Discussing euthanasia and end-of-life decisions is challenging but essential, as these are realities we must openly address. The psalmist prayed, ‘Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” (Ps 71:9) In this blog post, I will share my convictions regarding these matters, informed by my belief in the scriptures which teach that actively hastening the end of life is morally wrong and goes against the doctrine of the sanctity of life. My perspective is guided by several key reasons outlined below.
Biblical and Ethical Considerations
As human beings created in God’s image, we possess irrevocable value (Gen. 1:26), worthy of protection. My central conviction is that actively hastening the end of life is morally wrong. It can be equated to a failure to love (Matt 22:36-40, Jn 13:35), and it is a violation of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Implied in the sixth commandment is not only forbidding the taking of innocent life, but an obligation to preserve life whenever possible. The Westminster Confession, in section WCF 136, further explicates our responsibilities under this commandment, “the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment include the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life,” emphasizing the duty to preserve life as a moral obligation. To further reinforce these convictions about human dignity, consider the words of theologian Al Mohler, “Life is God’s gift to us, and we have a responsibility to protect and cherish it. When facing end-of-life decisions, we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, allowing our faith to illuminate the path of righteousness.” (Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
The Consideration of Mercy and Compassion
We are also called to extend mercy toward those who suffer and are afflicted (Luke 6:36). Compassion never justifies euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, but it does guide us away from overly aggressive, painful interventions when such measures are most likely futile. Sometimes real life situations aren’t as clear cut as we would like them to be, and the messy scenarios in the hospital or the rehab center can leave even well informed Christians puzzled and conflicted. Here is a key question we should ask: “Will this course of treatment constitute the preservation of life, or the prolongation of death and unnecessary suffering?”
The Tension: Are we preserving life or prolonging suffering and death?
When considering end-of-life decisions, we should carefully examine the patient’s medical status, including factors such as heart, lung, and kidney functionality. Positive medical indicators with these major organs suggest potential for improvement or stabilization, impacting the decision-making process to continue life-saving treatment for recovery. Questions for the medical team and family will help to answer these difficult questions:
“What is the likelihood for recovery?”
“Will the available treatments worsen suffering, with little chance of benefit?”
“What are the best and worst expected outcomes?”
Decisions of this nature are best made prayerfully in the context of loving Christian community, guided by a medical team which understands and shares your biblical worldview, and the elders and pastors God has placed in your life.
We Cling to God’s Promises of Hope
When the difficult decision is made to “let go,” we must remember that for the Christian, nothing—not even death!—can pry us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39). Christ has rescued us from the permanence of death’s curse (1 Cor. 15:54-55). We firmly hold to the promise of the resurrection of the body and the hope of eternal union with God (1 Thess. 4:14). In this way, the hope of the gospel changes our perspective on death and frees us from fear, though we die, yet shall we live (Jn 11:25-26)! Pastor Tim Keller provided for us a model of hope until the very end. After a battle with pancreatic cancer, Keller passed away in the Spring of 2023. His son Michael Keller recounted his final moments, “Dad waited until he was alone with Mom. She kissed him on the forehead and he breathed his last breath,” his tweet read. “We take comfort in some of his last words, ‘There is no downside for me leaving, not in the slightest.'” (Tweet from May 19, 2023) Tim Keller passed away trusting in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, he provides a model for all Christ-followers.
In summary, when facing end-of-life decisions, the Christian is guided to preserve life and to seek cure when recovery is possible, but also to accept the reality of death by natural causes when it arrives. Compassion guides us to alleviate unnecessary suffering, but cling to our hope in the sure promises of Jesus Christ, our anchor in every storm.
One Practical Consideration: The Importance of a Living Will and Legal Expression of Biblical Convictions
When it comes to these decisions, the key is communication. A living will is a legal document that allows individuals to express their medical treatment preferences, especially in situations where they cannot communicate these preferences themselves. This document is crucial for several reasons. It provides clarity and consistency: A living will provides clarity about one’s wishes regarding end-of-life care. It ensures that medical decisions align with one’s deeply held biblical convictions, as expressed in this essay. It will reduce family stress: Having a living will in place can reduce the emotional burden on family members who might otherwise have to make difficult decisions on your behalf. It provides them with clear guidance, which can alleviate stress during a challenging time. It provides legal protection: By making your convictions legally binding, you ensure that your wishes are respected, even if they conflict with prevailing medical practices. This legal protection safeguards your values and beliefs in a healthcare system that may not always share the same principles. In conclusion, the legal expression of biblical convictions through a living will is a critical step in ensuring that your values and principles are upheld in medical decision-making. This approach aligns with our moral duty to preserve life and can provide clarity and peace of mind for both individuals and their families during challenging times.
Resources for Further Study: For those seeking to delve deeper into this topic, here are three valuable resources:
- Book: David Van Drunen “Bioethics and the Christian life.” A guide to making difficult decisions. This book offers a comprehensive exploration of the biblical and ethical aspects of life issues.
- Article: “4 biblical principles for end-of-life dilemmas” from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article provides a Christian perspective on end-of-life decisions and the sanctity of life.
- Sermon: “Dignity and the End of Life.” by Pastor Bob Erbig.