Can we choose our end?

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not the answer

by

Published: 8 November 2014 (GMT+10)
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On 1 November, Brittany Maynard, a young newly-married woman, took her own life rather than suffer the effects of her rapidly progressing brain cancer. In the UK recently, a mother won the right to kill her severely disabled autistic daughter who was in continual pain.1 Increasingly, assisted suicide and euthanasia are being championed as brave and ethical ways to end the suffering of oneself or a loved one who is unable to make that decision for him-or herself.

While few of us have experienced the terrible situations that are increasingly driving people to seek to hasten death, the Bible speaks clearly about this issue and forbids self-murder or ‘compassionate’ murder of another person. So while we should certainly empathize with those who are facing what seem like impossibly painful choices, we should also point them to the hope we have in the Gospel.

Life is valuable

Life is a gift from God; Genesis 2:7 states “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Job 12:10 says “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” Paul concurs: “he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Not only does He give life, but He knows the exact lifespan that each person will have and sustains that life; “his [man’s] days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5), and “in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:16).

Because life comes from God, and because people are created in God’s image, murder is a severe sin against God. Cain, the first murderer, is held up in Scripture as the ultimate cautionary tale of a wicked person (1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11). After the Flood, God commands Noah’s descendants to carry out capital punishment on any murderer (Genesis 9:5–6). In the Mosaic Law, murder was punished with mandatory execution; no ransom could be accepted (Numbers 35:31). And even in the case of accidental death, the manslaughterer faced exile to one of the cities of refuge, meaning his entire life was uprooted in an instant for an indefinite period of time (until the death of the current high priest).

Suicide was seen as a supremely dishonorable death. In fact, the only cases of true suicide in Scripture are Saul, Ahithophel and Judas, all infamous characters. Saul had disobeyed God and was rejected by Him, and had continued in his rebellion as far as necromancy. His suicide was to avoid an inevitable slaughter at the hands of the Philistines, but it was still a dishonorable and nearly unprecedented act (1 Samuel 31). Ahithophel was a counselor to Absalom when he attempted a coup of his father's kingdom, so his suicide was just a further confirmation of his dishonorable character (2 Samuel 17). Judas despaired after betraying Jesus; he knew what a terrible sin he had committed, but rather than repent and seek forgiveness, he went and hung himself (Matthew 27). There is no case of approved suicide or murder in the Bible.

Even life with suffering is valuable

Some people may affirm the broader principle of the value of life, but may argue that there is a point at which a person’s suffering outweighs the value of his or her life, and it thus becomes acceptable to end that life. However, this is not biblical. We are not given many biblical examples of the extreme sorts of disability and suffering that we see today. One reason may be that globalization and mass communication means that things that were once rarely known are now beamed across the world into our living rooms. Another may be because medical technology allows us to care for and prolong the lives of disabled people in a way that wasn’t possible in the biblical world.

However, we do see the presence of many sick and disabled people Jesus healed throughout His ministry—some of whom had been disabled for years before Jesus healed them, with no prospect for natural recovery—and Scripture never indicates that these people were less valuable than their able-bodied neighbors. Indeed, some of the most touching characters of the Gospels are the people who assist the disabled: the friends of the paralytic, for example, who dismantled the roof of a house to get him near Jesus (Matthew 9). Or the parents of demon-possessed children, who had cared for them for an undisclosed amount of time before Jesus cast the demons out (Matthew 15:21–28; 17:14–18).

The biblical mandate to alleviate suffering

Jesus’ example shows us that the appropriate thing to do for disabled and suffering people is to alleviate their pain, but not to kill them. We may not have the power to do healing miracles for people, but modern medicine has come a long way regarding palliative and hospice care. In many cases, even people with serious illnesses can live out their final days in relative comfort. Sometimes if certain medication is given in high enough doses to adequately alleviate suffering, it is known that it will likely have an unintended side effect of hastening a death that was coming soon anyway. In such cases, a delicate ‘tradeoff’ decision has to be made, with the patient, the medical carers and the family all involved in finding the appropriate balance between alleviating suffering and prolonging the process of dying.

This is however quite different from providing people with pills that have the primary purpose of ending their life. That is not a legitimate extension of this principle. In fact it would compromise the quality of the efforts to provide the best care possible. It is much less expensive to kill someone than to medicate them so their final days are more comfortable, so if this became widely seen as an ‘ethical’ way to deal with terminal illnesses, it would tend to undermine the good work of palliative and hospice care.

