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Euthanasia for Christians: Why, How and Because

 Dr Alex Tang

 

 

 

 

Introduction: Social Attitude towards Death

Dylan Thomas

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
 
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
 
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
 

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas.

Subject:

Dylan Thomas’ father had been a robust, militant man most of his life, and when in his eighties, he became blind and weak, his son was disturbed seeing his father become “soft” or “gentle.” In this poem, Thomas is rousing his father to continue being the fierce man he had previously been.

Each of the six stanzas has uniformity and a specific purpose:

Stanza 1: The first line is a command, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Paraphrased, “Don’t give up easily.” The second line offers the speaker’s belief that even when old and infirm, the man should stay energetic and complain if necessary as long as he does not give in to death easily. Then line three again is a command, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”: Fight, complain, rail against the oncoming of death.

Stanzas 2, 3, 4, and 5 each try to persuade the father to “rage against the dying of the light” by offering evidence of what wise, good, wild, and grave men have done. For example and to paraphrase stanza 2: Even though wise men know that they cannot keep death away forever and especially if they have not accomplished their goals in life, they don’t accept death easily; they “Do not go gentle . . . .” Similarly, in stanza 3, good men exclaim what might have been, their “frail deed” might have shone like the sun reflecting off the waters of a “green bay,” and they, therefore, “Rage, rage” against the oncoming of death. Likewise, in stanza 4, wild men whose antics seemed to shine as brightly as the sun and who thought they were so optimistic, but later realized they spent much of their life in grief, still they “Do not go gentle . . . .” And in stanza 5, grave men whose eyes are fading fast can still flash life’s happiness, as they “Rage, rage . . . . ”

Stanza 6: The speaker addresses his father. Paraphrased, “And so my father you are nearing death—yell at me, scream at me, cry out; to see you do that would be a blessing for me and I beg you to show me that militant man you once were: “Do not go gentle . . .”

 

Defining the Terms

Euthanasia is a term that has not been used consistently. In classical Greek, it means “good death.”  In modern usage, it has taken a different, more specific meaning. Euthanasia has come ‘to mean that one person intentionally causes the death of another who is terminally or seriously ill, often to end the latter’s pain and suffering’

 

  • Active Euthanasia

Usually when euthanasia is mentioned, it is meant active euthanasia i.e. with intention to cause death, an action was taken. For example if a father were to inject his son, who is in great agony as he was dying, with a lethal dose of a drug in order to end his son’s suffering, this will be active euthanasia. Also known as dignified dying.

  • Passive Euthanasia

Passive euthanasia is used to describe the action of withdrawing and withholding treatment with the results that death occurs as it would as a natural consequence of the disease process.

  • Involuntary Euthanasia

Involuntary euthanasia is a compassionate act to end the life of a patient who is perceived to be suffering and could make a voluntary request, but has not done so. For example, if the same man with end stage lung cancer who wish to live as long as possible were given an overdose of barbiturate without his permission by his friend, the nurse who felt sorry for him, this will be involuntary euthanasia.

  • Non Voluntary Euthanasia

Non voluntary euthanasia occurs when another person, out of compassion, does an action with the intention of ending the life of a suffering patient where the patient is unable to make a voluntary request (e.g. an unconscious, retarded or demented adult; an infant or child). For example, if a man with advanced Alzheimer’s disease and in great distress had his life taken by her daughter, this would be non-voluntary euthanasia.

 

Euthanasia is not…

  • Refusing treatment
  • An opportunity to get rid of the old folks
  • Advanced Medical Directive (AMD)
  • Doctors are killers

 

Framing the Issue

  • The right to die
  • The right to ask another to kill
  • The right to ask a doctor to kill
  • The right of a government policy to allow doctors to kill

 

A Biblical/Theological Approach

 

1.      Is the practice/principle clearly supported by well-grounded biblical teaching?

2.      Is the practice/principle compatible with well-grounded biblical teaching?

3.      Is there a biblical/theological rationale for the practice/principle?

4.      Is there extra-biblical support of the practice/principle from the study of general revelation?

5.      Is there widespread historical acceptance and endorsement of the practice/principle within the history of the Christian church?

