Enlisting Jesus for the Pro-Death Lobby
C.S. Lewis once warned about the danger of appending the words “and…” to “Jesus”. That is, phrases like ‘Jesus and socialism’, ‘Jesus and liberalism’, etc, were all to be studiously avoided. By this he meant that Jesus and the gospel can never be tied down to any one ideology, political party, agenda or cause.
Yet over the years I have heard all sorts of people claiming to be Christians doing just that. Plenty of examples can be mentioned. I have more than once debated believers who have assured me that Jesus would be in favour of heroin injecting rooms!
Another recent example has come to my attention. There is a ‘Christian’ group which is convinced that Jesus is in favour of euthanasia. They seem to think that when someone is suffering, the “What would Jesus do?” approach should be to kill the sufferer.
The new group formed in South Australia is called “Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia”. Its February 19th press release reads just like any other pro-death tract, without a hint of anything remotely biblical about it. It uses all the usual buzz words: compassion, dignity, choice, and so on.
These guys are convinced that this is what Jesus would do. Euthanasia, we are informed, is “consistent with Jesus’ message of love and compassion”. Hmmm, evidently it is a very Christlike thing to do, according to these folks. Sorry, but not in my books. It always strikes me as a particularly bizarre and callous sort of compassion that insists on snuffing out the sufferer, or allowing him to do it himself.
As I recall in reading the gospels, when Jesus found someone suffering, he usually healed the sufferer. He never once killed the sufferer, or told the sufferer to bump himself off, or seek out some doctor-assisted suicide kit. He came, in fact, to bring life, and clearly told us that it was the enemy who came to bring death.
The group’s secular reasoning is no better. Consider this doozey: “There is absolutely no evidence in reports from Netherlands and Oregon to support the ‘slippery slope’ and ‘playing God’, fear-mongering reasons put forward by opponents of change to voluntary euthanasia law.” Oh yeah?
The truth of the matter is this: The Remmelink Report, an official Dutch government survey of euthanasia practices, found that more than one thousand patients are involuntarily euthanised each year. As one leading Oxford philosopher put it, the Dutch experience clearly shows that “even with stringent safeguards, once voluntary euthanasia is legalised the descent down the slippery slope is inevitable”.
What about closer to home? In South Australia, where voluntary euthanasia is illegal, a recent survey of doctors who had taken active steps to end a patient’s life found that 49 per cent of them had never received a request from the patient to do so. A more recent survey of nearly 1000 Australian surgeons found that more than one third had intentionally hastened the death of a patient by administering more medication than was necessary to treat the patient’s symptoms. Of this group, more than half said they did so without an explicit request from the patient.
But since this group is trying to pass itself off as being Christian, let’s get back to that angle. As mentioned, their press release does not offer one iota of biblical support for their stance. All we get is the usually sentimental sap and sloppy thinking of the pro-death camp. So let me fill in some of the biblical picture here.
Scripture of course does not directly speak to many modern controversies, including that of assisted-suicide and the like. But there are plenty of general principles to appeal to, including the sanctity of human life. More specifically, the Bible does mention suicide on a number of occasions. And whenever it does so, it is quite clear that it is very much frowned upon.
All up there are six recorded examples. The first case is that of Abimelech, who is depicted as a wicked ruler (Judges 9:50-56). The next case involves Ahithophel, a counsellor to David, who turned traitor by joining the conspirators with Absalom. (2 Sam 17:23). A third case involves Zimri, an evil king (1 Kin. 16:15-20).
(Another possible case of suicide – in biblical order – might be that of Samson as mentioned in Judges 16:30. But it is certainly not clear that he intended to end his life. This seems to have been an unintended consequence of wreaking revenge on his – God’s – enemies.)
The fourth clear case, one that is often appealed to by believers, is that of Saul. The story is described in 1 Samuel 31, and 2 Samuel 1. The interesting thing to note about Saul is that God had departed from him in dramatic fashion (1 Sam 16:14). Indeed, Samuel later asks him “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy?” (1 Sam 28:16-20). Thus all of his actions after God left him were not examples to be emulated, but signs of a man out of God’s will and favour.
