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In this lesson, Mike examines the differences between natural death and mercy killing, and what the Bible teaches concerning the manner that one's life ends.
42 min

In a documentary I once saw on TV concerning assisted suicide, a man traveled to Switzerland to engage a Swiss group to assist in his own death.

  • He was an engineer in his late sixties with Parkinson's disease.
  • He was lucid, in control of his mind, but not able to walk without help.
  • He spoke intelligently about his wish to end his life, without regrets not wanting to suffer his disease any longer.
  • The interviewer asked him about life after death and he said he didn't believe in it.
  • He had small reservations but these were not serious enough to stop him.
  • One hour after the interview he was dead from a drug administered to him by the assisted suicide group, and it was all legal!

As more and more countries (including many state governments in the U.S.) are drafting laws on this issue I thought it would be good to get a Biblical view.

Euthanasia

If you want to make something acceptable that has traditionally been rejected by society, simply give it a new sounding name:

  • Abortion/Infanticide changed to "Pregnancy Termination"
  • Child Molesters call themselves "Man-Boy Love Society"
  • Suicide is now referred to as Euthanasia which means "good death," or mercy killing, dignity in dying, etc.

In its present usage the term Euthanasia means to act directly to assist in the death, as painlessly as possible, for one who is suffering an incurable disease or lingering illness which, in the opinion of the ill or their supporters, make life not worth living.

We need to make the difference between Euthanasia and the right a person has to choose a natural death.

1. Natural death is where a long-term comatose patients being artificially sustained are removed from their life sustaining equipment.

Natural death is an agreement between the doctors and patients not to take any extraordinary measures to prolong a person's life, when all reasonable expectation of recovery is no longer present.

Laws already exist that give doctors and patients the right to make decisions concerning their legal right to have a natural death if this is what their families and doctors have decided. For example, the removal of life support when no potential for recovery is determined (allowing the person to die naturally). Other examples include:

  • The refusal of extensive treatments when the rate of success for these is very small.
  • The choice to have several months of reasonable health over years of suffering with on going cancer treatment.

We are all going to die at some point and we should have a choice to experience our death when it is imminent. In most states there are specific documents that record our wishes in this area (i.e. Advanced Health Care Directive).

2. Euthanasia or Mercy Killing is where someone kills you or helps you kill yourself with poisons or drugs.

Euthanasia is not the acceptance of an unavoidable, impending death – it is the imposition of death to end the suffering. For example:

  • Alzheimer patients who kill themselves rather than allowing the Alzheimer or other conditions to end their lives.
  • Arthritis sufferers who ask someone to end their lives because they can no longer deal with the pain.

Euthanasia is the willful act that causes the immediate death of the individual. There is a difference between allowing a person to die naturally, letting the body shut down by itself, and actually causing that person's death using artificial means.

History/Background

Suicide is nothing new, the Greek philosophers considered it a most noble way to die. The Japanese in WWII and many radical Muslim groups today see suicide as a useful tool in war encouraging young suicide bombers with the promise that upon completion of their missions they will go straight to their form of paradise. In the West, however, suicide, under any of its names, has become an acceptable option to resolve difficult issues as the value of human life has gone down. In pagan nations suicide was a convenient and honorable way to avoid the unpleasantries of old age or public disgrace. Since it was believed that the present life was the only life one had, once it became unpleasant the easy option was simply to end it.

Believers, however, have always put the highest premium on human life for several reasons:

  • It was created in the image of God – Genesis 1:26
  • God expressly forbids murder and this includes suicide – Exodus 20
  • The Hebrews, who had their share of suffering, nevertheless abhorred the taking of one's own life.
  • Christians, who suffered tremendous persecution and torment throughout history, never considered suicide as an option – for the same Biblical reasons.

Suicide was never an acceptable option for Western society based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Those who committed this were considered insane or hopelessly depressed. Roman Catholics refused burial in their cemeteries those who had committed suicide. Even Insurance companies refused to pay policies for such deaths under the violent death clause, considering suicide a form of murder, disqualifying the person from collecting death benefits.

The idea of self-inflicted death or mercy killing, by another name, gained support as our society moved away from its Christian roots:

  • People began to accept the evolutionary theory of life where there is no God but only an ever-evolving species of life on earth. If man is composed of nothing more than matter, then the way he dies has no meaning other than the normal cycle of life and death of all matter.
  • Philosophers in the 19th century and the early 20th century began to teach that the only value of life is what that life produces and experiences.
  • Art, music, success, sex, fame, power and knowledge to name a few are the things that determined the value of one's life. A life that could not produce or consume these things was considered to be less valuable.

So, we have arrived at the beginning of the 21st century and have a society that sees man as nothing more than an intelligent animal, and life valued only by what one has experienced or contributed to the rest of society:

  • If you are intelligent, creative and wealthy your life is valuable.
  • If you are poor, sick and uneducated your life is not very valuable.

I'm generalizing here for the sake of time, but this is essentially the thinking that permits people to support and promote Euthanasia as a viable option to deal with illness and suffering. Of course, it does deal with suffering and pain, there's no question of this; also, there's no question that many do it out of concern; our objection is to the method, not the motivation. If life is valued by what you experience and contribute rather than what you are, then if you are no longer able to contribute because of illness or age, your life is no longer as valuable as it once was and you should be able to end it in whatever way you want.

Of course, this thinking reverts back to paganism because it eliminates God as a factor in life and death and judges the value of a person's life only based on physical criteria.

  • What a person experiences sensually (including the experience of pain).
  • What a person contributes physically, philosophically and artificially are referred to as the "quality of life" and if your quality is below par, you should end it.

