accepted today in the abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia movements.

‘Continuing his warning, Alexander adds: “But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which all this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude to the non-rehabilitable sick.”

‘This attitude is very much with us today. The “small wedged-in lever” is opening doors to what would have been inconceivable before. Alexander is quite correct in adding: “it is therefore this subtle shift in emphasis of the physicians’ attitude that one must thoroughly investigate.” ‘
[pp341-343]

These comments on Nazi Germany reveal how easy it is for medical, ecclesiastical and public opinion to be quickly and effectively changed, and for the concept of the sanctity of human life to be discarded.


C. FLOW ON EFFECTS OF VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA

The quotes from Schaeffer have drawn our attention to the ‘wedge’ concept. Once one reduction of values occurs the door is open for the next, then the next …. As Schaeffer states strongly, what is unthinkable in one generation can very easily become not only thinkable but also accepted as normal in the following generation.

C.1 Non-voluntary euthanasia
In the Netherlands the tacit acceptance of voluntary euthanasia for decades prior to its legalization, is reported to have opened the door to non-voluntary euthanasia. An International Taskforce Report on the situation (no longer accessible online), quoting from a Dutch government authorised report, indicates that in one year in the Netherlands [1990]:

2300 people died as a result of voluntary euthanasia [they requested their doctors to kill them.]

400 people died as a result of physician assisted suicide.

1,040 [= an average of 3 per day] died as a result of involuntary euthanasia [their doctors killed them without their knowledge or consent.] 14% of those killed were fully competent; 72% had never expressed any wish for euthanasia; in 8% doctors believed alternative options were possible.

8,100 died because of increased pain medication deliberately aimed at hastening death. 61% of these were without patient consent.

This totals 11,840 people who died by deliberate and intentional lethal overdoses or injections by their doctors [9.1% of the annual death rate.]

These figures do not include the thousands of reported deaths from withdrawal of life sustaining treatment without the patients’ consent and with the intention of causing death. Nor do they include the involuntary euthanasia of disabled new-borns, children with life-threatening conditions, and psychiatric patients.

The families of 45% of those euthanized involuntarily did not know their loved ones’ lives were deliberately terminated.

[For an analysis of Dutch government reports on euthanasia go to http://www.bioethics.org.au/Resources/Online%20Articles/Other%20Articles/Development_Euthanasia_Netherlands_21.pdf ]

In Australia, where all forms of euthanasia are illegal, both voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are being practiced by doctors. Note the flow on effect referred to in the report published by the Senate enquiry into euthanasia in March 1997, referenced in a Tasmanian government report in 1998:

‘There is evidence, however, that the current legal prohibition in Australia on active voluntary euthanasia does not effectively prevent doctors from practising active voluntary euthanasia. The only empirical research on end-of-life medical decisions that has been conducted in Australia indicates that 1.8 % of deaths in this country (around 2,300 each year) are the result of active voluntary euthanasia.

The same research suggests that Australian medical practice has to some extent already "slid down the slippery slope" despite the current legal prohibition on doctors killing their patients. The research indicates that 3.5 % of deaths in this country (around 4,400 each year) involve a doctor administering drugs with the explicit intention of ending the patient's life, without a concurrent explicit request by the patient.’ [Bold added.]
[ http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ctee/old_ctees/euth.htm  ]

 

C.2 Neglect of, and/or fear in, the elderly, severely disabled or terminally ill
A British Medical Association study on euthanasia in the Netherlands in 1988 revealed that there was very limited palliative care in the Netherlands, and attributed this lack to the acceptance of euthanasia as a method of controlling suffering. The study found little knowledge or practice of adequate pain control techniques. Acceptance of the practice of euthanasia was seen to be a cause of this general failure to utilize advances in pain control and patient relief methodologies used in other countries.

In addition, the elderly and/or terminally ill, in situations where voluntary and/or involuntary euthanasia are practiced, cease to trust their doctors, and are, because of this fear, likely to avoid needed treatment by medical professionals.

