Oh Really?

Dying With Dignity
There is an organisation in existence called “Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia.” Statistics apparently show that 65% of those who call themselves Christians (Australian Institute poll 2011) agreed that voluntary euthanasia should be legal. The argument goes that there is nothing good, or noble, or even inherently moral in forcing people to endure suffering for the sake of one’s religious ideology (Rev. Dr Craig de Vos, North Adelaide Baptist Church, published in The Border Watch 01/05/2013). De Vos’s argument goes that in the context of understanding that God is a God of love and compassion legislation that seeks to enable the ending of a terminally ill person’s suffering out of compassion is commendable. The argument set forth by other believers that God forbids murder is therefore unfounded, since the issue here is not about the malice of murder, but the about the compassion of blessed release from undignified suffering. Such an argument, as far as it goes, is well set forth and emotionally appears to be grounded in sound Biblical ethics. Yet, it must be pointed out that the fact that God forbids murder is not about malice, but about premeditation regarding the taking of another human’s life. That is why God allows a manslayer, some one who kills some one without intending to do so, to flee to a city of refuge, whereas a killer with intent is classified as a murderer. However, there are other Biblical points to consider, founded in the sovereignty and glory of God, regarding this issue which merit consideration. Debate over euthanasia is not a modern phenomenon. The ancient Greeks debated the subject vehemently. The Pythagoreans opposed euthanasia, while the Stoics favoured it in the case of incurable disease. Plato approved of it when terminal illness was the issue (in Republic). But these lost out to Christian principles as well as the acceptance of the Hippocratic Oath: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to that effect.” In the debate it is helpful to make a distinction between mercy-killing and mercydying (K. Anderson, Euthanasia: A Christian Perspective, Probe Ministries, 1998; www.probe.org › Probe Ministries › Faith and Science › Bioethics), Mercy-killing is an act of volition in which a life is ended by an active intervention to terminate a human life. In the case of mercy-dying the choice is being made to have nature take its course in allowing a terminally ill patient to die. The sticking point from the Biblical position is not the latter position, but rather the former. The latter respects the sovereignty of God over all life; the former makes man the final judge and jury over such a life. There has been a marked shift among the Christian community when viewing human life. The understanding regarding the sanctity of life has shifted to that of quality of life. No longer is life seen as sacred and worthy of saving; rather patients are subjectively evaluated on quality of life. If a life is deemed not worthy to be lived any longer, the call is made to end that life. The Dutch experience in that regard is


instructive. Physicians have ended life because they thought that the patient was tired enough of life or that the family surrounding the patient had suffered enough in terms of taking care of the family member. Already in 1990 Dutch physicians terminated 1030 patients without their consent. Of these 140 were mentally competent and 110 only slightly mentally impaired (R. Finigsen, “The Report of the Dutch Committee on Euthanasia, “Issues in Law and Medicine,” July 1991, 339-344). One of my own mother’s friends came to visit – this was in 2009 in the Netherlands – and was visibly distraught. Her husband had just died unexpectedly in hospital. The day before he died she had visited and had sighed how much he was suffering, expressing the wish that his suffering would lessen. A nurse overheard her saying this and assured her that his suffering was nearly over. She went home assured that her husband would receive some added palliative ministration. This morning she visited the hospital only to find an empty bed. Hospital personnel informed her that her husband ‘had peacefully slept in that very morning.’ She now walks around with the guilt of possibly having contributed unwittingly to her husband’s death. In Holland euthanasia was originally intended only for ‘exceptional cases,’ but now includes chronic ailments and psychological distress (and the latter not only limited to the patient concerned). Witness the voluntary euthanasia of a twenty-six-year-old Dutch ballerina who suffered from arthritis to her toes. The physician administered the deadly drug, saying it was a sad thing to do, but it was her persistent wish, as her life now had become meaningless! Sixty percent of doctors admit not reporting assisted suicide, even though reporting is mandatory, and twenty-five percent admitted committing euthanasia without patient consent. The Bible teaches that human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and therefore have inherent dignity and value, apart from perceived quality of life or lack thereof. God also makes it clear that He is the One to let live or cause to die (Deuteronomy 32:39), that He has ordained our days (Psalm 139:16), and that it is He Who gives and takes away [life] (Job 1:21). The euthanasia movement’s claim to ‘the right to die’ meets with several ethical difficulties from the Biblical perspective. Firstly, it puts man in God’s place to determine when a person’s life is to end. Secondly, it stops any possibility of recovery of patients, many of whom have chosen the right to die even while not terminally ill nowadays. Thirdly, it denies God the right to bring glory to Himself even, or perhaps especially, through a shattered life. Joni Eareckson Tada is a worldwide known example of this. She was ready to die, but God used her in her state as an inspiration to many. Old and seriously suffering people in the congregation where I was a member were an inspiration to the young folk in coming to worship twice on a Sunday. As an elder put it, “Our octogenarians would walk barefoot over broken glass to bring their tired selves to the worship of God. How can we younger ones not be bothered?” The worship services were filled to capacity morning and afternoon! If any one could, from the human perspective, claim leanness where quality of life was concerned, it was the Apostle Paul. He suffered through a life of battering, persecution, and pain (2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) and he longed to be taken out of this life (Philippians 1:19-24), yet knew that God had, at that time, other plans for him, and he acquiesced. For him, quality of life was not the issue, but he had learned the importance of ‘giving thanks always in all things to God and the Father in


the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 5:20). Just note that he says ‘all things,’ not just the things that suit him emotionally. His life was principled, rather than lived on the whim of human, fallen emotion. Difficult as the issue regarding life and suffering may be, voluntary euthanasia is a sinful act against God the Giver (and Taker) of life and robs God of His glory. Allowing the death process to run its natural course (mercy-dying) is not objectionable Biblically speaking and to give palliative care to the person in question is acting mercifully without trespassing on God’s sovereignty and glory domain. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Psalm 51:4)

Dr Herm Zandman 2/07/2013


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