Death is inescapable. It is our common destiny. The Bible tells us “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Christians are confident that what happens to them after death is protected through the grace of Jesus Christ. Evolutionary atheists believe that human death is simply the end of another animal’s life, a freeing up of resources for the use of others. But regardless of what people believe about what happens after death, when and how they die and what they might face as that time draws close is of great concern to many.
Death is an enemy, an enemy that only Jesus Christ can and will destroy (1 Corinthians 15:26). If death cannot be avoided—and it cannot—many of us would like some control over how and when it happens. After all, we as adults do not like relinquishing the independence we spent our entire lives acquiring! As people around the world grapple with the issue of whether euthanasia (“mercy killing”) and physician-assisted suicide should be legal, it is the desire to retain control over our lives until the end that motivates many to push for a legal “right to die” on their own terms. When we realize that this is tantamount to asking for murder-on-demand, the sanitized sounding word euthanasia takes on its true colors.
Rights and Reality
Roe v. Wade in 1973 legalized the right of a woman in the United States to have a health-care professional kill her baby. Do we then have a right to ask a doctor to kill us, perhaps when we face a terminal illness or when we are handicapped by a condition without hope of improvement? Should we be permitted to demand a “merciful” death for a child or adult whose life, some think, is “not worth living”? And while many people fear the pain and indignity of a terminal illness or debilitating disability, some seek death on-demand as an escape from psychological distress.
Laws concerning euthanasia have not caught up with widespread liberal death-dealing abortion laws. However, some countries have stepped onto a slippery slope and legalized euthanasia—the administration of a lethal drug by a physician in order to put an end to life and suffering. Some countries have even legalized euthanasia for children! Meanwhile, the “lesser brother” of euthanasia—legalized physician-assisted suicide, in which the physician prescribes a lethal dose of a medication that patients then administer to themselves—is gaining ground in America under the banner of “death with dignity.”
Compassionate Care Versus Coercion
No one wants to suffer or see a loved one suffer. With advances in medical care, doctors can usually provide palliative care that substantially mitigates the suffering associated with terminal conditions. Today’s health professionals are also quite attuned to the wishes of their patients. Yet we hear so much from fear-mongerers about the horrors awaiting us in our final days that we may not realize we can receive compassionate care and maintain reasonable control over our circumstances without legalizing medical murder.
And then there is the issue of resources. Some people fear becoming a burden on others. Furthermore—whether families or insurance companies or governments—those who must shoulder the financial responsibility for end-of-life care, which consumes a substantial portion of health care expenditures in today’s world, have a financial incentive to expedite the exit of the dying. It is easy to see that this controversial issue over the “right to die” is very complex. It is so complex that, just as many compassionate people wrongly think abortion is justified when a mother is in a bad situation or a child is handicapped, many also think they can safely open the Pandora’s box of euthanasia. And they often do not realize that this misguided attempt to promote human dignity and retain personal autonomy may backfire, for ultimately the increased acceptance of euthanasia must surely trample underfoot the needs of the elderly, the gravely ill, and the resource-consuming handicapped. Their autonomy and dignity may evaporate under the guise of protecting them.
A Biblical View of Human Life
How should we as Christians view this issue? Whatever direction the legal systems of this and other nations take—and whatever unhappy surprises our own lives may hold for us as individuals and for those we love—how can we be certain that our thinking on this issue is correct? It is quite easy to be caught up in the emotional rhetoric surrounding this subject and to be overwhelmed by emotional distress when we hear bad news from our doctors. Without a firm foundation in the Word of God, the decisions we make and the beliefs we hold about these complex issues may be swayed by emotions and governed by the fallible pronouncements of secular ethics committees or even resource utilization guidelines. Therefore, to prepare ourselves for the unexpected, it is important to base our thinking on the Word of God from the very beginning. Let’s get this straight in our minds now.
From the beginning—back in the Garden of Eden—human beings have wanted to take control of their lives. We see this in the historical account of Eve’s yielding to the serpent’s temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) and in Adam’s decision to follow her in rebellion to God. It was that terrible day’s rebellion that brought the reality of unavoidable death and its attendant suffering into human life, for God had warned that the price of rebellion would be death (Genesis 2:17).
How is it that God had the right to demand Adam’s obedience and to punish rebellion with death? God is the Creator of all life. He made Adam and Eve and hence all of us, their descendants, in his own image. He loved them and he loves us, but he is a just and holy God and therefore judges sin. Thankfully, he also is a gracious and merciful God and sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to die in our place, securing for all who receive him the free gift of eternal life and fellowship with him. Yet still we must face death.
