The Myth of Mercy Killing
by June Hunt
You are sitting by the bed of someone you love … someone with a terminal illness. What happens when you find yourself agonizing over a medical decision—a major decision with moral implications? Is it ever right to choose death for a loved one who is suffering? What perspective should you have in order to make the right decision? How can you be sure you are making the best choice in the midst of a medical crisis?
When answers to questions seem elusive, you need to know where to go. The Bible reveals what makes life worth living. Wisdom from the Word of God will guide you in making end-of-life decisions—decisions with true dignity.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
Many people want to know, “Is euthanasia playing God?” In simplest terms, euthanasia is doing something to someone that causes that person to die. If that “something” were not done, the body would be allowed to take its natural course. In light of this knowledge, is euthanasia right or wrong? Is euthanasia “playing God”? Yes, it takes the role that God alone should have.
“See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life.”
A. What Is the Meaning of Euthanasia?
• Euthanasia is a word used to describe the deliberate act of pursuing or permitting the premature, relatively painless death of a person who appears to be hopelessly suffering or beyond recovery.
• The English word euthanasia is a combination of two Greek words—eu, “easy or good” and thanatos, “death.” The literal meaning is “easy death.” (If death could be considered “good,” the ideal would be to die while sleeping.)
• Mercy killing is a popular name given to euthanasia to imply that a premature death is an act of compassion. This phrase is considered propaganda by many who oppose euthanasia on moral grounds.
Q “I deeply care about my terminally ill mother. As long as euthanasia is based on love, doesn’t that make it okay?”
Your love must be a great comfort to your mother. But, loving a person does not give you the right to kill that person. The Bible describes love as protective in nature. Out of love, we are to persevere and protect our loved ones from premature death.
“[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)
B. What Are the Methods of Euthanasia?
• Active Euthanasia causes death to occur prematurely by a deliberate fatal act. Active euthanasia pursues death in one of three different forms: mercy killing, suicide or assisted suicide.
Administering carbon monoxide poisoning, lethal injections or overdoses of medication
• Passive Euthanasia allows death to occur prematurely by withholding nutrition and normal beneficial treatment. Passive euthanasia permits death even though “non-futile treatment” clearly could enable a person to live significantly longer. (Non-futile treatment benefits the patient. Futile treatment does not benefit the patient but rather prolongs the moment of death.) Another term for passive euthanasia is “intentional fatal withholding.”
Withholding nutrition, fluids or antibiotics
Q “When someone is dying, is it wrong to ‘pull the plug’ on artificial life support?”
Sometimes a person is kept alive by means of mechanical or artificial life-sustaining procedures. These methods replace vital functions such as breathing or the beating of a heart. Sometimes, these procedures serve only to postpone the moment of death. In this case, withholding a mechanical or artificial measure is not euthanasia because pulling the plug results in a natural, inevitable death. God has already determined the number of our days with limits we cannot exceed.
“Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (Job 14:5)
Withdrawal of treatment that cannot stop imminent death is not euthanasia.
C. What Are the Types of Euthanasia?
• Voluntary euthanasia occurs when at a patient’s request another person withholds beneficial life-sustaining measures, a decision that prematurely hastens the patient’s death. This act is considered assisted suicide, which is actually murder.
• Nonvoluntary euthanasia occurs when without the patient’s consent another person withholds beneficial life-sustaining measures or in some other way actively hastens death. The patient is killed by someone who is unaware of the patient’s desires because the patient’s desires are either not obtainable or are not considered pertinent.
• Involuntary euthanasia occurs when against the patient’s objections another person withholds beneficial life-sustaining measures or in some other way actively hastens death. This act opens the gate to potential genocide—the systematic destruction of a racial, political, cultural or undesirable group deemed dispensable.
Q “Based on the Bible, what should my attitude and actions be in regard to euthanasia?”
Proverbs, the primary book in the Bible on wisdom, states that you should literally “rescue those being led to death.”
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Proverbs 24:11–12)
D. When Does the Body Die?
Three different terms are used to define physical death.
