A Christian perspective on Euthanasia

28 October 15compassion, death, ethics, euthanasia

Euthanasia is a very topical issue at the moment.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the number of news stories recently about euthanasia. A few weeks ago, the governor of California signed into State Law the “End of Life Option Act”, allowing for voluntary euthanasia. This came on the back of the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old diagnosed with brain cancer and who moved to the state of Oregon (where euthanasia is legal) and ended her life before her 30th birthday.

And the debate about euthanasia is also close to home. In NSW a vote on this issue was defeated in 2013, but there will be a renewed push to revisit this issue in the current parliament. According an ABC poll at the last election, 72% said they were strongly in favour of it. A new single issue party, the Voluntary Euthanasia Party was on the Senate ballot in the last state election. Greens Member for Balmain, Jamie Parker has vowed to raise this issue in 2016. So the debate about euthanasia is coming once again.

Euthanasia is back on the agenda of public discourse – what do you make of it, and are you ready to speak about it?

IMG_2834A Screen Shot from the exhibition My Beautiful Chair, at the Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania

The word euthanasia comes from 2 Greek words literally meaning “good death”, and as a legal definition it refers to the act of killing or permitting the death of a hopelessly sick or injured person in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy. It is marked by 3 things:

1. It tries to bring about death in as painless a way as possible

2. Usually only seen as legitimate when medical treatments to cure or improve a sickness have been exhausted.

3. It involves another person – it is assisted suicide.

Now euthanasia can be voluntary – when the recipient gives an expressed intention and permission to die. And it can be involuntary – when next of kin make decisions on behalf of an unconscious recipient. But in a worldly sense, the aim is to bring on a good death in a terminal patient.
 This is one of those areas that Christians are qualified more than most to speak on. Euthanasia brings to the fore issues such as death, the value and meaning of life and an understanding of love – issues that believers should be well equipped to speak on given that we know Jesus. So how would you speak about this issue?

There are three main arguments that people give pro-euthanasia, yet must see them as unchristian.

(a) “People have a right to choose to die”. The current political and social environment holds independent autonomy as one of its key tenants. To argue against this severely cuts against the grain of our culture. Certainly, Christians should agree that individuals have rights, but we believe our lives do not solely belong to us. Christians cannot think of their lives as independent of God. Two reasons: God not only made the world, but sustains it too (without Him, no-one has life). Second, every human carries the fractured resemblance of their creator so our identity as people comes inextricably linked to Him. To decide that “my” life should come to an end reflects a desire to be more like Creator than creation.

(b) “It is the loving and compassionate thing”. The desire to bring relief to suffering should resonate with Christians and it is important for us to feel the weight of this argument. It is perhaps the strongest of the “cases” that can be made for euthanasia to be legalised because of the emotive force that comes with talking about particular people. In the heartbreak of suffering, it is not hard to think of euthanasia as an expression of love: When someone we care for is in great pain, or is in great suffering, then it is hard not to want to do anything to alleviate that suffering. This is particularly so because the conscious intention of the euthanasia is not “I hate this person and want to kill them” it is “I love this person and I hate what’s happened to them – I hate the situation that they find themselves in.” So for most advocates, euthanasia is about caring for people – about kindness, respectability and dignity in death. As Christians we are called to love, and there is something about the idea of minimising pain that resonates with us, isn’t there?

Firstly, such a statement falls into the trap of point (a) above. Secondly, Christian compassion is not about minimizing suffering, but maximizing care. As Christians, we expect suffering to be a part of a world ravaged by sin and we know that suffering will only truly be removed in heaven, when sin and death are done away with. So, true love will be ongoing and steadfast care (and prayer) throughout suffering. We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that death is our friend. Death is the enemy and so it is unloving to prematurely bring people into its clutches.

(c) “Resources are better invested elsewhere”. It is not wrong to be dependent on another person. Especially in the Christian community, there will be times when all of us need to rely on the support and love of other people. It may be ongoing. Christian friends need to work hard to care for the incapacitated especially in showing them that they are not a “burden” we would prefer to be removed to make others lives easier.  The value of a person comes in the fact that they are loved by Jesus. The terminal, the disabled, the crippled are no less valuable to God than the most successful businessman or athlete. Their life has meaning because of Jesus, especially so in the light of heaven, where believers will be clothed in perfection, in a body that will never perish, spoil or fade. For the terminally-ill unbeliever, we fall back prayerfully on the gospel of Grace, knowing that the Spirit of Jesus can invest them with eternal salvation even when bed-ridden. People might be valued less by society if they are dependent, but certainly not by God.

On a pastoral level, this issue may be ‘live’ and ‘raw’ for some of our friends to talk about, and so we need to be careful about how we speak on this issue. Our aim to love in our manner as well as our words.

In the end, the political debate is not about personal views – law is about promoting what is good for society. And so the question is this: Is euthanasia good for the people of NSW?

In Christ,

p.s. I recently gave a sermon on You can listen to it here.

p.p.s. A Prayer from the Anglican Prayerbook Service for Funerals:

You alone are the source of life.
May your life-giving Spirit flow through us.
Grant us your compassion one for the other.
In our sorrow, give us the calm of your peace.
Kindle our hope, and let grief give way to joy;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.