Thinking Cap #42 - Euthanasia

Jack Kervorkian... A household word... What emotions and images do you conjure up in your mind at the mention of that name? Dr. Compassion. Friend of the terminally ill. Dr. Death. I picked up my December 1998 issue of Time Magazine where they featured the 100 most influential people in this entire century and there he was under an article titled, "Showdown for Doctor Death." He came to the limelight in 1990 as he helped a relatively healthy 54-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease kill herself with a suicide machine of his own invention. Since then he has assisted in more than 130 suicides. Polls suggest that 75% of Americans back mercy killing, though most state efforts to make it legal have not succeeded.

The December issue of World Magazine had an article titled, "Prime-Time murder" where I read how Jack Kervorkian had video-taped the gristly scene of how he killed Thomas Youk with a lethal injection. This was then aired on the CBS 60 Minutes show last November. In the article, Faye Girsh, executive director of Hemlock Society, USA, cheered Dr. Kervorkians publicity stunt.

The January 1999 issue of Citizen Magazine commenting on the tape of the death of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, indicated that Jack Kervorkian can be seen leaning over his victim with a syringe in his hand asking, "Sleepy, Tom?" The image was said to be bloodcurdling.

In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine last year, they found that 1 in 21 doctors surveyed had administered a lethal injection to end suffering in at least one of their patients. One doctor reported having killed 150 patients. Charged and tried several times, Jack Kervorkian has been acquired and released.

Is he a hero or a harbinger of evil? Is he merciful or a monster? Just what is a Biblical view of assisted suicide or euthanasia?

Some see no difference between a cat or dog or other animal and a human being. We put them to "sleep" (death) when they are no longer healthy. If we have enough compassion to relieve our pet of suffering and give it death with dignity, then shouldn’t we have that same compassion toward human beings by helping them kill themselves if that’s what they want?

This world-view begins with the premise that there is no God. People are merely biological organisms just like any other life form. This explains why he would see little difference between putting a pet to sleep and helping a human being commit suicide. The Psalmist warns us that the "Fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." (Ps. 53:1) And we would be a fool to follow the teachings of those who hold to this philosophy.

God’s attitude toward life is radically different. The Bible says human beings are not just like another organisms. We alone are made in the image of God (Ge. 1:27; 9:6). Therefore, people are uniquely valuable whether they are healthy or sick. We alone are endowed with a soul (Ge. 2:7); therefore, we have hope. We alone have self-awareness and self-determination (the two characteristics of personality). We have dignity that animals do not possess.

We’re not the lord of our own lives. The Bible describes life as a gift from God that we are to carefully steward from the womb all the way to the point of death. We are God’s possession. (1 Corinthians. 6:19-20)

The Bible says that the body of a Christ-follower is a temple for the Holy Spirit and that death is an enemy. Advocates of euthanasia like to say, "Death is just a natural part of life." It is not. The Bible says death was not part of God’s original plan for us. It was the sin of mankind that resulted in death being introduced to this world. (Rom. 5:12)

Job 14:5 makes it clear "determining the moment of death is God’s prerogative." The Bible warns clearly in John 8:44 that the Satan’s agenda from the very beginning has been to bring us death by whatever means.

While Scripture does not explicitly condemn suicide by name, it does say that we should not kill; and every instance of suicide in the Bible is directly associated with the person’s spiritual collapse. Consider the examples of Moses (Num. 11:15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:4). All were a result of spiritual collapse. In each case, God supplied their needs and they were restored to a position of "usefulness." The Bible’s negative attitude toward assisted suicide can be seen in the in the case of King Saul of Israel who was wounded in battle and asked a soldier to put him out of his misery. Later, King David condemned the action. (2 Sam. 1:9-16).

Starting with wrong premises will not yield the right answers, which you seek. Man is not known for naturally making right choices (Jer. 17:9-10; Prov. 14:12)

Advocates of assisted-suicide have a philosophy referred to as radical individualism. It is the idea of doing what you want to do, no matter if it is best or not, no matter if it is right or not. "Nobody can tell me what to do with my own body. If I want to kill myself, that’s nobody’s business but my own; and society ought to be willing to help me carry out my wishes." Now, you might think that is extreme, but it is very common. In churches all across this country, we have people shaking their fists at spiritual authority and saying, "I don’t care what the Bible says, this is what I think and this is the way things ought to be done." It’s just a short step from that dangerous logic, a logic of autonomy, or radical individualism, to insisting upon the right to take your own life. They are bedfellows.

Suicide is an individual and tragic decision that some people make. But when we as a society are asked to legitimize voluntary euthanasia, then this becomes a public concern because of the potential abuses and exploitation of the most vulnerable people among us.

Romans 14:7 tells us that we are interconnected as a society; and society will suffer painful consequences if assisted suicide is legalized.

For example:

1. Legalizing assisted suicide would seriously damage the relationship between doctors and patients.
2. Legally assisted suicide would put pressure on elderly and disabled people to choose death so as not to become a burden on others.
3. Legally assisted suicides would result in irreversible mistakes.
4. Legally assisted suicide would dry up resources for those who want to live out their last days in a hospice or at home under personalized care.
5. Assisted suicide would cause people with selfish motives to pressure the sick to kill themselves.
6. Sixth, legalizing suicide would inevitably open the door for euthanizing anyone, regardless of illness.

One commentator, in observing the horrific trends in Holland (where assisted-suicide has been legal for nearly a decade) stated, "The absolute ethical norm that doctors must not kill was removed in the name of compassion, and the inevitable happened. Good, ordinary doctors in their zeal to be ever more compassionate began killing people who didn’t even ask for it. Once given the power heretofore reserved to God, some doctors acted like God."

Christian ethicists have drawn a moral distinction between killing a patient and letting a patient die. When a doctor helps a person commit suicide, the doctor is the cause of death; when we lovingly let a person die, then the disease is the cause of death. There is a difference.

The Bible would say that intentionally killing a patient is morally wrong. On the other hand, we should be willing to let someone die when it’s clear that the time for death has come (Eccl. 3:2)

The Christian Medical Society says that dying begins when a person rapidly and irreversibly deteriorates. When death is imminent, when a person is beyond reasonable hope of recovery, then they have a right not to have their death postponed. Under certain circumstances, life-sustaining treatment can be withheld or it can be withdrawn, if that is the wish of the patient. We need not forestall the inevitability of death.

I believe that there comes a time when continued attempts to cure are not compassionate. They’re not wise. They’re not medically sound. That’s where a loving hospice, including in-home hospice care can be of such help. That’s when all efforts should be placed on making the patient’s remaining time comfortable.

Now, sometimes in the midst of these situations all kind of ambiguities arise. Sometimes it’s hard to find where the line ought to be drawn. Here are five steps that can be taken to insure that you’re doing the right thing.

First, pray for God’s guidance.
Second, consider the wishes of the patient.
Third, seek input from godly and mature individuals (someone who can be objective) who can go to Scripture and help you sort through it.
Fourth, make sure you’re clear of selfish interests and motives.
Fifth, give the patient every opportunity to receive the eternal life that Jesus Christ offers if they haven’t already done so.

When we look at those kind of safeguards with a doctor who is knowledgeable about the patient and about treating the dying, they can help us wrestle through the decisions that we may be called upon to make in difficult and very emotionally trying times.

Pleasant Thinking,

Kent Haralson


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