• Cognitive death is a condition of the body wherein …
— Only part of the brain, the cortex, is destroyed.
— Awareness of oneself and the environment are lost.
— The body is in a “persistent vegetative state.”
— The body can live for years.
• Brain death is a condition of the body wherein …
— No part of the brain functions.
— The brain stem and cortex are dead.
— The body can be maintained artificially for only a short period of time until the heart stops.
• Clinical death is a condition of the body wherein …
— The heart stops beating and breathing stops.
— The blood pressure drops below measurable levels.
— The body temperature drops.
— The body is legally dead, and a death certificate is issued.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.”
II. Characteristics Of The Struggle With Euthanasia
On one side of the equation are those enthusiastically supporting euthanasia. On the other side are those avidly opposing it. Caught in the middle are those who don’t know what to think about it. According to the Bible, what we allow ourselves to think makes a monumental difference—especially about the sanctity of life.
|Proponents of Euthanasia Value
|Proponents of the Bible Value
|the Quality of Life
|the Sanctity of Life
|• “My life is not worth living without my health. When you’ve lost your health, you’ve lost everything.”
|• “Because I have a relationship with the Lord, God tells me I have all I need for my life.”
|“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
(2 Peter 1:3–4)
|• “I’m just a drain on my family’s finances. Everyone would be better off if I died.”
|• “God promises to meet all my financial needs.”
|“My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
|• “I can’t do anything.… I’m not worth anything.”
|• “I have God-given worth, not because of what I do, but because I am a person created in the image of God.”
|“God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ ”
|• “I am so embarrassed over my condition that I’ve lost all my self-respect.”
|• “My self-respect comes through focusing not on my outward condition, but on Christ living in me to make me right in God’s sight.”
|“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
(2 Corinthians 4:16)
|• “I should have personal rights over everything that happens to my own body.”
|• “Because I am a Christian, my body is not my own; my body belongs to the Lord.”
|“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
|• “It is not important how I die, just that I don’t have to endure suffering.”
|• “The Bible says all followers of Christ are called to suffer.”
|“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
(1 Peter 4:12–13)
|• “Death is a welcome escape from life—from life in this miserable existence.”
|• “For the true Christian, death means escaping eternal judgment and walking through the doorway of eternal life.”
|“Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
|• “After I die, that’s all there is. There is no more life.”
|• “Regardless of pain or the loss of ability, as long as an unbeliever is alive, there is hope for eternal salvation. As long as there is life, there is hope for eternal salvation.”
|“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
(2 Peter 3:9)
III. CAUSES OF THE EUTHANASIA CONTROVERSY
Why do some people readily accept euthanasia as a viable option? Why are they inclined to pursue a premature, fatal act? They are looking at human life from a humanistic or atheistic perspective—not from a theistic one.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
A. Controversies within Society
• Advancement of Medical Technology
“People will live too long!”
“I’m afraid my death will be prolonged.”
— Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) equipment will keep a nonfunctioning heart beating … too long.
— Dialysis machines can do the work for damaged kidneys … too long.
— Aggressive chemotherapy can sustain cancer patients … too long.
— Intravenous feeding of nutrients and fluids can keep people alive for years … too long.
• Escalating Health Care Costs
“Medical treatment is too expensive.”
“I’m afraid I’ll become a financial burden.”
— State-of-the-art equipment is too expensive.
— Rising cost of medical personnel and facilities is too expensive.
— Increasing cost of insurance with decreasing benefits is too expensive.
— Growing number of patients in the health care system is too expensive.
• Shift from Doctors’ Decisions to Patient’s Rights
“Doctors are too restrictive regarding death.”
“I won’t have any rights over my life or my death.”
— Promoting a natural death rather than a premature death with dignity is too restrictive. I should have my rights.
— Promoting the sanctity of life rather than the quality of life is too restrictive. I should have my rights.
— Promoting efforts to sustain life rather than pursue death is too restrictive. I should have my rights.
• Mass Marketing of Situation Ethics
“The aged are too unproductive.”