[This fear formed part of NT Aboriginals’ concern about the legalization of euthanasia in 1995/6. See www.ards.com.au/promess  for an Aboriginal community request to the Commonwealth government to overrule the NT ruling, and also the following finding in the Senate Committee report on euthanasia:

The Committee also heard evidence from Mr Chips Mackinolty, who was engaged by the Northern Territory Government to provide an unbiased and factual education campaign on euthanasia to Aboriginal communities, following the enactment of the legislation. Mr Mackinolty told the Committee that, even though he personally supported his own right to euthanasia as a non-Aboriginal, his experience in conducting the education campaign had brought him to the view that the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act should be repealed because of its potential to deter Aborigines from seeking prompt medical attention. Mr Mackinolty expressed the view that the very existence of the Northern Territory legislation is a significant threat to Aboriginal health.’]

[Referenced from http://www.geocities.ws/CapitolHill/8270/sensum.htm  .

A very insightful novel by Francine Rivers Leota’s Garden also addresses this issue.]

 

C.3 Infanticide
As indicated above, in the Netherlands voluntary euthanasia of adults was extended to involuntary euthanasia of disabled newborns and children with life-threatening conditions. We have already seen that liberalization of abortion laws leads on to infanticide. It is generally accepted that infanticide – either by deliberate killing of new-borns or by withholding necessary care, in some instances withholding food – is in fact occurring.

Recommended reading: Schaeffer: Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Chapter 2: The Slaughter of the Innocents.

C.3.1 Reasons for infanticide

Infanticide is carried out on infants whose prospective ‘quality of life’ is considered little or non-existent, or whose survival would have serious ‘negative’ impacts on the lives of their parents and/or family. These conditions include:

Down’s syndrome
Spina bifida
Mental defects
Epilepsy.

Once the thin edge of the wedge is in regarding infants with severe physical or mental defects, then it is just one more step after another and the criteria will expand so that almost any unwanted child will be a potential candidate for infanticide/euthanasia, particularly if the suffering of the family, not the child, is considered. Acceptance of medical infanticide also in turn puts older children and adults with similar conditions and disabilities under threat.

Infant euthanasia can only become common/accepted if one’s perception of ‘what is human?’ has deviated from the Biblical perception of the sanctity of human life, and if one has discarded the concept of moral absolutes.

For example, Peter Singer, an Australian ethicist, Professor of Bioethics, University Centre for Human Values, Princeton University, having embraced quality of life as the criteria by which to decide who lives and who dies, rather than the sanctity of human life, openly advocates infanticide:

‘However the sanctity of life ethic has been replaced by the quality of life ethic. Now people are judged by what they can contribute to society, instead of who they are.

Thus the secular philosopher Peter Singer argues that only people who have consciousness or awareness and offer functional usefulness can really be said to be persons. Those incapable of sentience or utilitarian usefulness (such as the unborn, the newborn, the frail and elderly) are not to be regarded as persons. People are thus of value for what they do instead of who they are.

Therefore Singer is pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and pro-infanticide. Some people just do not measure up to his definition of personhood. As a result he has argued that newborn babies should pass a test of usefulness before we allow them to live. Singer and his like-minded friends would obviously be the judges and executioners if such a brave new world were permitted.’ [article by Bill Muehlenberg, https://billmuehlenberg.com/2003/07/07/eugenics-and-the-culture-of-death/ ]   

Here are two quotes from Singer:

"Since neither a newborn human infant nor a fish is a person, the wrongness of killing such beings is not as great as the wrongness of killing a person."

"...regarding a newborn infant as not having the same right to life as a person, the cultures that practiced infanticide were on solid ground."
[Quoted on: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2002/11/15/a-review-of-rethinking-peter-singer-edited-by-gordon-preece/ ]

While Singer has not arrived at this viewpoint via the influence of voluntary euthanasia, but rather by embracing what he terms ‘preference utilitarianism’, his concepts of the non-personhood of new-borns and other  presumably non-sentient and useless humans, make it easier for people to accept infanticide via a prior acceptance of voluntary euthanasia.