The story of Saul’s end is a very sad tale indeed. God had abandoned him because of his disobedience and rebellion, and his life is a tragic example of one being judged by God. As such, there is no biblical commendation of Saul’s suicide to be found in all of scripture. Indeed, there is no commendation of suicide anywhere in scripture.
A fifth Old Testament case might be mentioned, but it really goes in tandem with the death of Saul: his armour-bearer also fell on his sword – 1 Samuel 31:5. The final case is that of Judas in the New Testament. He of course took his life after betraying Jesus, and very few will argue that we should follow his example.
Thus there are no Scriptural passages which can be appealed to in support of suicide. Interestingly, the Christian church, with very few exceptions, has seen suicide as sinful, from the earliest times through to today. Augustine for example said that suicide was worse than murder, because at least the murderer can turn around and repent, whereas the one who commits suicide cannot.
Aquinas offered three reasons why suicide was sinful: it is contrary to nature, being a sin against self; it is contrary to our social makeup, being a sin against our neighbour; and it is contrary to God, since God alone has the right to decide who should live and who should die. Said Aquinas: “To bring death upon oneself in order to escape the other afflictions of this life is to adopt a greater evil in order to avoid a lesser. . . . Suicide is the most fatal of sins because it cannot be repented of.”
Even non-Christians have decried suicide over the centuries. For example, the pre-Christian Hippocratic Oath condemns not only suicide but euthanasia as well. And still today secular ethicists and writers condemn suicide. One thinks of the powerful critique of the suicide and euthanasia lobbies penned by Rita Marker for example (Deadly Compassion, HarperCollins, 1993).
We expect secularists, atheists and others to push the pro-death cause. After all, as God himself has said, “all who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36). But to have professed followers of Jesus pushing this agenda is as ironic as it is sad. Yet Jesus warned that all sorts of people would come in his name, promoting all sorts of ungodly agendas. This is just one more example of this.
29 Replies to “Enlisting Jesus for the Pro-Death Lobby”
My daily email spam delivers scores of messages (out of maybe 2-300) advertising shoes, watches, jackets etc as being “like” or “replica of” some famous brand or other.
This approach reminds me very strongly of those emails: use the brand/reputation for profit, the morality can go hang.
Undoubtedly, many of these people are well-intended – but I can’t see any Scripture excusing feel-good spiritual half-heartedness at all (not, by the way, claiming to be super-holy or special in any way myself).
I have to say that I have had it to the back teeth of hearing know-alls use the phrase “What would Jesus do?” as if that was the last word on the subject and that they have a monopoly on reading Jesus’ mind. Believe it or not I actually heard somebody give the “Jesus” quote by proxy on the subject of abortion. If someone believes that Jesus, of all people would be in favour of abortion, they should be on medication and possibly constant supervision for their own good. Intelligent people know the mess that is Holland, in many aspects of life, but I found it interesting that recently I told an American friend how I visited my sister (who is now deceased) in Oregon on a number of occasions and he immediately replied “You wouldn’t want to go there now and get sick. The doctors, without asking, might think they should bump you off”. Hyperbole perhaps, but I took his point. All these so called solutions, such as abortion and euthanasia, are trotted out as something that ends problems. But no they are not the end of problems, they are the beginning of them.
Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld
Great examples Bill and well articulated.
The Reformed Confessions and Catechisms of the 16/17th century are an excellent reflection of early Protestant thought. In the Westminster Larger Catechism (1648) on the sixth commandment:
Every phrase in the catechism is footnoted with Scripture references.
Wanda Wilkening, USA
Many thanks for that Wanda. It is helpful material indeed.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Bill (good article as usual!), a friend of mine who, sadly, has had extensive personal and professional experience of suicide, said to me once that it was never ever victim-less, ie. that some others always suffered – just as if their loved ones had been murdered. To choose to do something which causes suffering to those near to you is what – selfish, callous, evil – sinful…
John Thomas, UK
One simple problem this group has is that they have a complete lack of evidence for their position. Its easy to cite numerous examples where Jesus, confronted with suffering people, HEALED THEM. Never once did he assist them to kill themselves.