“I am afraid that I’ll be too dependent on others.”
— Media emotionalism: The aged are too unproductive (a “right to die” emotional message conveyed through movies, TV, newspapers, magazines).
— Idealizing: The young have reached the pinnacle of life; the aged are too unproductive.
— Stereotyping: The aged have become dispensable because they are too unproductive.
— Altruism: Euthanasia is compassionate and merciful because the aged are too unproductive.
B. Controversies Concerning the Law
• Legal Uncertainties about End-of-Life Issues
“The aged can have too much control over end-of-life decisions.”
“I need to be able to have control and do what I feel like doing when I’m approaching the end of my life.”
— Is the “right to die” legal?
— What are the guidelines for tube feeding?
— How close is the patient to death?
— When does death actually occur?
C. Root Cause
The root cause of the euthanasia controversy stems from a departure from biblical principles. This departure is highlighted in two primary areas.
• Emphasis has been placed on the quality of life rather than on the sanctity of life. But God emphasized the sanctity of life when He said,
“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
• Perspective concerning the purpose of pain and suffering in human life has been lost. But the Bible emphasizes that values are to be learned during the times of physical loss. The apostle Paul said,
“We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)
“I have the personal right to choose death if the quality of my physical health falls below a certain standard.”
God gives life, and only God has the right to take life. Until the time He chooses to take my life, I will value the fact that Christ lives in me and will use me in the lives of others. Then when He chooses to take my spirit to Himself, my body will die.
“The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
IV. STEPS TO SOLUTION
A. Key Verse to Memorize
“Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
B. Key Passage to Read and Reread
The Suffering of Job
“Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’ ‘Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands;but you must spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!’He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God,and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”
The Integrity of Job
• This passage details Job’s character and reveals his response to intense suffering.
|— Job was a blameless and upright man.
|— Job respected God and did what was right.
|— Job was afflicted with great pain.
|— Job’s wife advised him to escape his suffering through death.
|— Job said he must accept the bad as well as the good from a loving God.
“I will not deny my integrity.”
C. Questions and Answers
“What is the biblical position regarding euthanasia?”
One of the Ten Commandments in the Bible says,
“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)
“If you believe that euthanasia is murder, don’t you also have to be against the death penalty?”
No. The death penalty is the punishment after due process of the law for a person found guilty of committing a capital crime.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:6)
“Isn’t euthanasia a private choice?”
No. Euthanasia involves the active participation and assistance of at least one other person.
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” (Proverbs 24:11)
“Shouldn’t a terminally ill person have the right to relieve pain and suffering?”
Medication for pain is biblical; however, killing the patient should not be the treatment for pain. From the earliest cultures, pain relievers have been derived from plant life. The Bible even indicates that God made “… leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).
“How can I endure watching a loved one suffer pain?”
By the use of progressive pain management that exists today, a patient need not be enduring prolonged periods of pain. Seek other medical opinions … especially from pain management specialists.
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
D. Understand “the Right to Die”
The phrase “the right to die” refers to a person’s assumed right to end one’s own life or to have another help to end life prematurely.
“How is the ‘right to die’ legally interpreted?”
The acceptability and legal interpretation of “the right to die” differs from state to state and country to country. Some of the means available for a person to determine final medical treatment follow.
• Informed Consent
— The patient makes the decisions.
— The patient must be determined competent to give consent.
— The patient must be provided with all adequate information and know the risks involved regarding treatment.
— The patient must not be coerced in any way.
• Power of Attorney
— A legal document in which the patient gives authority to another person to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient.
— The document becomes ineffective, null and void if the patient becomes incompetent.
• Durable Power of Attorney
— A legal document similar to a power of attorney but designed specifically for health care decisions.
— The document takes effect only when the patient becomes incompetent.
— The document names a decision maker instead of focusing on specific treatment decisions.
— The document is considered more flexible than a living will.
• Living Will
— A preplanned, written statement of a patient’s preferences regarding life-supporting procedures.