The ‘death with dignity’ crowd claims to care about the suffering person in the last stages of a terminal illness. If that is really true, they should be throwing their efforts and funding into efforts to improve the care that is already available to ease the pain of people who are dying, not trying to get them to die sooner.2

In fact, it is likely that caring about the comfort of dying people may not be the highest priority of most activists, especially those who promote the stategy of Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking (VSED) to people who want to die, as it does not require anyone else to participate. Anyone will die from starvation and dehydration if they refuse to eat and drink, but it is a terrible, painful way to die. A fact sheet from the Patients’ Rights Council states:

As a person dies from dehydration, his or her mouth dries out and becomes caked or coated with thick material; lips become parched and cracked; the tongue swells and could crack; eyes recede back into their orbits; cheeks become hollow; lining of the nose might crack and cause the nose to bleed; skin begins to hang loose on the body and becomes dry and scaly; urine would become highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder; lining of the stomach dries out, likely causing the person to experience dry heaves and vomiting; body temperature can become very high; brain cells dry out, causing convulsions; respiratory tract also dries out causing thick secretions that could plug the lungs and cause death. At some point the person’s major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain give out and death occurs.3

In fact, euthanasia advocate Dr Helga Kuhse said 30 years ago: “If we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care—especially the removal of food and fluids—they will see what a painful way this is to die and then, in the patient’s best interest, they will accept the lethal injection.”4 So one might be justified in seeing the VSED strategy as promoting ill people killing themselves in a horrifically painful way, in order to get a less painful way of killing ill people legalized.

The danger of seeing death as a solution, not a problem

Where assisted suicide has been legalized, it has rapidly expanded to allow killing of people who are not terminally ill. In the Netherlands, people have committed assisted suicide because they are depressed.5 One woman killed herself because she didn’t like ‘losing her looks’ as she aged. In this horrifying case, the healthy woman left for Switzerland without telling her children where she was going. They only learned of their mother’s death when they received her ashes and death certificate.6 And most worryingly, disabled children may now be euthanized in Belgium and the Netherlands.7

These cases are not part of the ‘face of assisted suicide’ that proponents put forward as those who should be allowed to bypass terrible suffering followed by inevitable death. But these cases are the logical extension of the idea that death is a solution to suffering.

Also, assisted suicide and euthanasia inherently devalue disabled life. The right to die may become a ‘duty to die’. In fact, one strong motivator for people seeking assisted suicide is the desire not to become a burden on loved ones. What these people need is assurance that they are loved and that their life still has value, not a prescription of lethal amounts of medication.

What Jesus promises the dying

There is an urgent spiritual question for those who face death in months or weeks, precisely the people who may seek assisted suicide: are you ready for eternal life? Scripture teaches clearly that when we die, we will go to one of two destinations. Our default destination is a place of judgment, away from the presence of God and all the good things He gives to His people. We all deserve to go there, because we have all broken God’s law.

However, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, died to pay the penalty for our sin, so that we could be reconciled to God and adopted into His family. Furthermore, Christ was raised and promises that we will be raised to bodies like His that will never die or get sick or old. Those who trust in Him will go to be with Him at death to await the resurrection of the dead. He describes this place as Paradise, a lovely, restful place where we will be with Him and other believers.

It may seem unloving to tell dying people that they are going to Hell unless they believe in Jesus, but quite the opposite: it is the most loving thing we can do. In weeks or months, those facing terminal illnesses will face eternity either with Jesus or apart from Him, and so the dying person has only a little time left to repent from their sins and trust in Christ.

Even fading life is worth living

It is too late for Brittany Maynard, who unfortunately committed suicide, despite pleas from other people suffering similar terminal illness to avail herself of the option of palliative care. However, it is important for Christians to know that when faced with a terminal illness, killing oneself is not an option. And we should support the efforts of those who help to ease the last days of dying.

References and notes

  1. Gilmour, P., Why I begged judge to end my sick daughter’s life: ‘Nancy is no longer my girl, she’s a shell’, 25 October 2014, mirror.co.uk. Return to text.
  2. For an excellent, in-depth treatment of this issue, see Doerflinger, R. and Gomez, C., Killing the pain not the patient, palliative care vs assisted suicide, www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/assisted-suicide/killing-the-pain.cfm. Return to text.
  3. Patient’s Rights Council, Voluntary Stop Eating & Drinking: Important questions & answers, www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/vsed-voluntarily-stopping-eating-drinking. Return to text.
  4. Fifth Biennial Congress of Societies for the Right to Die, held in Nice, September 1984; cited in Methods of euthanasia, life.org.nz. Return to text.
  5. Visser, N., The Dutch debate doctor-assisted suicide for depression, The Daily Beast 3 February 2014, thedailybeast.com. Return to text.
  6. Roberts, H., Italian woman, 85, ends her life at Swiss euthanasia clinic because she was upset about losing her looks, 20 February 2014, dailymail.co.uk. Return to text.
  7. Children’s euthanasia bill signed by Belgium king, 3 March 2014, rt.com. Return to text.