Now I don’t want to buy in to the whole euthanasia debate itself. But I do want to agree with your contention that it seems quite wrong to try to co-opt Jesus to support a particular p.o.v. when there is no evidence available that he actually held that view himself.
One might possibly regard it as blasphemous; putting one’s own words into Jesus’ mouth.
Stephen Frost, Melbourne
Great article (as usual). It is staggering that “christians” could put out something like that and not even notice that they didn’t even try to justify it from the bible.
I would note with the Samson case a distinction. You sort of alluded to it, but I think it needs to be brought out. Samson is a biblical example of someone commiting suicide, he had to know his actions would lead to his death and yet he chose to do them anyway.
But in that case, that is much like for example the pilot who flys his plane out to sea rather than eject and let it crash on a neighbourhood. He is choosing an action that will lead to his death, but for entirely selfless reasons. He is literally giving his life to save other people.
I think that is what makes suicide the evil it is. It is without a doubt the most self-absorbed act a person can ever indulge in. In a sense the dying part is almost incidental to what is truly wrong with the act. And I say this as a person who struggles with depression and has been tempted to suicide on a number of occasions.
What you are saying is there is a world of difference between suicide and martyrdom. Quite so.
Yes, I too struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, but mostly back when I was a non-Christian. I will keep you in my prayers.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Yep that is a good way to put it Bill.
Well said, Bill.
While this group is clearly wrong, their presence poses significant problems for all of us campaigning against current euthanasia bills in SA in particular. Their presence relativises the Christian view. It’s not hard to imagine more than a few MPs blithely observing that, ‘you Christians can’t even agree amongst yourselves!’.
There is also the false appeal to compassion; as if a loving God would not want to see people suffer and would want to end that suffering directly through euthanasia. The point that might well be observed from such a misguided approach is that the ‘nay-sayer’ Christians lack compassion. A regular old chestnut, certainly, but one that will have some traction, no doubt.
Samson was not committing suicide; he was a soldier giving up his life in the process of destroying his nation’s deadly foe.
Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane
So now there are Christians demanding the right to voluntary euthanasia on the grounds that Christ would have approved of it. The answer to that is that Hitler would have approved of it too.
During the twenties and thirties some Christians supported eugenics. Their movement lost impetus when Hitler gave the idea a racial twist. Where will the Christian supporters of euthaniasia stand when the right to die becomes the duty to die? During the seventies some Christians urged a right to limited abortion. Where are they now that the abortion idea has become open slather?
Quite right John.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
John Snowden is right that some professing Christians supported euthanasia. Yet it was the liberal (pro-evolution, Bible-disbelieving) churches that supported eugenics, while the evangelical ones opposed it.
Christine Rosen documented this in her book Preaching Genetics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement. She writes that eugenicists:
In contrast, she documents:
The same is true today—from what BM has documented, this euthanasiasts for Jesus group clearly holds to the same sort of liberal mindset as the eugenicist churchians in the early decades of last century.
Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane
Isn’t this also one more instance of the secular left taking control of the language by appropriating words connected with humanity such as tolerance, inclusion, diversity, Oh and er, now “Christian.” I believe it may well have been you, Bill, who highlighted some time ago the following article by C.S. Lewis, on the subject of the abuse of the English language: http://glenn.typepad.com/news/2003/08/cs_lewis_on_the.html
But as we realise it is not only with euthanasia, but abortion, pornography and sexual behaviour, that those who have assumed control of governments have shifted the spectrum of meaning of words. We have gone from loving, compassionate, caring, committed to mere ‘consensual‘. Something doesn’t even have to be deemed as civilised; all that is necessary is that those involved have given their consent; in other words it is their will that will be done. Our human right is sovereign.
Jason Rennie you raise an important for us all for there have been, are and will be occasions when nearly all of us are tempted to take our own lives – mainly through depression. Euthanasia clinics will become as common as abortion clinics.