— The instructions in a living will do not hold the same authority that is gained from a durable power of attorney.
Q “If I live where euthanasia is legal, shouldn’t I be free to exercise my legal rights?”
You may have a legal right according to the law of the land, but you do not have a Biblical right to violate a law of God.
“We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)
E. When Facing the Decision—Value the Sanctity of Life
Seek God’s perspective on the sanctity of life.
• We must choose to abide by all the commands of God, including, “You shall not murder.”
• All people have value because they are created in the image of God; therefore, we must not devalue them by killing them.
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Accept the beneficial role of pain and affliction in life.
• Through affliction we move toward dependence on God.
• Through suffering we develop a heart of compassion and comfort for others in pain.
“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:5)
Notify a wise family member, pastor, physician or respected Christian friend to get involved, to pray for direction and to help in your decision.
• A knowledgeable outside person can usually be more objective.
• Pray for a wise person who has dealt with end-of-life issues.
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:20)
Consider all the options, especially hospice care, as an alternative.
• Hospice care focuses on maximizing the time a patient has remaining in order to make the most of the last weeks and days of life.
• Hospice caregivers are well trained to provide adequate amounts of pain relieving medication.
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
Turn to pain management experts.
• If the patient is in pain, ask for more medication. (Many patients think they are imposing.)
• If pain relief has not been achieved, consult another pain management specialist.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
Identify whether you are playing God by hastening or postponing death.
• Ask yourself, “Are we causing death prematurely?”
• Ask yourself, “Are we postponing the natural time of death that God has ordained?”
“See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
Trust in God’s sovereignty over the circumstances.
• “Lord, I trust You with all the end-of-life decisions.”
• “Lord, I trust You with the end of my life.”
“The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” (Psalm 135:6)
Yield to the voice of God speaking in your heart and guiding your decision.
• “Thank You, God, that I can rely on You to guide me.”
• “Thank You, God, that I can trust You to counsel me.”
“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” (Isaiah 30:20–21)
|In regard to euthanasia, we must make decisions based on principle rather than passion. Nothing that is biblically wrong can be politically right.
No Time to Be Timid
When friends or loved ones are facing death, have the courage to discuss their eternal salvation!
The Bible says, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Commit to God the time you will be talking together.
• Pray for their hearts to be prepared.
• Pray for wisdom and insight.
• Pray for uninterrupted time.
Open the conversation gently to spiritual matters.
• “Tell me about your spiritual journey.”
• “What do you think about eternal life?”
• “Do you have a fear of dying?”
• “Do you think you will go to heaven?”
Understand what is most important to communicate.
• You sincerely care for them.
• You have sincere concern for their eternal destiny.
Rely on the Holy Spirit to give you the right words and timing.
• You may not know what they really need to hear.
• Don’t be afraid of periods of silence.
Assure them of God’s love.
• “God has always loved you, even when you’ve not responded to Him.”
• “God desires a relationship with you no matter how late it may seem.”
• “There is an eternal life in which you can know Him forever.”
Give them an opportunity to accept Christ.
• “We have all sinned and experienced being separated from God and being spiritually dead.” (See Romans 3:23.)
• “According to the Bible, the only way for you to become spiritually alive is to place your total faith in Jesus Christ.” (See John 14:6.)
• “We all need to admit we are unworthy and personally receive Jesus as our Lord.” (See Romans 10:9.)
• “Would you like to give Christ control of your life right now through prayer?” (Pray the Prayer for Eternal Salvation.)
Entrust the results to God!
• “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.” (Psalm 37:5)
|Prayer for Eternal Salvation
God, I admit that I have lived a self-centered life and have tried to control my own happiness.
I realize that I am physically and spiritually weak and that I desperately need You in my life.
I ask You to forgive me for not seeking You sooner.
I want to give Jesus Christ control of my life, and I’m asking Him to be the Lord over the rest of my life.
Thank You for Your everlasting love that has been, and is still, waiting for me.
I pray this prayer in the name of Jesus, who died so that I could have eternal life. Amen.
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