 

D. THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

We have already established the Biblical view of the sanctity of human life, and the concurrent prohibition of murder and mistreatment of human beings.

Whereas there is great contention about the human status of embryos and foetuses, and whether or not abortion is killing [especially in the first half of a pregnancy], there is not nearly as much controversy concerning euthanasia. Apart from extremists like Peter Singer, most people who accept and/or advocate euthanasia realise that it is killing a human being. So, why do people think it is okay to kill another human being?

They have discarded the biblical concept of the sanctity of human life
They have discarded belief in the existence of God
They have discarded the moral absolutes found in the Bible
They have embraced moral relativism
They have embraced the view that quality of life is more important than life itself
They have embraced materialistic, utilitarian criteria for decision making

To stem the tide of euthanasia in our society and to protect oneself from the subtle arguments of its advocates the Christian needs to:

D.1 Understand and maintain the Biblical stance on the sanctity of human life
Revisit Study One and confirm your understanding of the biblical position. Think carefully through the implications.

D.2 Understand the moral absolutes of the Bible
In considering euthanasia, the biblical moral absolute is ‘you shall not kill’.

D.3 Understand the heart of God for the weak and helpless
The most vulnerable in society have the compassion of God. He commands their protection and condemns their abuse.

Study these texts:

Genesis 21:8-21: Although there are difficult concepts in this story, this much is clear – Hagar and Ishmael, basically left to die in the desert, attract the compassion of God.

Exodus 1:15-20: The midwives’ faith in God prevented them from obeying the king’s order to kill the newborn sons of the Israelite women. Their refusal to kill the newborns gained God’s approval and blessing.

Exodus 22:21-24: Forbids mistreatment of people from other races, widows and orphans.

Leviticus 19:14: Mistreatment of the deaf and blind is forbidden. It is inferred that such mistreatment would indicate that one has ceased to fear God. [It is interesting that the mistreatment of the deaf indicated here is ‘cursing’ them – which they cannot hear, but which God can; and the mistreatment of the blind is putting a stumbling block in their path, which they cannot see, but God can. Our consciousness of the presence and omniscience of God puts a fence around our treatment of the disabled.]

Leviticus 19:32: Indicates that respect for the elderly is an expression of reverence for God.

Leviticus 19:33-34: Indicates that treatment of people of other races as our equals is an expression of knowing God.

Leviticus 20:1-5: This passage forbids the offering of children to the idol Molech. While obviously teaching against idolatry, it also forbids this form of infanticide.

Numbers 35:6-34: [see also Deuteronomy 19] This extended passage distinguishes between intentional and accidental killing. Killing a person with an object and killing a person with one’s bare hands with hostility or premeditated malice are both identified as murder. Euthanasia is obviously using an object to kill a person. Euthanasia is also premeditated. The punishment for accidental killing is severe enough. The punishment for murder is instant and fatal on the evidence of more than one witness. The theological rationale is expressed in verses 33-34.

Deuteronomy 7:12-14: Children – ‘the fruit of your womb’ are seen as God’s blessing

Deuteronomy 15:7-11: Commands generosity to the poor and needy. Affirms that there will always be poor people in the land. Generosity to the poor and needy attracts the blessing of God.

2Samuel 19:31-39: Barzillai, a very old man, is treated with respect by the king, even though his sense of taste and hearing are gone.

Job 24: This chapter contains strong indictment against those who oppress and abuse the vulnerable – the orphans, widows, needy, fatherless, poor.

Psalm 12:5: God rises up to protect the weak and the needy from oppression.

Psalm 35:10: God is seen as unique in his rescuing of the poor and needy from those who are too strong for them.

Psalm 37:14: Speaks against those who kill the poor and needy

Psalm 72:4: God defends the afflicted and saves the children of the needy.