David Skinner, UK
Jonathan Safati, you raise another head of the hydra: eugenics.
David Skinner, UK
May I recommend Jonathan Safati’s article in Creation Ministries: http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:xqviLr8ij2sJ:creation.com/refutation-of-new-scientists-evolution-24-myths-and-misconceptions-nazi-darwin-link+judith+reisman+japan+eugenics&cd=7&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk
David Skinner, UK
I had the oportunity to stand beside my sister in law when they told her she had cancer. She was not a Christian at the time but she gave her heart to God during this tough time. I prayed that God would heal her of this disease, she went through a trying time but she has come through with flying colours. She has even had two children since. I wonder if she didn’t believe God and trust His promise what would have happened. She had nothing to loose by believing and everything to gain. Even in our darkest hour Jesus will never leave us. I wonder if people looking for the death way out waited a little longer and believed God’s word, life might come bursting through. believe only and you shall see the Glory of God! This is God’s word.
The folks at Way of the Master do not speculate on WWJD, (What Would Jesus Do?)
Their logo is WDJD, What Did Jesus Do?
See their homepage at http://www.wayofthemaster.com.au/index.htm
Also their book What Did Jesus Do? at http://wayofthemaster.c2.ixwebhosting.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=71
Before we were born again, many would have speculated that we would have gone on to be greater sinners. Thankfully Jesus DID something, for us and to us. He died for our sins (not suicide, but martyrdom), sent his Holy Spirit to indwell us, resulting in the ‘born again’ experience. We are called to follow Jesus, not Him to follow our (false) ideas of what we may think he ‘might’ do. This is either idolatry (creating a false image of God), or at least heretical for the false implied theology.
BTW, we have an assurance that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
We don’t have to speculate about that.
Mike Evans, Alice Springs
In the Netherlands, I remember reading that there have been cases where chronically or terminally ill people have been euthanased simply because their relatives did not want the inconvenience and disruption that having them in hospital for a prolonged period would cause to their lives. I speak from personal experience when I say that it would be truly appalling if this ever happened here.
Yes quite right, there have been a lot of such horror stories coming out of the Netherlands.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
May I preface my remarks by expressing my great admiration for both the volume of your output and the equally formidable courage of your commitment as a valiant culture warrior in the service of God’s Kingdom.
I am only dimly aware that the nature of your role in the public arena must at times be very costly, and that you have inevitably made enemies who by definition bear you ill will and display strong antagonism. Your willingness to pay this price for a high and holy cause is greatly to be admired.
I am going to inflict upon you some random observations in response to the above article.
Before I do, it has just returned to my memory that I had the lead letter to the editor in The Age some years ago on the subject of euthanasia. I don’t have total recall, but I was replying to an opinion piece by two young people who had basically said, in effect, “Why should we have to bear the onerous burden of looking after our ageing parents when they reach a stage of high level dependency?” I can’t remember why they appeared to overlook the obvious option of placing them in palliative care, but I think they were suggesting that euthanasia would be their preferred option.
I responded in no uncertain terms that they were giving their generation a bad name by confirming the stereotype that they were self-serving and uncaring, with little or no respect for an older generation, and with no inclination to be inconvenienced in any way by caring for their ageing parents. If I can find that letter I’ll forward it to you.
I mention this by way of background to what follows.
My first observation in response to your article is that I was a little surprised that you made no mention of the case that has recently reignited the euthanasia debate, namely the case of 49-year-old Perth quadraplegic Christian Rossiter, who died on Monday after the W.A. Supreme Court, some weeks earlier, had granted him the right to refuse food and water.
In the event, it wasn’t starvation that caused his death, but a chest infection.
It was a complex case, as such cases always are, but the thing that stands out in my mind is what Christian told the court during the hearing:-
“I’m Christian Rossiter, and I’d like to die. I am a prisoner in my own body. I can’t move. I can’t even wipe the tears from my eyes”. He also couldn’t eat, drink, go to the toilet, or do anything else. He described his life as “a living hell”.