 

 

1.      Is euthanasia clearly supported by well-grounded biblical teaching?

There is no well-grounded biblical teaching on euthanasia. In fact the bible does not mention euthanasia as defined as dignified dying. However the bible does teach about a good death.

What does the Bible teaches about death?

  • In the Bible, the apostle Paul said the only reason for his life was to bring honour and praise to Christ. To love and serve Christ is life. For Paul himself (as for all Christians) death will mean being ‘at home with the Lord’ in heaven.

“For me to live is Christ and to die will be gain.”(Philippians 1:21)

Life is not something to cling to.

  • Not even death can separate Christians from the love of Jesus:

“I am sure that not death, or life, or angels, or rulers, or things that now are, or things to come, or powers, or things in the sky, or things under the earth, or anything in the world can come between us and the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

            Death is not to be feared

  • Jesus has prepared a place for Christians with him in heaven:

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not let your hearts trouble you. Believe in God, and believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms. And I am going now to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it was not true. And after I have prepared a place for you, I will come back. I will take you to stay with me, so that you will be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going’.” (John 14:1-4)

            Death is a transition to another part of our journey

(1)   The death of Jacob (Gen. 48:1-49:33)

·        Accept his death at the appointed time

·        A dying father and a dying son (links relevance for the past with hope for the future)

·        Continuing a way of life after his death to fulfil God’s purpose

(2)   The death of Jesus

·        Accepted his death at the appointed time (though decreed by evil authorities)

·        A redemptive act

·        To die as an act of surrender

2.      Is euthanasia compatible with well-grounded biblical teaching?

Suicides in the Bible

Since euthanasia is considered a form of suicide, we shall look at some suicides in the Bible and see if there are any compatible teaching pertaining to euthanasia.

 

(1) Suicide of Abimelech

The first chronologically mentioned is Abimelech. After capturing the city of Thebez, he attacked a fortified tower in the centre of the city. The Old Testament noted “ Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him’.” So his servant ran him through, and he died.” (Judges 9:52-54). Scripture neither approves nor disapproves of this act of assisted suicide. It was noted as a fitting end to an evil man. “Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech has done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers.” (Judges 9:56).

(2) Suicide of Samson

The next suicide though arguably as there was a good cause and with divine sanction, was that of Samson. “Then Samson reached towards the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Judges 16: 29-30) Scripture passed no judgement on his act of suicide.

(3) Suicide of Saul and his armour bearer

 The suicide of Saul and his armour bearer elicit more comment. ‘The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me”.

 But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer  saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his own sword and died with him.’  (1Samuel 31: 3-5). Saul is condemned in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14, Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.Even though Saul killed himself by his own sword, the chronicler noted that God himself killed Saul for his unfaithfulness. His armor-bearer chooses to die with his king, an example of suicide by identification. There was no comment on it in the Scriptures.

(4) Suicide of Ahithopel

Ahithophel was King David’s counsellor. He became Absalom’s when Absalom rebelled against his father. David prayed that God would turn Ahithphel’s counsel into foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31b). When Ahithophel found that his advice was ignored by Absalom, he hanged himself.(2 Sam 17:23). Again, there was no comment in the Scriptures about his actions.

(5) Suicide of Zimri

Zimri came to the throne of Israel by assassination. The Israelites rebelled and besieged his city of Tirzah. “When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him. So he died, because the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in the sin he has committed and had caused Israel to commit.” (1Kings 16:18-20). Here it was noted that his death was judgement for his sins.

(6) Suicide of Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot was the only suicide mentioned in the New Testament. When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse and tried to return the money. Then he went and hanged himself. (Matt 27:3-5) There was no further comment on Judas in the Scripture, except that his apostleship was given to Matthias (Acts 1: 23-26).