Psalm 72:12-14: God delivers the needy and afflicted, takes pity on the weak, saves the needy from death, and rescues them from oppression and violence. Their ‘blood’ is precious in God’s sight – that is, he does not want it to be shed.

Psalm 82:3-4: God commands that the cause of the weak and fatherless be defended, the rights of the poor and oppressed be maintained, and the weak and needy be rescued and delivered from the hand of the wicked.

Psalm 109:16: The person who hounds to death the poor, the needy and the broken-hearted is condemned.

Ezekiel 16:4-7: In this chapter the Lord likens his grace and compassion for Israel to that of a person coming upon a new-born which had been abandoned. This life-saving compassion for the unwanted child facing certain death is authenticated and validated by God’s use of it as an image to depict his own love. It is also an indictment against infanticide.

Amos 8:4: Those who do away with the poor of the land are condemned by God

Zechariah 8:4: The presence of old men and women [complete with their walking sticks] is part of God’s blessing to a restored Jerusalem.

These verses do not at first glance directly address the question of euthanasia. They do, however, clearly demonstrate that God condemns the mistreatment or abuse of the vulnerable. He outlaws the concept of one level of rights for the strong and rich and another level of rights for the week or poor, for those who do not have a heard voice. When euthanasia degenerates, as it seems to do, into killing off people because they are seen to be a burden to others or to society as a whole, then these verses do indeed speak directly to that level of euthanasia. God commands us to protect and save the vulnerable people in our communities, not to get them out of the way by killing them off.

D. 4 Understand the Biblical teaching about suffering
In a later study we will be looking at the Biblical view of suffering. In the meantime, as it relates to the euthanasia question, here are some preliminary remarks:

Suffering is part of the world between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21. No matter what advances the medical profession makes, they will not eliminate suffering. Many childhood diseases have been eradicated by immunization programs, but others have arisen. Advances have been made in the treatments of many diseases, yet others become more common, and still others arise. There will always be suffering. That is simply how it is between now and the return of Christ as the eternal King [Romans 8:17-27; 2Corinthians 4:16-18.] In addition, medicine addresses only physical and some forms of psychological suffering; there are other areas of suffering that are beyond its reach.

God has promised that he will not allow any pressure to come to us that is beyond what we can bear [1Corinthians 10:11-13] and that he will provide a way by which we can stand up under the pressure.

Suffering, in God’s sovereign hand, is a tool by which he grows us up as his children, and forms in us qualities that enable us to live with compassion [Romans 5:1-5; 8:28; 2Corinthians 1:3-7; Hebrews 12:1-13; James 1:2-4,12; 5:7-11].

Suffering, for the believer, is also the theatre of God’s glory. This is demonstrated in [1] the suffering of Job, in which Satan is shown that there is such a thing as true faith in God, that endures no matter what; [2] Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’, through which God’s power was manifest [2Corinthians 12;7-10]; and [3] the sufferings of Christ, in which God was glorified, and by which many sons were brought, and still are being brought, to glory [Hebrews 2:10].  

Euthanasia is supposedly practised because either the patient does not want to suffer, some other person or persons do not want the patient to suffer, or the family of the patient do not want to suffer the emotional stress or the inconvenience that would be caused to them if the patient keeps living. The avoidance of suffering of some kind is thus the major stated reason for euthanasia. [We are ignoring here the pragmatic reasons some bolder persons dare to state that focus on finance, freeing up a bed for another patient, perceived uselessness of the ‘patient’, and so on.]