Now at the risk of becoming controversial, it is my respectful submission that the relevant question to ask in such as case is not: “What is the correct philosophical, ideological, doctrinal (or doctrinaire?) or even theological response?” I dare to include theological because theological responses will differ across the spectrum, as they do with other contentious issues.
Rather, the relevant question is: “What is the most compassionate response in this particular, unique, individual situation?” And I use these words because this is a complex issue upon which a blanket “one-size-fits-all” approach simply cannot be simply imposed.
I don’t believe it’s particularly helpful to label, even to stigmatise, everyone with an alternative viewpoint to one’s own as “Pro-Death”. “Pro-Death” is a very derogatory and provocative label which can serve only to arouse hostility and antagonism. This is an issue that requires us to deal with a complex range of variable specifics, rather than to resort to simplistic generalisations and (potentially) offensive labels.
For instance, allow me to offer the following example. If you (God forbid) were ever to find yourself in the same position as Christian Rossiter (or even worse), and if you — unlike him — expressed a desire to prolong your existence for as long as was medically possible, even if you lapsed into a long-term coma and/or irreversible vegetative state, then if I were in a position to do so, I would do everything in my power to respect your wishes (and those of your family), and/or to ensure that your wishes were followed and adhered to.
So let me ask you this: If I (God forbid) were ever in such a position, and if I had only one friend left in the world (as was Christian’s situation — Sunday Age, 20/09, page 8), and if I could no longer endure the agony of my totally and humiliatingly incapacitated condition, and if I were more than ready to graduate to my earnestly longed-for heavenly home, would you similarly respect my wishes?
The mention of my heavenly home brings me to the question of the Biblical perspective on this issue, and in this context I fully agree with your statement that “Scripture of course does not directly speak to many modern controversies, including that of assisted suicide and the like”.
Having acknowledged this, I would dare to proceed to suggest that nowhere in Scripture can I find a teaching or a doctrine that says physical life is an end in itself that must be prolonged by any and every possible means; or that physical death is the ultimate evil that must be indefinitely postponed, or if possible completely avoided, by any means and at any cost.
On the contrary, the New Testament in particular seems to lean in quite the opposite direction. For instance, Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The Amplified version adds: “– the gain of the glory of eternity”.
Two verses later (23), he says: “I am torn between the two (i.e. living and dying). My personal preference, my yearning desire, is to depart — to be free of this world and to be with Christ — for that is far, far better.”
Paul then adds (24): “But to remain in my body is more needful for your sake, so for that reason I will remain.” This is scarcely surprising, given that Paul had not yet completed his dual tasks of spreading Christianity throughout the known world, and writing three-quarters of what became the New Testament, which doesn’t apply to many (or indeed any) terminally ill patients.
In all four Gospels (Matt.16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24 and 17:33, and John 12:25), Jesus doesn’t appear to place a very high value on preserving, or “saving”, this earthly life at all costs, or indeed at all. On the contrary, He says that whoever seeks to save or preserve — or in John’s Gospel, “love” — his earthly life, will ultimately lose it.
In John 12:25, Jesus goes as far as saying “whoever hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal”.
Now I’m not (quite) silly enough to argue that these references directly support voluntary euthanasia. That would be absurd. I cite them merely to make the point that neither Jesus nor Paul regarded this earthly life as having some sort of ultimate intrinsic value, ultimate intrinsic good, or ultimate intrinsic sanctity, such that it must be preserved in every case (or indeed any case), and at all costs.
On the contrary, they both espoused the view that this earthly life was not something to be grimly clung to, or to be loved, preserved or saved as a pre-eminent priority.
First Jesus, then Stephen, then most of the Apostles, and then countless tens of thousand of martyrs, were willing to sacrifice this earthly life for a higher good.
Once again, I’m not (quite) silly enough to equate voluntary euthanasia with martyrdom. That would be absurd. I seek merely to challenge the assumption that this earthly life has an unassailable supremacy or sanctity that always and everywhere overrides all other considerations.
The final portion of your article that I’d like to respond to, is your observation that “when Jesus found someone suffering, He usually healed the sufferer”. This is a perfectly valid and uncontestable observation.