Reader’s comments

Mike G.
I do not agree with suicide, however, I have found absolutely no reference in Scripture - either for or against suicide. Murder is prohibited, but suicide is not murder as the term murder implies one person deliberately killing another person.
Is there, in fact any actual prohibition of suicide in the Bible? (Not implications but an actual line of Scripture.)
Lita Cosner
Mike, suicide is self-murder, so all the verses against murder apply to suicide.
Peter H.
Dying with dignity is allowing those that are close to you to care for you and spend very precious time with you. I cared for my beloved wife in her last days and all I can say, it is the greatest privilege that I have ever had. Even in those last days, my wife enjoyed time with family and friends and only once did she say, 'I wish I was not a burden' and I think it was only spoken in frustration because to do anything or go anywhere required much effort. My response was, 'You are not a burden because you are very much loved'. The strength my wife showed in her last days continues in how our children have handled the loss of their mum. Though she is very much missed, our lives are enriched because of how she faced her last days. We knew not which day it would be, but each day we had together were very precious. Thank God they were not needlessly shorten. How can anyone say that assisted suicide is a dignified end?
Calum M.
Another very good and timely article as usual from CMI.

In response to Steve B's comment (9th Nov) wanting chapter and verse where "compassionate" killing is clearly spoken against I would direct him to 1 Samuel 31: 3,4 (and the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 10). Here we see king Saul wounded by the Philistine archers and afraid of being abused by them. He then asks his armour-bearer to kill him. We read that he "...would not; because he was sore afraid." Afraid of what/whom? Afraid of Saul: a wounded and weak man that asked him to end his life? Surely not! Afraid of his sons? They were already dead! No doubt he was afraid of God's judgement: he would be well acquainted with the demands of the Law and that there was no sacrifice to atone for the sin of murder ("compassionate" assisted suicide, call it what you wish, it's still murder).

Furthermore, we see the consequence of taking a life unlawfully in that the armour-bearer took his own life when he saw the lead of his king. Example breeds practice.

Our Governments and leaders should learn from this incident to be very careful indeed in what they seek to condone or promote.
Johnson K.
My dear Sister in the Lord, Lita, thank you for an excellent article written with such insight, and clarity on this issue. We are living in an age when right has become wrong, and wrong has become right or in other words, evil is bring called good and good as evil. Even many Christians are so confused with this issue that they tend to fall for the emotional arguments presented by proponents of Assisted Suicide, or Euthanasia, or as some even call it "Mercy Killing". We who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the giver of Life, should be clear on the hope we have in Christ, and while empathizing with those who are suffering, should point them to our loving Savior who not only is the Author of life, but the Sustainer as well. Blessings.
S. C.
Self-murder is suicide. God wants and waits to save all.
If a person insists on throwing themselves into a furnace, it is almost impossible to stop them and THEY must face the consequences.
Some folk have been so scared of ending up in hell that they did not follow through on the urge to kill their own body. "Fear Him who can destroy body and soul in hell," counselled Jesus.
S. C.
Very balanced and compassionate article. It has been said that very few people really want their life to end ; they want their immediate suffering to end.