Killing someone off to terminate either their actual or anticipated suffering or someone else’s actual or anticipated suffering overlooks this biblical perspective of what God can and does do with the evil of suffering. As we saw in Study One, suffering was not part of the original creation; it is here only because of the entry of sin, and is part of what God said ‘no’ to when he forbade the eating of the fruit. But such is the sovereign power of God that he takes hold of this evil, this curse, and works with it for his good and loving purposes. It is not something beyond his power and his authority. It is something that he uses for good. It is also something into which he intervenes. Jesus proactively intervened in human suffering: he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and so on. This example of Jesus validates medical intervention to reverse suffering by healing and by relieving. But there is no record that Jesus terminated suffering by killing people off. Instead, there are three records that he restored dead people to life – and life inevitably involves suffering. In bringing them back to life on this earth he exposed them to further suffering.

 

D.5 Understand the Biblical teaching about death
As we saw in Study One death is only in the world because of Genesis 3. It is not a part of God’s creative purpose. It is here as a result of our sin and is part of the fear and bondage into which our sin has condemned us. It is also the focal point of God’s judgment on sin.

An extremely large proportion of Biblical references to death and dying are in the context of the sin being punished. Death is the stated penalty for [1] actions that evidence disrespect for the sanctity and dignity of human life, including forbidden sexual acts (which express disrespect for both oneself and for the other), and [2] actions that express disrespect for God. Sometimes the death penalty is implemented by God himself, and sometimes God delegates the responsibility of implementing this penalty to human beings either individually or corporately. [We will look at this further in Study 16.] Death in this context is something highly undesirable; and to take upon oneself the right or the responsibility of killing another is totally out of order.

[The substitutionary death of Christ by which our salvation is achieved is testimony to this penalty-judgment aspect of death that pervades the scripture.]

There are three significant biblical facts about death which the humanistic/naturalistic mindset with its denial of the spiritual dimension of man and of all belief in the supernatural, including belief in life after death, does not and cannot accept. For the Bible-believing Christian these facts are relevant to the euthanasia debate:

[1] The scripture states, God does not delight in death:

‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ [Ezekiel 33:11; read Ezekiel 18:1-32]

He created us for life not death. This alien and intrusive nature of death is evident in the fact that Jesus wept as he stood outside the tomb of Lazarus [John 11], even though he knew he was about to raise him from the grave.

[2] Physical death closes the door on repentance and reunion with God. Once a person passes through physical death there is no further opportunity to repent because after death comes the judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. So much does God desire men to repent rather than face the judgment that he is delaying the return of Christ to allow as many as possible the opportunity of repentance [2Peter 3:3-10]. To die without acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ is to die with one’s sins unforgiven, to face the Judge without the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ.

[3] When death comes to the Christian it is not something to be feared, but to be faced with the certain knowledge that to die is to be with Christ. However, this knowledge does not give the Christian the freedom to actively seek death, however much he/she might desire it [Philippians 1:21-24]. The Christian leaves death in God’s hands. Job’s horrific suffering, which made him wish he had never been born, also made him long for death [Job 3:21] and beg God to kill him. But he did not take that prerogative into his own hands or expect another human being to release him from his suffering by killing him. Had such euthanasia occurred God’s whole purpose in permitting Job’s suffering would have been truncated.

This leads us to the final biblical consideration.

D.6 Understand the Biblical teaching about the sovereign God
Much as Job longed for death it was God to whom he looked for death.  He knew that it was God who held the power of life and death. This is the perspective of the Bible: that life and death are in God’s hands.

Exodus 11:4-5: As in some of the other plagues of Egypt, death is in the hands of God

Deuteronomy 30:15-20: Although life and death are in the hands of God, they are also in our personal and national hands: to choose God is to choose life; to choose to oppose and reject God is to choose death.

1Samuel 12:19; Psalm 18:4-6; 56:12-13; 68:20: God can rescue people from death

Job 2:6: Satan is forbidden by God to kill Job, which he cannot do without God’s permission

Job 6:8-10: Job wishes God would kill him before he his pushed beyond his limit and becomes unfaithful to God.

Job 30:23: Job knows that his death is in God’s hands.

Psalm 104:29: When God removes his breath people die.

Ecclesiastes 8:8: Man does not have power over the day of his death.

Isaiah 25:8: The ultimate end of death is in God’s hands.