The only small problem is that Jesus isn’t here on earth in Person today to heal sufferers as He did then. If He were, voluntary euthanasia possibly wouldn’t be an issue. Most people would presumably die of healthy and peaceful old age — presuming Jesus had timely access to all sufferers all over the world. But at the risk of stating the obvious, that’s not the case.
So….. should we then, as followers of Jesus, in His physical absence, be doing the healing ourselves? This is probably not the time to engage in a debate over whether the gift of healing is a Gift of the Spirit that is still applicable today, well past the so-called “Apostolic Age”, and whether any, some, or all Christians should be exercising, or seeking to exercise, this gift today. That’s another debate for another time.
In the meantime, the simple fact of the matter is that healing miracles today appear to be the exception rather than the rule — charlatans like Benny Hinn notwithstanding — and when they do occur, they appear (as far as we can tell) to be on a somewhat random basis.
Hence, the contrast between the situation when Jesus walked the earth, and the situation now, could hardly be greater.
So in the absence of a bodily present Jesus, what do we have today to offer sufferers with horrendous degenerative, debilitating and dehumanising conditions such as that suffered by the recently departed Christian Rossiter?
What we have is advanced medical technology that can mechanically or “artificially” prolong their lives in ways that may not have been possible 10, 20 or 30 years ago, as well as the ability to withdraw that technology should the patient (and/or his family) request it.
This gives rise to a key question: What is the perceived gain or benefit from prolonging a sufferer’s agony of body and/or torment of mind for no apparent reason other than to prolong it for the mere sake of prolonging it?
Or to put it another way, why do we treat pets more humanely than we treat humans?
As mentioned earlier, according to both Jesus and Paul, prolonging life for its own sake is not a supreme value or a supreme virtue. And in the case of Christians in particular, who are eagerly looking forward to being in God’s glorious presence for eternity (Phil.1:21 Amp.), why would we wish — either ourselves or any of our loved ones — to cling grimly to an arguably sub-human existence of perpetual suffering and humiliation?
Is there really any value in prolonging this earthly life merely for prolonging’s sake, when Christians in particular have a glorious eternal life awaiting us?
Please note, it would be a grave error of logic to misconstrue this as an argument in favour of across-the-board suicide. Nothing could be further from my thoughts. What we’re discussing here applies only to a narrow range of specific, individual cases, and I repeat that a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach is not applicable.
I’ve discussed Christians and our hope of eternal glory, so what about terminally ill non-Christians? Might there be a case for keeping them alive until they accept Christ? This is probably a discussion for another time. Suffice it for now to say that I would feel less than comfortable at the prospect of holding potential salvation as a “gun to the head” of an unregenerate sufferer, by saying, “You can be set free from your earthly torment as soon as you’ve recited the Four Spiritual Laws and memorized John 3:16.”
But that is perhaps a discussion for another time.
In closing, I return to the plaintive words of Christian Rossiter: “I am a prisoner in my own body. I can’t move. I can’t even wipe the tears from my eyes. I’d like to die.”
Would it have been compassionate to deny him his last wish? And what would give us the right to do so? Should our own predilections, predispositions and presuppositions — or even our philosophies, ideologies or theologies — take precedence over the wishes of the person concerned?
I respectfully submit that the only answer can be a resounding “no”.
Let me say seven things:
One. I have allowed your far-too lengthy comment on (contrary to my rules!) because it is a very good comment which raises many important points (this being of course a very important issue).
Two. Perhaps most of your concerns I address elsewhere, especially in this article and my comments after it: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/14/suicide-a-biblical-assessment/
Three. This debate often is contentious and divisive because of a lack of clarity as to just what euthanasia in fact is, and what it is that the pro-lifer in fact is opposing. If you look at some of my other articles on this issue for example, you will find that the pro-life cause is not about keeping someone alive at all costs, against their wishes, and using extraordinary means. Patients have the right to refuse medical treatment, and the Christian does not see this life as the only thing there is. Let me repeat a few things here which I have written elsewhere:
“Euthanasia is not about halting futile treatment. Nor is it about the alleviation of suffering (this is known as palliative care). Euthanasia is an act that directly and intentionally causes a person’s death. Thus there is a “crucial difference between taking a life intentionally and allowing a death naturally. The first is homicide, and the second is a natural death”.