Historically God is our Creator because he created our first parents and because he is still the one who gives each person the gift of life. Therefore, our lives belong to him. Whether we have received the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ or not, our lives belong to him. How do we know? Well, not only did God create the fully human ancestor of all of us in the beginning, but when the Apostle Paul spoke to a pagan crowd in Athens, he declared, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is therefore up to God, the giver of life, to decide when a person’s life should end. Because man is created in his image, God has established very narrowly defined conditions under which man is authorized to take the life of another. (We see this for instance in Genesis 9:6 when God established a capital penalty for murder.)
The Bible does not condone the taking of one’s own life or euthanasia. It simply does not. God exhorts us to defend the “speechless . . . who are appointed to die” (Proverbs 31:8–9), not to kill them. God forbids murder (Exodus 20:13). Euthanasia—the destruction of another person’s life even to end their suffering—is a form of murder. It is wrong to do it and wrong to ask someone to do it for you. Having the choice to “shuffle off this mortal coil” through our own hand or the hand of another is not God’s plan for us. We human beings do not have the authority to make that decision for ourselves or our loved ones.
Why, we might then ask, wouldn’t God give us that right? Well first of all, as he is the giver of life, to permit us to simply throw that life away with his blessing would not make sense. Secondly, at a practical level, we human beings are not all knowing: we do not know the future. We cannot know, for instance, what might happen during our trip through the valley of the shadow of death that could drastically modify our own experience or dramatically affect the life of another person. Psychological distress may abate. Bad circumstances may change, and we cannot know that they won’t. And we certainly have no right to judge for another—a severely handicapped child, for instance, or an unresponsive adult—whether life is worth living.
Life is precious because God gave it, even though, since the entry of sin into this world, suffering is, to one degree or another, part of everyone’s life. Finally, God is wise enough to know that human beings are not only swayed by swells of emotion and seemingly overwhelming circumstances but also by knowledge of how events may affect them in material ways. To be blunt, when someone who is consuming resources dies, he or she stops consuming resources, and whatever is left behind becomes the property of others. There is an enormous risk that the financial incentive to hasten death can lead to the abuse of the terminally ill and disabled.
While no one wants to be a burden to others, part of living and loving and being responsible involves caring for the needs of others, especially those in our own family (1 Timothy 5:8). Just as children need parental care from the beginning, so the disabled, the ill, and the elderly may require a great deal of care along the way and at the end of life. The elderly, the poor, the disabled, and the handicapped children and adults among us are those least able to defend themselves. Liberalization of laws allowing increased access to “opt out” options—whether physician-assisted suicide or actual euthanasia—may well lead to a tragic loss of self-determination for them. In a world in which death is increasingly allowed to be voluntarily embraced, how horrid a prospect it is that those so vulnerable may find they are pressured to choose death. Their so-called autonomy, their “right to die,” may become their duty to die!
But If We Are Just Animals . . . ?
Evolutionists, of course, see human beings as nothing more than highly evolved animals. If man were nothing more than an animal, then a human being’s death would be no more important than an animal’s. In fact, by making the analogy to the putting down of a suffering pet, logic based on an evolutionary worldview leads only to death—death by suicide, death by euthanasia, death to clear the playing field for the young and the energetic—and paints this black end in a merciful light. Yet despite all the appealing talk of “dying with dignity”—and who in their right mind would desire to die without dignity—suicide, even when assisted by a physician’s lethal prescription, and euthanasia—which is just a nice word for murder with a presumably merciful motive—are not acceptable options unless we are nothing more than animals.
But we are not just animals! We—every one of us—are all made in his image and therefore all human beings have lives of special value to God, so much so that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, gave his own life for us (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Hebrews 2:9–10). God’s account of Creation recorded in the Bible is consistent with what we see in the physical world and validates his ownership of humanity and his right to set our standards. And apart from a source of truth from someone greater than man, no person’s moral judgments are more valid than another’s. Human beings have many ideas about right and wrong, but as described in the biblical book of Judges, when God’s Word is ignored, everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25), and that is a recipe for disaster as much now as it was during the days described in the book of Judges. Only God who created mankind is justly in a position of moral authority over all mankind.
The cancerous permeation of evolutionary thinking throughout society, governments, and the world has led many to embrace the idea of euthanizing human beings for all sorts of reasons. But that thinking is based on evolution’s God-rejecting lie about our origins. We must not therefore yield the ground to those exhorting us to embrace death prematurely—much less to put subtle pressure on others to do so—but rather focus on how we live in the light of God’s truth until life’s end.
This is a complex issue, and this article is not intended to address every aspect, much less to review the legal ramifications of laws and court decisions that can change in a day. This is, instead, a reminder that we need to base our thinking on the Word of God, which never changes and can be trusted to guide us through life and death.