You’re a church leader. A church member, the wife of a cancer patient, sends you an email asking a few heart-wrenching questions. How should you reply? Be prepared to explain your answer.
As you know, my husband Gregg is nearing the final stages of terminal cancer. He’s refusing further aggressive treatment for the disease and is content to die. His physician tells us food and water—currently administered through a tube—may soon be an unnecessary burden and only increase his discomfort. At the same time, the doctor said that without increased doses of morphine, Gregg’s pain will skyrocket as death approaches. Three questions: First, is it morally permissible to remove his food and water tube? Second, isn’t increasing his morphine tantamount to hastening his death, perhaps a gentle form of euthanasia? At a minimum, it will render him unconscious. Third, what principles should guide my decision? Gregg loves Christ and would want me to please God in all this.
Thesis: Withholding treatment that no longer benefits a dying patient is morally permissible but intentionally killing him is not. (And we better be honest and precise with our definitions.)
HELP FROM THEOLOGY
- The biblical case against euthanasia and physician assisted suicide is clear: Humans bear the image of God and thus have intrinsic value (Gen. 1:26-27). Because humans bear the image of God, the shedding of innocent blood—that is, the intentional killing of innocent human beings—is strictly forbidden (Ex. 23:7; Prov. 6:16-19; Matt. 5:21).
Euthanasia and physician assisted suicide shed innocent blood—that is, intentionally kill innocent human beings. Therefore, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are wrong.
- How and when a person dies is up to God (Eccl. 3:1-12; Heb. 9:27). Death was not part of God’s design but is here due to sin. It is now a normal and natural part of the human race. For the Christian, death is indeed an enemy, but it’s a conquered enemy. The resurrection of Jesus Christ secures a resurrected and perfected body for every believer (1 Cor. 15).
- Because death is a conquered enemy, it must not always be resisted. In cases where further treatment provokes undue suffering for the dying patient, death can be welcomed as the doorway to eternity. Earthly life, while good, is not our ultimate good. Eternal fellowship with God is.
Allowing natural death to run its course does not violate the sanctity of human life. However, we must never forget that terminally ill patients—like all humans—bear God’s image. Thus, we are never to intentionally kill them via euthanasia or doctor-assisted suicide. We are obligated to always care and never harm, including helping them find grace in the midst of suffering.
This is a portion of a presentation by pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf, made to the Blackstone Fellowship of the Alliance Defending Freedom on June 12, 2018. Used by permission. Watch for Part 2: Help from Ethics, and Part 3: Help from Pastoral Care.
Additional resource: Free four-week lesson plans and leader guides for personal and group study, from Bill Davis, author of Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life (P&R Publishing)—Ask the Doctors (handouts and leaders notes), Leaving Instructions (handouts, leaders notes, and case studies).