How many times have I heard people say, "She has no quality of life, why not just end it?" in speaking of the old, the sick or the handicapped.

The Danger of Euthanasia

The idea of Euthanasia under any name is dangerous for several reasons:

1. It reduces the value of life.

Life is more than what we feel or produce, life is who we are, what we represent and in whose image we are made. The basis of our culture has been that every life may have different gifts and abilities, but each was equally valuable because of its spiritual nature. It has been this belief that has motivated medicine, as well as all the helping professions.

When each life is equally valuable, regardless of color, age, deformity or illness - we have the motivation to care for and feel right about ministering to everyone with an equal effort. If the intrinsic value of life is reduced and measured only by experience and productivity it will create an elitist society where, like animals, only the fittest will survive and only the fittest will be allowed or encouraged to survive.

2. Mercy Killing Leads to Selective Killing

When society justifies the concept of mercy killing (i.e. an incredibly suffering woman is put out of her misery by an overdose of pain medicine), then it is only a step to add new categories for this solution that we would have never dreamed of before.

Abortion is a form of mercy killing. We destroy the baby to save the mother the suffering of having another child, or having the child of a rapist, or giving birth to a sick or handicapped baby. If you kill the unborn and those who no longer enjoy life because of illness, it is only a step to eliminate the elderly, the severely handicapped, the mentally insane, criminals, eventually even those people who don't agree with you.

The real danger is that once society accepts this behavior, the government will legislate and control it. It would be more cost effective to eliminate all the people I've just mentioned than to actually care for them. This is one of the potential problems that arise when governments start to have exclusive authority over medical care.

People think this is an exaggeration but who would have thought that we would be passing laws encouraging homosexual education in our schools and giving them rights to adopt children, 20 years ago? In the last decade we have accepted homosexuality as normal and now the government is writing laws for them. In the following decades many who are reading this book will be the ones who will be in the last years life and at the rate our society is changing it is not impossible to imagine the government giving doctors the right to eliminate those who are no longer useful to a progressive society. That would be us!

Martin Niemoller, a protestant preacher who was imprisoned and killed by the Nazis wrote of the danger of not confronting evil. He said,

"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

3. Euthanasia Violates God's Word

God's Word is very clear about the proper treatment of human beings and how He will deal with those who violate His Word. The entire matter is summarized in two of His commands:

A. Thou shalt not kill. Exodus 20:13; Romans 13:9

  • Human life is created in God's image, He gives life and takes it away (Job 1:21).
  • Man is authorized to take life to protect society (Romans 13:4).
  • This is the only time (police, armies, etc.).
  • Man has no God given right to cause death to anyone!
    • unborn - old
    • rich - sick

When a person does this, for whatever reason, that person will answer to God (regardless of what human laws say) and it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

B. "…however you want people to treat you, so treat them…" Matthew 7:12

If you are ill, poor, old, handicapped, insane or suffering would you want the powers that be to eliminate you because you are no longer productive, or because you can no longer enjoy a football game?

The Bible is filled with admonitions on how to treat people in various situations of age and suffering:

Nowhere in the Bible does God give us a command, example or logical conclusion that to end someone's life is the solution to their suffering of mental or physical pain. On the contrary, suicide is always seen in a negative light (i.e. Saul, Judas) committed by those who had lost faith. Mercy killing may be an easy solution for society and a quick end for an individual, but it is a shortsighted action that disregards the warning that "…it is given to men to die once, and then comes judgement." (Hebrews 9:27).

The mercy killers not only hasten death but hasten God's judgment upon themselves.

  • Dr. Kivorkian, a doctor who practiced Euthanasia, was acquitted for his "mercy killings" in man's court, but he still has to be judged in God's court.
  • Dr. Morgentaler, a famous abortionist in Canada received the "Order of Canada" (Canada's highest civil honor) but won't be honored by God for what he's done.

Summary

Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church about death and in his letter he said, "I do not want you to be uninformed…as do the rest who have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13). No hope when facing death. In death or life, in triumph or tragedy, the difference is that some have faith and hope, and others do not. Suicide makes sense if there is no God, no heaven, no judgement or no tomorrow. If this is all there is and all you have is pain and sorrow, ending it quickly and painlessly makes sense.

But for those who have faith in Christ and a hope for an eternal tomorrow, there are three promises to help us face suffering and death:

1. God promises that He will listen when we put our sorrows upon Him in prayer. He will support us when we are down.

…casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
- I Peter 5:7

2. God promises that no temptation (this includes a trial of suffering of any kind) will be greater than you can bear. Don't be afraid of not being able to bear it, you will with his help.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
- I Corinthians 13:13

3. God assures us that He will never leave us, this includes our moment of death. We won't be alone, no matter what.

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you'.
- Hebrews 13:5

These promises and assurances prepare us to meet every suffering and every challenge. With God, we can even face our deaths with confidence knowing that we can put or lives into His hands until it's time for us to leave.

The pagan, the doubter and the unbeliever has no hope, and killing himself or another may seem merciful. However, for us as Christians, the only option is to put our lives and the lives of our loved ones into the hands of a merciful God:

  • Who will comfort the heart
  • Limit the suffering
  • Receive us into heaven when His will is completely served

Jesus could have chosen mercy killing in order to avoid the suffering of the cross, but He looked ahead to the glorious resurrection for Himself and for all those who would believe in Him.

To those who believe, I encourage you to keep your faith in God and He will sustain you and those you love through the trials of suffering and death to the eternal life in heaven He has promised to the faithful.