Life—a gift from God

by guest columnist Dr Mathew Piercy, Australia

22 April 2005

This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 29(3):50–51.
‘I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy.’ The Hippocratic Oath1

These words, penned approximately four centuries before Christ, still hold immense relevance today. Hippocrates, often considered to be the father of medicine, was a student of Ancient Greek philosophy and reasoning. Hippocrates’ ‘Oath’ encapsulated the position of many of the Greek philosophers in condemning suicide, notably Pythagoras, and became the standard of ethics for doctors to follow.

Medical students in many Western countries are still required to take the above ‘Hippocratic oath’. The anti-abortion clause, however, at least in my country of Australia, has been conveniently (and tragically) removed, a reflection of the secularization of our evolutionized culture. Modern medicine has all but abandoned the principle of the sanctity of human life that Hippocrates enunciated, and which is also found in the Genesis account of man being made in God’s image. For example, today abortion is considered by many to be a ‘pregnancy choice’ rather than the destruction of another human being. Medical treatments are withdrawn from patients on the basis that they lack ‘quality of life’, rather than considering whether the treatment will help the person get better or preserve their life until the natural end.

The belief that we have evolved from simpler creatures is often used to justify the rejection of God as Creator and hence the rejection of His authority through His Law. Without God, life becomes purposeless. Disability, suffering and the terminal stages of life are viewed as meaningless. This is a contributing cause to the ‘culture of death’ that is affecting the Western world in areas such as medicine and healthcare, where people’s lives are dependent on others.

The increasing acceptance of euthanasia is part of this shift in mentality towards the ‘culture of death.’ The world has watched the courts of the United States recently rule that a disabled person, Terri Schiavo, should die by starvation and dehydration. How could an innocent person be allowed to die in this way? The truth is that people have lost their sense of what it means to be human. Life, instead of being a precious gift, becomes evaluated according to its ‘quality.’ A person whilst young, active and productive has a high ‘quality of life’, yet once this person becomes old, disabled or dependent, the quality is reduced, and his or her life may no longer be considered to be worth living or protecting. Without the possibility of recovery, disability or dependence on others become grounds for the termination of that person’s life. This was tragically borne out recently in the case of Terri Schiavo.

Echoes of this sentiment are also found in Clint Eastwood’s popular movie, Million Dollar Baby. The main character, a female boxer, starts out bold and successful, but ends up suffering a high level spinal cord injury leaving her permanently disabled, dependent on a ventilator (breathing machine) and unable to move her limbs. For her, the loss of her previous abilities is too much and she seeks death, and her ventilator is switched off in what is depicted by Hollywood as a profound act of compassion. (It is interesting to note that the Third Reich used similar films to promote acceptance of euthanasia prior to the extermination of the disabled and the mentally handicapped in Nazi Germany.2) Far from being compassionate, the medical carers have simply taken the easy way out. Rather than supporting her through her illness and allowing her to adjust to life’s circumstances, they assist in killing her. Such an act rejects the essential aspect that her life is not her own to take. Made in God’s image, she has no right to destroy her own life, or permit others to do so, whatever her situation.

The story of Job in the Bible recounts how he refused to ‘curse God and die’ despite this counsel being given to him many times. This was because Job feared God and understood that only He has the authority to give and to take life. Even if all joy is taken out of life, as was the case with Job, that still would not justify the taking of life. Even in the depths of suffering, God’s image remains, and life remains an intrinsic good, worthy of protection and support.

The Christian church, and indeed society in general, should never accept the lie that euthanasia represents ‘a good death.’ Euthanasia, in its real sense, represents a profound rejection of the gift of life, and hence of the Giver Himself. Instead, there should be a recognition that man, being made in the image of God, has intrinsic value and dignity from conception to natural death. The decline of respect for life in Western culture is one more symptom of the tragic foundational shift away from a biblical worldview to one based on evolutionary humanism.

Published: 9 February 2006

References and notes

  1. As translated by Ludwig Edelstein.
  2. Michael Burleigh, Death and Deliverance, Cambridge University Press, p. 210.