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"Don't Throw Away Your (baby's / aging / infirm) Life!"

April 27, 2014 Genesis 1:24-28, 4:1-12


The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in their excellent 2010 booklet In the Shadow of Death: A Christian perspective on euthanasia and assisted suicide quotes Wesley J. Smith: "As we chart the early years of the new millennium, we are at a crossroads that forces us to choose between two mutually exclusive value systems. Will we remain on the trail that leads ultimately to the full realization of the equality-of-human-life ethic and with it the tremendous potential for the creation of a true community, or do we take a hard turn down the slippery slope toward a coarsening of our views of the afflicted, the dying, the chronically ill, the disabled, and those in pain or depression, to the point were we feel they have a duty to die and get out of the way?" Which will it be?

Euthanasia (or "mercy-killing" as it's sometimes called) is one battleground when it comes to right-to-life. ChristianWeek's senior editor Kelly Rempel reviews some recent developments. She writes, "...death and dying has been at the forefront of some major news in the last few months. Just a few weeks ago, the Quebec legislature barely averted a vote that could have seen the province become the first in Canada to legalize voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. (The issue is far from over as it will likely be back for consideration in the National Assembly this month.) Meanwhile in BC, a judge ruled that caregivers must continue to feed an elderly Alzheimer's patient, even though her family says her wishes were always that she be allowed to die should she become incapacitated by the disease. In Belgium, the government recently legalized euthanasia for terminally ill children, just the latest in major acceptance of euthanasia in that part of the world.

"These are serious issues, with major moral and ethical implications. How do Christians approach death and dying in a way that maintains sanctity of life, that blesses the last days, that gives dignity to the one finishing their earthly journey?" How indeed?


Before we look at Biblical values that offer light to guide us in these ethically murky waters, let's first define what we're talking about. Especially what euthanasia IS and IS NOT. Euthanasia (according to the EFC) IS: "an action which directly and intentionally causes or hastens the death of another in order to put an end to a person's suffering, with or without the person's consent; or deliberate killing in order to put an end to a person's suffering, with or without the person's consent."

There are several things euthanasia IS NOT. (1) "Allowing a person to die of natural causes is not euthanasia. Thus, euthanasia does not include the decision to discontinue treatments that can no longer achieve their medical goals or are excessively burdensome to the patient. Such action does not cause death: it allows death to occur from natural causes."

(2) "Respecting a person's refusal of treatment or request to stop treatment that is medically useless or burdensome is not euthanasia. Under the current law in Canada, a person has the right to refuse any medical treatment, even life-saving treatment."

(3) "Giving drugs to ease suffering during a terminal illness, even if the secondary effect is to shorten life, is not euthanasia.The intent is different." Whereas on the one hand proper palliative pain care seeks to make a patient more comfortable, euthanasia (by contrast) seeks to hasten death. The EFC clarifies: "Few would disagree that it is wrong to starve someone. However, there is a point at which artificial nutrition and hydration, including tube and intravenous feeding, actually artificially prolongs life and prevents the person from dying naturally. As people come close to the end of life, they often stop eating and drinking as bodily functions shut down. It is the intention behind the cessation of food and water that defines the act as euthanasia."


There are four key Biblical principles or values identified by the EFC that govern how Christians should approach this topic. Maybe consider them "priceless pearls" or "treasured truths" - principles to value very highly!


Genesis 1:26-27 says: "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

We believe that human beings, who are created in the image of God, have inherent dignity and worth. Life is sacred and should be cherished. There is no such thing as a "useless" life, because our worth is not determined by what we can do or the pleasure we experience, but rather by who we are in relation to God and to each other. We believe that human life must be valued, respected and protected throughout all its stages...Life is a gift from God.All human life, being of equal value in the sight of God, is to be cared for and nurtured physically, emotionally and spiritually...The Supreme Court has recognized that Canadian society is "based upon respect for the intrinsic value of human life and on the inherent dignity of every human being..." ...Likewise, the Law Reform Commission has identified the sanctity of life as an essential value.


Luke 12:48: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Since life is a gift of God, we believe we each have a unique responsibility for our own life...Our society affirms that we each have the responsibility to manage our lives well. Our society also affirms the liberty of each person to live life as they will. Corporately, our society seeks to provide what's basic and essential to the exercise of that liberty through education, social assistance and health care. We do this not only to enhance individual freedom, but also to enable individuals to steward the gifts God has given them...We discourage...behaviour that is destructive to life, be it to one's own life or that of another.


In Luke 10:27, Jesus reiterated the command from Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbour as yourself."

Because people are created in the image of God and are the objects of God's love and grace, our lives are inherently valuable. Jesus teaches that we should love others as we love ourselves. In both the Old and New Testaments, the people of Israel and the followers of Jesus are commanded to care for the alien, the widow, the orphan, and the poor. In short, we are to care for the vulnerable in our society. In the famous passage in Matthew 25(34-36,40) about the sheep and the goats, Jesus suggested that inasmuch as we serve the vulnerable of our society, we are serving Christ. When we respond to those who cannot help themselves, we are acknowledging our own dependence on Christ's grace.