“As Andrew Lansdown explains, ‘euthanasia has little to do with refusing futile or extreme treatment. The man who rejects a heart transplant or declines a third bout of chemotherapy is not committing suicide, but rather is accepting the inevitability of his own death. The doctor who withholds or withdraws undue treatment at the request of a terminally ill patient is not killing his patient but rather is refusing to prolong his patient’s life at any cost. Properly understood, euthanasia involves an intentional act to end a person’s life. Opponents of euthanasia do not advocate the unnecessary and unwelcome prolonging of human life by artificial means. Rather, they oppose active measures to bring human life to a premature end.’
“And as ethicist Leon Kass reminds us, the ambiguity of the term ‘right to die’ blurs the ‘difference in content and intention between the already well-established common-law right to refuse surgery or other unwanted medical treatments and hospitalization, and the newly alleged ‘right to die.’ The former permits the refusal of therapy, even a respirator, even if it means accepting an increased risk of death. The latter permits the refusal of therapy, such as renal dialysis or the feeding tube, so that death will occur. The former would seem to be more about choosing how to live while dying, the latter mainly about a choice for death.’
“Euthanasia, then, is about one thing only: the killing of another person. It does not matter whether this is done with a gun or a lethal injection – the effect is the same. With this definitional framework in place, here are our objections to legalised euthanasia.”
Four. As to the biblical data, a careful assessment of it will show that the Bible itself is a bit ambivalent about the subject of death. On the one hand it is an intruder, an enemy, a curse, something to be resisted, and so on. On the other hand, NT Christians are told to welcome it and not shy away from it. That is, for the believer, death is simply the next step into our eternal existence. Thus as I said, mere life on this earth alone is not the highest good. In that sense I of course would completely agree with you when you say that you “challenge the assumption that this earthly life has an unassailable supremacy or sanctity that always and everywhere overrides all other considerations”.
Five. I would challenge one thing you say: the two paragraphs beginning with these words: “Now at the risk of becoming controversial…” You imply an either/or here when I see a both/and. You seem to suggest that one either remains bogged down in abstract theology and doctrine, or one deals with real life situations. I don’t buy into that false dilemma. Yes life is full of complex and nuanced cases, and each case is different, and needs to be treated on its own merits. But I would treat all cases in light of, and on the foundation of, what the Bible in fact teaches on such issues, even if we only have more or less general principles to guide us with, and not exact specifics.
The wisdom of Christians who have gone before I would also include in this. But it seems silly to suggest that we must somehow choose either Scripture and biblical/theological principles, or the individual, existential case before us. I would try to bring the two together, as difficult as that may be.
Six. As to your difficult, personal cases and hypotheticals: Can I suggest that this is always dangerous ground to be on. Certainly when the debate tends to be one of public policy concerns (e.g., should we legalise euthanasia?), this rule of thumb always is worth keeping in mind: hard cases make for bad law. We should never decide difficult and momentous public policy debates on the basis of a hard case or some hypotheticals.
For example, that was the rational for legalising abortion as you would know: the “hard cases” of rape and incest, etc. Of course that just became a pretext for open slather. So the slippery slope argument does come into play here, and legalising something as dangerous as euthanasia, simply to help in some particular hard cases is not the way to go.
Seven. Lest you or others think I am just being cold, theoretical and unhelpful here, let me say this issue is very personal for me as well. My mother died a slow, long, painful death of cancer some years ago. She was not thrilled with it, and did want to go to heaven as soon a possible. But she never once asked to be put down like an animal, and never sought euthanasia in any form. She had a marvellous Christian testimony through all this, and touched many people’s hearts along the way.
But as I say, if you have a read of what I said in the recommended link including the commentary that follows, I hope that at least some of your questions will be answered more fully and properly.
If not, you will just have to send in another comment! (But hopefully a bit shorter!)
