Ethics: Life (Part 2)

Definition: Euthanasia is of Greek origin (eu = good, thanatos = death). Euthanasia is some times called “mercy killing.” Euthanasia has the following component parts: (1) one is terminating another’s life (with or without the consent of the one being terminated); (2) for the purpose of (a) sparing the one bearing physical or mental pain, or (b) speeding up what seems inevitable, or (c) sparing the family or society the time and expense of caring for a terminally ill, or permanently incapacitated person.

It is nothing new. The Bible mentions euthanasia: (1) Abimelech had his armorbearer take his life after a woman in a tower had dropped a millstone on his head crushing his skull (Judges 9:52-54). He did not want it said, “A woman killed him” (Judges 9:54). (2) Saul told his armorbearer to take his life, after Philistine archers had severely wounded him on the battlefield (1 Samuel 31:1-5). Saul did not want to be abused by uncircumcised men (1 Samuel 31:4). The armorbearer refused (1 Samuel 31:4). Therefore, Saul took a sword and fell on it (1 Samuel 31:4). (3) An Amalekite boasted to David that he had ended Saul’s life at Saul’s request (2 Samuel 1:1-16). [How does one reconcile this with the previous account of Saul’s death? (a) It is possible that the story was made up in an attempt to gain the favor of David. (b) However, it is likely that the account is true. Josephus writes, “Saul fixed his own sword and flung himself on it. When it failed to penetrate, he begged a young Amalekite to force the sword in. This he did …” (Josephus, The Essential Writings, p. 120-121)]. He came to David with Saul’s crown and bracelet (2 Samuel 1:10). David had the man executed (2 Samuel 1:14-16).

Principles

1. Life is from God (Genesis 2:7; Acts 17:25; 1 Timothy 6:13). “It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).

2. All creation belongs to God (Psalm 24:1; 50:10-11; Job 41:11), including man (Ezek. 18:4). Christians should especially understand that they are not their own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

3. Man is not his own master (Jeremiah 10:23). The Psalmist had the proper approach to life when he said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). We should have divine authority for what we do (Colossians 3:17).

4. It is worth noting that all Biblical cases of euthanasia involve the unrighteous (see list paragraph two). Never does one find someone right with God requesting or aiding in euthanasia.

5. When life is difficult, remember Job. He suffered (a) boils head to foot (Job 2:7). (b) intense itching (2:8); (c) difficulty eating (3:24); (d) depression (3:25); (e) parasitic worms and body sores that would run, crust over, and break open again (7:5). (f) shortness of breath (9:18); (g) gnawing pain in the bones (30:17); (h) high fever (30:30); (i) blackened skin (30:30). These conditions continued for months (7:3; 29:2). Yet he never asked for euthanasia.

6. Remember that the difficulties of life do not compare with the things to come (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).

7. We should not consider the sick or elderly a burden. The Bible instructs us to show respect and kindness to: (a) the fatherless and widows (James 1:27); (b) parents (1 Timothy 5:8, 16); (c) the aged (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 23:22; 1 Timothy 5:1-2); (d) treat others the way we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

Quality of Life

It is argued that euthanasia (or abortion) is justified on the grounds of the person not having a quality of life. There are a few serious flaws with this argument: (1) Who determines quality of life? Some would eliminate those with Down syndrome. Yet, I have known some with this syndrome, who are very happy and enrich others’ lives. Some would eliminate those with less than a certain I.Q. level. Who determines the level? What about Helen Keller? What about Tom Dempsey? (2) There is still that little issue of Bible authority. (3) Some who appear to be terminally ill and without hope have recovered, or gone into remission (see “End of Life Decisions” by B. H. bulletin April 2, 2006. In this article we also discuss when life ends).

Technology

There was a time when most Americans died in their own homes. Now 85% die in institutional settings, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes (Edward J. Larson and Darrel W. Amundsen, A Different Death © 1998, p. 170; Also, President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine…March 1983, p. 17-18). We have become a people very dependent on medical assistance and technology.

There are concerns. Health care costs are soaring. Health care spending was 5% of GDP in 1960. It is now 16% (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Super Freakonomics, p. 80). An overwhelming amount of health care spending is concentrated within the last year of a patient’s life. Nearly 30% of Medicare payments are attributed to patients in their last year of life (Different Death, p. 172).

Must one fight to hold on at all cost? I do not believe that it is wrong to desire death. Job desired it (Job 3:20-21; 6:8-9; 7:15). Someone has remarked, “While it is vanity to throw the gift of life back in God’s face…it is also vanity to clutch too strongly to temporal life when the greater gift of eternal life awaits” (Different Death, p. 174). Paul was not terrified of death, though he was mindful of others (Philippians 1:21-25). Jesus was not terrified of death (Luke 23:46). “So live when thy summons comes to join that innumerable caravan which moves to that mysterious realm when each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not as a quarry slave at night scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed by the unfaltering trust approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams…” (William Cullen Bryant).

Must we always exhaust every means available to keep our loved ones alive? I do not believe that we must. There is a distinction to be made between terminating a life and allowing life to naturally end. However, Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson have cautioned, “stopping food and water will undoubtedly lead to death within 14 days. Plainly put, the individual will die from dehydration – not the disease or injury that caused the hospitalization” cf. Matthew 25:31-46 (A Christian Response to ‘End of Life’ Decisions, Reason and Revelation, Aug. 2003, p. 79).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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