It is interesting to note that in this brief survey of the seven suicides recorded in the Scriptures; the suicides of Abimelech, Saul and Zimri were recorded as direct judgement of God on their sins, even going as far as to say God killed Saul. The Scriptures were silent on the other four suicides, although the silence of Scripture is not the basis for positive argument, especially when the ignoble context in each case speaks for themselves.

3.      Is there a biblical/theological rationale for euthanasia?

Compassion (1 Cor 13)

4.      Is there extra-biblical support of euthanasia from the study of general revelation?

(1) Socrates. Sentenced for death, he could have fled Athens

(2) Stoic philosopher like Marcus Aurelius (movie Gladiator) and Seneca “If the room is smoky, if only moderately, I will stay; if there is too much smoke, I will go. Remember this, keep a firm hand on it, the door is always open.” – the argument for the open door.

(3) David Hume (18th Century) argues that suicide is not a transgression. “On Suicide” (1755)

  • Disease belongs to the natural order of things.
  • Disputed Aquinas that suicide harms the community in his “Essay”

(4) John Stuart Mill

  • “one very simple principle” in his 1859 essay, On Liberty:  so long as others are not harmed, we can do whatever we want with our bodies.
  • “self-regarding” and “other-regarding acts”. We can on censure others for their other-regarding acts.
  • State has no power to force an individual to act in his own interest

5.      Is there widespread historical acceptance and endorsement of euthanasia within the history of the Christian church?

(1) Augustine (fourth century) condemned suicide basing on sixth commandment     “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exo. 20:13). However Augustine distinguish private killing and killing endorsed by God.

(2) Suicide and martyrdom

Is martyrdom acceptable and why?

(3) Thomas Aquinas (13th century) held that suicide is sinful

  • because it leave no time for repentance.
  • life is a gift from God and only God can take it back
  • deprive community of talented people
  • deprive children of their parents
  • unnatural, going against the instinct of self preservation

 

(4) Immanuel Kant oppose suicide

  • an act is right if it is based on a universal rule. Suicide is not universal because it is self-interest
  • immoral because it treats people as an ends. No one’s will is absolute
  • to respect the sacred value of lives of others, one must respect one’s own
  • “Human beings are sentinels on earth and may not leave their posts until relieved by another beneficent hand. God is our owner; we are his property.” “On Suicide” in Lectures on Ethics.

 

Conclusion

There is therefore no theological/biblical basis for Christians to support euthanasia.

 

What happens if Euthanasia is legalised?: The Oregon Experience

The ten years data of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act (ODDA) October 1997 which allows physicians to write prescription for lethal drugs to terminally ill patients are available.

The ODDA is based on

  • Patient self-determination
  • Professional immunity and integrity
  • Public accountability

The Oregon experience

  • Relatively few patients
    • Oregon did not become a ‘suicide center’
    • In 10 years, 541 Oregon residents received lethal prescriptions but only 341 actually ingested the drugs.
    • While figures have risen over the years, this is still a very low proportion of Oregon’s total deaths
    • ODDA served as a catalyst to improved end-of-life care among Oregon’s doctors
  • Other states have not followed
  • Patients seem to be free from coercive influences (burden, financial)
    • Of the 341 patients euthanized; 39% was “because of concern of being a burden” and less than 3% was “because of financial pressure.”

Lessons from the Oregon experience

  • Palliative care as the alternative for end-of-life care
  • Better pain control
  • Better medication with minimal side-effects
  • Better diagnosis and treatment of depression

Conclusion

Euthanasia (good death) for Christians is to live well and to die well at the appropriate time

  • Die at your appointed time
  • Leave behind a legacy of life-in-Christ
  • Look forward to an eternity-with-Christ
  • As you have lived, so shall you die

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

|posted 19 January 2009|

 

 news report in The Christian Post

 

 

               

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