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Re the Rossiter case:
The Supreme Court (BRIGHTWATER CARE GROUP (INC) -v- ROSSITER  WASC 229 – http://decisions.justice.wa.gov.au/supreme/supdcsn.nsf/PDFJudgments-WebVw/2009WASC0229/ found that if Rossiter, after being fully informed of the consequences, instructed those caring for him to cease feeding him through the PEG tube then his carers (i) had to comply with this request and (ii) would not be legally liable for his death.
It seems that, despite having sought this ruling, Rossiter never decided to instruct his carers to cease feeding him. He did, however, refuse to be given antibiotics for a chest infection. As a consequence of this infection he died. He was unable to be fed for the last two or three days of his life as his body would not process the food.
In asking for the Supreme Court ruling Rossiter clearly expressed the intention of ending his life.
However, the Court ruling focussed entirely on the common law right to refuse medical treatment and was careful to state this was not a case about the “right to die”.
The judgement does give rise to some difficult questions about, say, the duty of a Christian health care facility to a suicidal patient in their care who makes a clearly suicidal decision to refuse feeding. In Victoria, and some other States, the Criminal Code excuses the use of reasonable force to prevent suicide – but would it be reasonable to force feed a suicidal patient who repeatedly asks you to stop feeding him?
The euthanasia lobby have attempted to use Rossiter as a poster boy. Essentially they are arguing that it was cruel that Rossiter could only end his life by refusing feeding rather than being able to request lethal medication.
Interestingly Rossiter probably would not qualify under the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill that Greens MLC Robin Chapple is introducing next month into the WA Legislative Council. To be eligible under Chapple’s bill two doctors must agree that in the normal course of an illness or condition death is likely within 5 years. So those using Rossiter’s tragic circumstances to argue their case are demanding more widespread access to euthanasia than the Greens are prepared to back at this point.
Richard Egan, WA
I don’t know if I am misunderstanding Rowan Foster but what he seems to be suggesting is some kind of dualism, whereby this body that we inhabit is some how divorced from us as persons. Are we not asked to present our bodies as living sacrifices, not dying ones? Kamikaze or a Muslim blowing himself are not the same a Christian somehow taking up his cross and somehow entering into the death of Christ.
The only things we are commanded to put to death are whatever belongs to our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5.
David Skinner, UK
Jesus himself committed suicide, having been instructed by god to sacrifice himself to himself.
And let’s not forget that only an omnipotent god can slay an omnipotent god.
But one wonders why you offer this comment. If it was to show how clever and witty atheists are, or to offer some knockout blow for Christianity, it fails miserably on both counts.
There is of course a huge difference between martyrdom and suicide. And you are clearly out of your theological depth, so let me offer some background information:
The triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) has always enjoyed an eternal love relationship. But it is the nature of love to want to give. So humans were created, so that we might share in this amazing love. Of course in creating us with free will so that this love can be enjoyed, a risk was taken. That love could be rejected. It was, and we have all gone our own selfish way, with all the ugly results we see around us.
But God’s love was not frustrated here, and it was agreed that the Son would take our place, bringing upon himself the penalty we all so justly deserve for our sin. It was the ultimate act of selfless love and sacrifice. Those who humble themselves, admit they are not the centre of the universe, and receive this amazing gift of love and forgiveness can enjoy that love relationship with God that we were originally created for.
Those who don’t will have no one but themselves to blame. Atheists can scoff all they like, but that will not diminish one iota God’s never-ending love for every one of us, even those who choose to spit in his face.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I think the crux of the problem you are having with the idea is that you are probably just a materialist and your worldview is unable to deal with motives and intentions and can only cope with brute acts, hence you confuse suicide, the self destructive act of ending your own life for purely selfish reasons, with martyrdom (from the greek word witness BTW), where the life is given voluntarily but for non-selfish motives.
In both cases the person is giving up their life in a deliberate act and with your blunt materialist worldview I can see why you would think they are equivalent.
Perhaps the problem is not that the acts are equivalent but that your worldview is missing an essential component of reality.