Organizations such as the Hemlock Society are aggressively seeking to legalize euthanasia (Greek: eu = good; thanatos = death). In their view “mercy murders” for the diseased, disabled, and dying is a step into the light. From a Christian perspective it is a step into the dark.
First, in Christian theology the timing and terms of death are the province of God alone (Deuteronomy 32:39). As such, a doctor is never permitted to usurp the prerogative of deity. Hastening death based on subjective judgments concerning one’s quality of life is a direct violation of Scripture (cf. Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13). While passive euthanasia is morally permissible in that it allows the process of dying to run its natural course, active euthanasia is morally prohibited because it directly involves the taking of human life.
Furthermore, from a biblical perspective suffering “produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). Like suffering for our faith, physical suffering has redemptive value. It may be likened unto a furnace that rids us of the dross and fashions us more and more like unto our Lord. In the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “I am certain that I never grew in grace one half as much anywhere as I have on the bed of pain.” Or as C. S. Lewis put it, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This, of course, is not to say that there is virtue in needless suffering. To mitigate suffering through the modern medical miracle of pain management is consistent with both the Hippocratic Oath and biblical morality.
Finally, permitting voluntary active euthanasia opens the door to the greater evil of non–voluntary euthanasia. It is not difficult to imagine financial pressures coercing the diseased, disabled, and dying to surrender to doctor–assisted suicide so as not to burden their families. Worse still, doctors and nursing-home directors may take it upon themselves to euthanize patients without their consent and without the family’s knowledge (crypthanasia = “hidden death”). There is ample evidence that this is already occurring at an alarming rate in places like the Netherlands where euthanasia has slid down the slippery slope into crypthanasia.
Cultural thanatologists may urge us to accept death as a friend, but Christian theology sees death as the enemy. We are not called to come to peaceful terms with death; we are called to overcome death through resurrection. As my father told me in the final stages of his life, “Hank, though painful, every moment is precious.”
For further study, see J. P. Moreland’s two–part Christian Research Journal series on “The Euthanasia Debate” available through the Christian Research Institute (CRI) at www.equip.org;
see also Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
“See now that I myself am He! There is no God beside me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”