I had a depressed elderly relative who used to ask for "a revolver, so I can kill myself". The Christians in the family used to tell him that that would take him to hell. In mercy God allowed him a small foretaste of hell. When he came back to consciousness, he was now willing to call upon God for mercy. The peace in his room was palpable after his deathbed conversion.
As you say, those last days and weeks before passing can be crucial in deciding one's eternal destination.
Just who might want them shortened ??
Christian G.
Thank you Lita for another excellent thought provoking article. And especially a great many thanks for addressing James p H attitude, reminiscent of Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”. You showed a caring godly attitude and a better picture of our God who is love and not willing that any should perish, but rather He did everything so that we would be able to choose life.
As you indicated our default position is total death separated away from God’s promises of a better life for those who persevere in trials. Let’s think of all the suffering of past martyrs tortured, often temporarily abandoning under extreme duress. Many became examples of God’s perseverance in extreme suffering and pain at the burning stake. Wasn’t it kind of evil to say “recant, choose our religion, or you will burn at the stake”. Isn’t it kind of evil of ISIS to say “become a muslim or die”. However, note that the attitude used by James p H and Jonathan Edwards is basically the exact same thing “repent or you will burn endlessly at the stake in Hell”.
What if God is really love? As per Noah’s example, God will have to destroy again this sin saturated worsening world, full of suffering. And unless one finds himself on the ark of Christ, one would also be destroyed with it. And… as Christ amply warned us, it will not be pretty – there will be weeping & gnashing of teeth (sorrow/anger).
So as you kind of said, we should with a proper attitude encourage everyone not to miss the boat. Christ came to earth to be a lifeboat and save everyone. PLEASE take Christ’s hand, get on the “ark”, and live on in a totally re-created place where there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more sin, no more death (as it was in Eden/paradise when first created).
D. W.
I am responding to the response of my previous feedback. In an effort to keep things short, I did not explain all my thoughts on the issue. I am an RN. I had a close family member who was severely disabled and was given food and fluids for as long as we could give them. As a nurse, I know that there are complicated issues that we may not know about from a newspaper article. There comes a point where the body cannot utilize the foods and fluids we give through IVs or G tubes. I will not go into what happens when a person is given nutrients/fluids when their body is shutting down, but it is not pretty. I certainly support giving nutrition through g-tubes as long as it is not causing further harm. My point is, that it muddies the waters so to speak, when we don't know the whole story of the child in the UK. There is a difference between actively killing someone (including oneself) and discontinuing g-tube feedings.
Cameron M.
Nearly 12 months ago my mother in law passed away from cancer. We all knew she, that while the medical team were doing their best, she was suffering. So, I prayed. I know that God, if it is in His will, could heal her and remove her disease. But I chose to pray for Him to do what was his will. Yes, I maybe should have prayed for healing...but I realised that God/ Jesus is not a wishing well or magical Genie. Yes, I have no doubt He answers prayer, I just think now I am better understanding of Him.
Within 2 days of this prayer she passed away with her husband by her side.
Like Lita, I agree with the healing that Christ can do. It does seem that it is reported less than we'd all like to know of.
james p H.
you need to be a bit more direct than that! suicide is a sin against the Holy Ghost....on the same level as "receiving the Mark of the Beast" there is *no* forgiveness for it and only one fate awaits the suicide.....HELLFIRE!!
Lita Cosner
James, I felt I had to respond to this. Suicide is a grievous sin. It is a sin against our families and friends, depriving them of ourselves and causing them tremendous grief. Primarily, however, it is a sin against God who gave us life, and Christ, who died so that we may have abundant life in Him. No Christian should ever view suicide as a way out of trouble in this life, and we would urge anyone considering self-destructive acts to seek urgent help for themselves.

However, suicide is not an unforgivable sin. Sometimes even Christians fall prey to despair, and in certain cases, there may even be diminished responsibility because of an unstable mental state, etc. The last thing a person contemplating suicide needs to hear is that God is waiting to throw them into Hell if they do. Rather, we should point them to Christ and His love, as well as helping them to receive whatever help they need.
Pieter M.
For years have I thought that medical science was going to far. It has now become difficult to die. In fact, due to medical science interference, the world has become grossly overpopulated. Of course, the supply of food has also increased but this whole circle reminds me of the tower of Babel - man will see to it! In the days of Luke you could treat the 'obvious' and loving care was no 1 (amoungst christians). Also, what happened to stoicism on the patients' part? We have become a less pain tolerant society as we became more modern. As I wonder what's happening in less developed peoples, I recognise how more selfish we became. Jesus brought in healing far above Levitical procedures. Our cry could well be 'come Lord Jesus'
Lita Cosner
When to refuse life sustaining treatment, or what constitutes unreasonable efforts to extend life, are decisions that every person must make for themselves. However, the technology that prolongs life overall is a good thing; many people believe their life is worth living even needing many of these technologies.

Overpopulation is a myth. Where people are starving, it is not because there is insufficient food, but because of corrupt governments and inefficient distribution of food.

And as for 'less pain tolerant', perhaps we needn't be as pain tolerant with the multitude of painkillers available, not all of them addictive. I don't know anyone who hasn't been thankful for something even as mild as ibuprofin at times.
steve B.
So self righteous arent you, judging others suffering. The commandment says " thou shall not commit murder". Which is the taking of a life for selfish or no good reason. You say it clearly speaks against compasionate reasons for taking life, give me exact chapter and verse ( which you don't) . I don't care what your opinion is, where's it at in the book.
Lita Cosner
I am not judging others who are suffering. How is the compassionate thing to let them kill themselves and possibly pass into a Christless eternity? There are other, better options. Many people who receive terminal diagnoses go through suicidal phases, but those who receive proper help come through it and are later glad they did not commit suicide.

