Euthanasia: An Opposing View

By Dale Holloway

The battle rages over euthanasia and physician–assisted suicide. Is it ethical? Or biblical? Should it be legal? The battle has intensified in recent years by the actions of retired Michigan pathologist Jack Kevorkian, who has assisted at the deaths of scores of patients.

In November 1994, Oregon voters passed the “Death with Dignity” act which allowed physicians to write a lethal prescription. Although this was blocked by court injunction the next month, subsequent court decisions and a state vote against repealing the Act (November 1997) opened the door to the tragedy of March 25, 1998, when the first person died under Oregon’s new suicide law.

Contrary to Oregon, in November 1998, Michigan voters overwhelmingly defeated (by 70%) a ballot proposal to legalize physician–assisted suicide.

The debate is hardly new. Before Hippocrates (circa A.D. 400), patients were never certain if their doctor would heal or kill them. This led to the Hippocratic Oath, which states: “I will keep [the sick] from harm and injustice. I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

Definition of terms
Meaningful dialogue on this topic is possible only if there is mutual understanding of certain terms. The following definitions are offered for clarity.*

Suicide is the voluntary and intentional killing of oneself.

Physician–assisted suicide is when a physician provides the means for a patient to commit suicide.

Euthanasia refers to so–called “mercy killing.” The word is actually a derivative of a Greek word meaning good, or gentle or easy death.

Voluntary euthanasia is the intentional killing of another person at that person’s request. Involuntary euthanasia is the intentional killing of another person without that person’s consent. Both are clothed in the pretense of compassion to alleviate the suffering of the one being killed.

Two additional terms tend to confuse the issue more than clarify. Active euthanasia is deliberate intervention to cause death. Passive euthanasia is when life-sustaining treatments are withheld from a terminally ill person with the knowledge this will hasten death. However, this should not be considered suicide or euthanasia, since it is not an act or omission that causes death, but the underlying disease process. It is merely patient refusal of life-prolonging treatment which would only prolong the suffering, not provide a cure.

I argue against euthanasia from a biblical perspective and would like to offer some practical alternatives for consideration.

The Value of Human Life
One of the grand themes in the Bible is the sanctity of human life. What makes human life so special? We were created in the image of God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Clearly, all human life is stamped as sacred because it bears the image of God. This makes human life different from all other forms of life, and gives immeasurable value. It is why human life must be protected and preserved. As lovely and beautiful and full of variety as the plant and animal kingdoms may be, only human life was created in the image of God.

Only human life was created to know God, and endowed with moral and spiritual capacities—with creativity and with aesthetic sensitivities. Only human life can talk and fellowship with the Creator.

For these reasons it is not surprising to read the sixth commandment and find God stating quite succinctly, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13).

This does not imply, “Thou shalt not kill unless it is out of compassion.” Nor does it imply, “Thou shalt not kill unless the patient becomes a burden on society, the suffering seems unbearable, or the cost of care is too great.”

The commandment is, “Thou shalt not kill.” Euthanasia kills that which God has made sacred.

Our Bodies Belong to God
The proverbial story is: “If the ball is mine, we’ll play by my rules.” Ownership determines control, but the Bible, says we do not own our bodies, God does.

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:15, 19).

Since God is the owner of our bodies, we must play by His rules, which dictate we cannot kill others. Euthanasia dethrones God in one’s heart and mind and presumes to be wiser than the Creator.

There is Virtue in Suffering
A strong euthanasia argument is that causing death is considered compassionate if it relieves the patient of suffering.

Certainly no one wants to suffer, and we should do whatever is morally permissible to alleviate the suffering of others. There is, however, a salient biblical truth that must not be forgotten in this debate—that there is virtue in suffering. Nowhere in Scripture is there a hint that we should not, or will not suffer in this life. Suffering was one of the consequences of Adam’s sin.

We must find purpose in suffering. The Apostle Paul wrote “. . . And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2-4).

Again, we must do everything morally permissible to alleviate the suffering of others, but at the same time we must understand that the ultimate tragedy in life is not to suffer. The ultimate tragedy includes not knowing God and failurin0067 to do His will.

People Want to Know That They are Worthwhile.
Suicidal thoughts are provoked by fear: fear of abandonment, of dying in pain, of being an emotional or physical burden on others, or fear of financial problems. Fear brings a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness. These should not be reinforced, but dispelled by the care–giver. The patient needs reassurance and love at those times, not a lethal prescription.

Sadly, our society judges the worth and dignity of an individual by his or her usefulness to society or the condition of his or her body. But all human beings possess worth and dignity for one reason alone: they are created in the image and likeness of God. God is what gives worth and dignity to all humankind.

Alternatives to Euthanasia
The euthanasia debate has been intensified through the emotional use of such contemporary, technological terms as intrusive means of nutrition and hydration, brain death, persistent vegetative state, and heroic means of prolonging death. There is a fear of being kept alive on machines and these terms cause images of intense, unnecessary suffering.

Modern technology, however, has provides the means to keep a patient free from pain through the use of narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and anesthesia. Better physician training in pain management is another possible answer.

For the dying, even greater than the fear of pain is the fear of becoming a burden. Depression among the elderly is common, so it is important that adequate emotional support is provided and that social workers, psychiatric workers and clergy work in harmony to alleviate the causes of depression and prepare the patient for death.

Hospice care is available and is an excellent provider of end-of-life care for the dying and their families, which should always be encouraged.

When hopelessness and depression set in, the patient feels trapped. The patient should be informed of the alternatives to euthanasia available to him or her.

It is important that the dying are spiritually prepared for death. Patients feeling hopeless must know there is hope and that it is in Christ. Also, they must know that death can be a beautiful experience for those who place their faith in Christ.

Compassion is a word heard on both sides of the euthanasia/physician–assisted suicide debate. I would argue for Christ-like compassion which reaches out to the dying and their families and offers hope for the life to come through Jesus Christ. Killing in the name of mercy is not an acceptable alternative.


*Definitions adapted from Robert Orr, MD, Today’s Christian Doctor, The Journal of the Christian Medical & Dental Society; Spring 1993; XXIV (1):10–14.

(This article was first published in the Vol. 9 No. 2 issue of Hands On, the Magazine of Social Action for Urban Outreach of North Park University, Chicago, IL)

© 1999 North Park University  Ű°  All Rights Reserved