After murdering his righteous sibling, guilty Cain protested in Genesis 4:9, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Being created in the image of God means that we humans, unlike other creatures, have a unique relationship with Him and with one another. In Psalm 139, God calls us into being; ideally, we are born of our parents' loving union. In Ephesians 6(2,4) God commands children to honour their parents, and fathers to bring their children up in the "nurture and admonition" of the Lord. We're raised and nurtured by families and communities. We're not self-sufficient; we live in relation to others as a child, a sibling, a spouse, a neighbour, a friend, a co-worker, a citizen. From birth until death, we live in community and are interdependent. God requires us to be our brother's / sister's keeper and have a measure of responsibility for one another (think of all the "one another" commands in the New Testament). This interdependence gives rise to our various institutions and associations. For example, the legal system recognizes the responsibility and interrelatedness of the community and the person. Likewise, the community's responsibility for the individual is reflected in social welfare programs and provision of medical care. Our actions, and how we live our lives, affect others. Thus, the death of a person affects an entire community. Those who argue for autonomy in life-and-death decisions presume a narrow understanding of life and community. We can't claim absolute autonomy when it comes to the timing and method of our deaths.


What are some objections raised about euthanasia, and how can we as Christians answer them? I'll try to summarize a helpful 5-page appendix in the EFC paper.

A) Self-determination: Arguing for the right to choose the timing of our own death will become more frequent as our population grows older. People consider "life to be [their] property, to be disposed of as [they] see fit," without realizing there is an afterlife in which each person gives an account to God for their actions on earth. The Bible teaches us that God is sovereign over our lives. This contradicts the idea that we humans are in control of our lives. God made us stewards of our lives not owners; in Deuteronomy 32:39 God says, "There is no God besides me.I put to death and I bring to life." God is not only sovereign over life, but his sovereignty extends to death as well. The Bible teaches that God gives and takes life, and it is not a decision rightly ours to make (see Psalm 104:29).

B) Escape from a Life of Suffering: If it were legal to choose euthanasia or assisted suicide, people might respond to their fear of pain and dying by controlling when and how they die. But with advances in palliative care and end-of-life treatment, pain and suffering can be mitigated (significantly lessened if not altogether avoided) by medication and treatment. As Christians, we believe that God is able to sustain us and bring us through our suffering. 2 Corinthians 4:17 "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." Suffering may be real, but in it, God gives us the strength to endure. Sometimes we experience suffering in order that we might give glory to God when he provides a miracle, for instance when Lazarus died and Jesus brought him back to life. Sometimes God allows us to suffer in order for the growth and development of our character. And sometimes we do not know why we suffer, as Job, who never learned the reason for his troubles - yet God brought him through it.

C) Low Quality of Life: Today, quality of life is synonymous with autonomous living -- can the person feed and look after theirself? So babies with disabilities are condemned to death because they would never have a high quality life. Thus some suggest euthanasia for the mentally or physically disabled as well as the elderly. As Christians, we know that all people are of equal worth and value in the eyes of God, because he formed each of us and knew us before we were born. Created by God, our lives have intrinsic worth and an eternal purpose. Contrary to those advocating that older people should end their life when they are no longer socially useful or are no longer able to enjoy life as they once did, the Bible suggests that old age is something to look forward to: Exodus 20:12 "Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long."

D) Being a Burden to Relatives and Society: The tendency today is to assert that children have a right to their own lives, and therefore when parents are no longer capable of looking after themselves, they should not become a burden to their children. In general, people are living longer, and as a result, there is increased pressure on already scarce medical and social service personnel and facilities. [SEE GRAPH - RISING PUBLIC HEALTH COST PER PERSON] But in 1Timothy 5:4 Paul said, "...if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God." The fifth commandment says "Honour your father and mother." This implies some responsibility for looking after them in their old age. God, therefore, considers it an important role and responsibility for us to care for family members and the needy in society, including the elderly, orphans, widows and the sick. The Bible places significant value on the elderly because they are to be wise mentors and teachers for the younger men and women around them - not looked at as a 'burden'!


In closing - how might Jesus' attitude towards His demise inform ours? ChristianWeek's Kelly Rempel asks, "How do we consider our own end of days? Even Jesus did not look forward to dying. He pleaded with His Father to change what was coming, what would be a horrible, excruciating death, unjust and bloody. There were no 'end-of-life' measures taken for Him, save some sour vinegar and a mother's whispered comfort from far below. But He was ready.He would give it all to His very last breath.He would die well. And of course, 2000-some years later, we know the rest of the story. His death was the beginning of life itself. Jesus beat death back, defeated it, forever.

"Jesus' resurrection, His promise that death isn't the end, gives us hope, and reason to fight for the sanctity of all life beginning, middle and end. Live well.Die well. Not necessarily easily or quietly, but well." Let's pray.