Murder is defined as taking the life of an innocent human being, regardless of motivation. I do not believe there are compassionate reasons for taking a life. There are other ways of helping suffering people, and we simply do not have the right to take the life of another human being.
Tim H.
Life is to sacred to do away with it. We lost our daughter to a car accident and although she had brain damage and thus passed away I firmly agree that if w e believe that Christ is the potter and we the clay let it be in the Potter's hand as to what to do and when to say Your work is done, come home my child! I do not know how one can live with the guilt that would be thrust upon one,
I do know that our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for all and wants to be Lord of each one of us. He is willing and able to forgive and make us new creatures in Christ.
All it takes is what the thief did on his cross next to the Son of God was to ask Him to be remembered in paradise and Christ answer was that today you will be with me in paradise.
May this happen to you as He did for me.

Blessing, Tim
Carroll C. U.
An additional comment could have been made in the article that could be comforting to those facing the situation of an elderly or suffering family member or friend: God is in control. God has a plan for every one. So we never know when healing is to be so that a life can glorify God and that can occur in suffering if humans don't try to act as God and take away those possibilities.
Carol T.
Thank you for addressing this issue as it is also before the Supreme Court of Canada. It`s true, only a biblical worldview opposes euthanasia.
D. W.
I am against euthanasia and I agree with your article. However, the mother in the UK did not kill her daughter. She withheld food and fluids given through a g-tube. It wasn't until 1979 that the first g-tube was used. Prior to that time, this child would have already died a natural death. When I first read the headline about this, I was appropriately appalled but when I read the article, I realized that the mom let her die naturally. Arguments can be made on either side for what the mom did, but she did not actively kill her.
Lita Cosner
The g-tube is a way of feeding a person--a feeding tube is not going to extraordinary measures. It is not unreasonable to feed a disabled child, even if it must be done through a tube. Even non-Christian disability advocates are very concerned about the precedent this sort of thing sets. How much more should we as Christians be championing the rights of the disabled.
Javier F.
Lita, very insightful article about this prickly topic, great remainder that we are dying (aging) weather we realize it or not and that the only one that can free us from death is the Lord Jesús.

God bless.
Greg A.
It is hard to disagree with your article-especially when medicine can allay much of a dying person's pain. I searched your website for views on Samson; it got my attention that you didn't mention Him in this article. In Judges 16, Samson said: “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. Of course he asked God first. But it was God who gave him the strength to destroy both those Philistines but also himself. Samson did not ask for his sight back or to be saved from the falling building. Can you comment on this?
Lita Cosner
Samson is a bit of a different case, because he was destroying the Philistines, not solely killing himself. He clearly knew the result would also be his death, but the service to Israel would be greater. So it is probably more of a self-sacrifice than suicide.
Stacey A.
In the article you say "we don't have the power to perform miracle healings". Does this mean you believe the gift of healing is not available in this day and age? If so, what is your biblical evidence to support this? Perhaps I have read what you are saying wrong.I believe the gifts are still available and Jesus said "greater things you will do in my name". Your reply is appreciated. Thanks
Lita Cosner
Stacey, whether or not healing gifts have ceased was the furthest thing from my mind when I wrote that paragraph. Healing miracles certainly happen sometimes (we've all heard about cancer going into remission with no medical explanation, or other chronic illnesses getting better in response to prayer), but the fact is they don't happen as often as we'd like, hence the need to discuss the issues in this article. As I said, we don't have the power to do healing miracles for people; that prerogative is God's alone--I was focusing on what the medical field can do for the suffering and dying person as far as helping them.

The article will be edited to remove any ambiguity on this issue.
Dean R.
"The danger of seeing death as a solution, not a problem" is where society can change to a humanless, godless machine in the name of so called compassion or cost benefit. Not to mention a lost soul suffering due to rejecting salvation in Christ.

I was hoping you could give some perspective regarding Samson in his final moments on earth...Is this laying down ones life for others in battle or sacrifice?

Appreciate the defence of Christianity in science & ethics, a real blessing for these times.
Lita Cosner
Dean, I didn't include Samson's death in the suicide list because he wasn't seeking his own death as much as killing the Philistines, and his death was a byproduct.
Annette P.
Excellent article. Great insight into what is happening. Depression is very widespread. It is very dangerous if euthanasia was an option.
Thanks for your ministry.

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