Hosea 13:14: God has the authority to redeem people from death.

Jonah 4:3,8,9: Jonah’s death wish is not granted by God. It is identified as self-pity and he is rebuked for not having had pity on the inhabitants of Nineveh.

Romans 8:38: [See also all verses about Christ’s resurrection] Death is not more powerful than God, nor is it able to undo God’s love, or to be interpreted as the removal of God’s love from those who belong to him.

Revelation 1:18: Jesus has the keys of death.

Revelation 21:4: God brings death to an end.

The sovereign, creator God is the giver of life. It is not man’s to terminate if and when he sees fit. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church includes the following statement in its Position Paper on Suffering, Death and Dying:

The Right of God as Creator to Rule Over Life and Death: God, as our Creator, is the giver and sustainer of all life. Since God is the giver of life, He reserves to Himself alone the right to take it: ‘It is I who put to death and give life.” (Deuteronomy 32:39) “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” (Job 1:21) In Psalm 139:13 & 16 (NAS), David acknowledged the sovereignty of God in numbering the days of his life: “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb…in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them”

Former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop sums up the problem of a culture which no longer looks to the Bible for its values: “Our society, having lost its understanding of the sanctity of human life, is pushing the medical profession into assuming one of God’s prerogatives, namely, deciding what life shall be born and when life should end.” The eternal Word of God declares that life is a sacred and priceless gift, beyond the purview of mere human beings to decide its beginning or end.

God, as our Creator, has given life to us as a gift and a sacred trust. Therefore, it should be received with thanksgiving and protected from those who would seek to usurp God’s control of life and death through abortion, suicide, assisted suicide and active euthanasia.’
www.epc.org/file/beliefs/positionpapers/PositionPaper-ProblemsOfSufferingDeathAndDying.pdf

 

E. SUICIDE IN AUSTRALIA

Suicide is included in this study on euthanasia [1] because some euthanasia is in the form of assisted suicide, and [2] because of some areas of similarity between the two. They share in common:

The perception that death is preferable to life
The perception that life is or is going to be too unbearable or not worth living
Disconnection from the sovereignty and goodness of God
Self-centredness [sometimes camouflaged as concern for others]

The fact that male suicide rates in Australia, after peaking between 20 and 29 years of age, peak again in the 75+ age group, could well indicate that in the latter group it is a form of self-inflicted euthanasia.

Any legalization of any form of euthanasia, or any shift of public opinion towards acceptance of any form of euthanasia, has the potential to have a flow on effect on suicide. For instance, the only western European countries to experience an overall increase in suicide rates in the 15-24 years age bracket between 1980 and 2001 were Belgium and the Netherlands, the two countries where euthanasia was an accepted medical practice. [Statistical information sourced from: p29-31, International Suicide Rates, a Griffith University paper by Diego Del Leo & Russell Evans.]

Australian suicide rates rank among the highest in the world.

As part of your study

[1] Look at the causes of suicide listed here: http://www.suicide.org/suicide-causes.html

[2] Consider/discuss the relation between the suicide causes listed and the lostness of man resulting from the Sin Factor. In what ways can the Gospel of Christ address these issues and give hope to those who contemplate suicide?

 

 

 

 

 


F. PERSONAL POSITION STATEMENT

Write a personal position statement on euthanasia.

Include your personal position on:

Voluntary euthanasia [patient requests doctors to kill them]
Involuntary euthanasia [doctors kill patient without their request or knowledge]
Medically assisted suicide [doctors provide the means for the patient to kill themselves]
Doctors performing euthanasia on a patient without the knowledge or consent of relatives
Allowing natural death to take its course by the removal of medical intervention that was either futile or overly burdensome
Euthanasia of newborns with serious defects
Legalization of euthanasia

For each personal position you identify include the thought processes, and biblical concepts where applicable, that have led you to take this position.

Identify also what you can do personally to counter increasing acceptance of euthanasia.