Technological advances bring new issues for society to face. Near the top of the list is the question of euthanasia. Medical advances now allow people to live a very long time with health issues that would have resulted in early death in the past.
On January 7, 2022, Victor Escobar became the first person in Colombia without a terminal illness to legally end his life by injection. The country removed the penalty for euthanasia in 1997, but only for people considered to have less than six months to live. In Escobar’s case, he had several physical problems, including two strokes, obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, and pain. However, he was not considered terminal by the medical profession.
Escobar’s case was the first in Latin America, and it got attention because the Catholic Church issued a statement. The church said that “any action or omission with the intention of provoking death to overcome pain constitutes homicide.”
The question of euthanasia is fundamental to Christians. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, we read that the body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 make it clear that the body has a special relationship to God’s Spirit. The other issue involved in euthanasia is what constitutes justification for killing a person. Is mental or spiritual pain a valid justification? There is a “slippery slope” concern in euthanasia where a correctable or temporary mental problem can be used to justify taking a life.
Many states in the U.S. have legalized so-called “death with dignity,” and organizations are working to make it nationwide. Several other countries have enacted such laws, and in a few cases, a physician has euthanized a patient without their permission.
While we can understand Escobar’s situation and the growing push to make euthanasia an accepted part of life’s journey, human life is not the same as animal life. Euthanizing a dog is not the same as killing a human. I have known Christians with chronic conditions who used their pain to minister to others, heal old emotional wounds, bring peace, and correct previous mistakes.
Rather than treating humans as highly evolved animals with no more value than a frog, we need to work to relieve all pain. The same technology that allows people to live despite a chronic illness should also be able to ease the pain caused by the condition. In addition, we can provide alternatives to ending life by caring for all people on their spiritual journey. The question of euthanasia should lead us toward allowing God to determine when the end of life should be.
One of the facts of life is that eventually, we will all die. Many of us have seen people endure enormous pain over a long period before death finally came. I am thankful that my wife Phyllis and my son Tim did not go through months of intense pain before passing on. Medical science has made great progress in extending life but has not been as effective in relieving pain. That is part of the reason we have seen a movement for legalizing physician-assisted death.
New Jersey passed a “Medical Aid-in-Dying” law two years ago, and last year 33 terminally ill people in the state ended their lives. Since 2016, California has had “The End of Life Option Act.” New York has a “Good Death” Act moving through the legislative process. The movement to legalize physician-assisted death is not confined to America. Holland was perhaps the pioneer of physician-assisted death in Europe. Columbia became the leader in South America back in 1997. The “Colombian Pain Institute” administers euthanasia for “intense physical or mental suffering due to an injury or incurable illness.”
The Week magazine for October 22, 2021 (page 8) carried a report demonstrating the difficulty of legalizing physician-assisted death. In Colombia, a 51-year-old woman named Martha Sepulveda has ALS and was scheduled to be euthanized. She would be the first person in Colombia to receive physician-assisted death without a terminal prognosis. However, the Colombian Pain Institute concluded that “her condition had improved” so she is no longer qualified for the procedure. Now she has a lawyer fighting for her right to die because she “is not willing to continue to live.”
Christians have concerns in this matter. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, we read that our body is “the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us.” The next verse tells us not to defile the temple. This concept is continued in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, which teaches why a Christian should not be involved in prostitution. In ancient times, death came more quickly than in today’s world with modern medicines. Therefore, a person near death today deserves special attention and Christian compassion. In Proverbs 31:6-7, we read, “Give strong drink to those who are ready to perish, and wine to those who are of heavy hearts.” When David was near death, he was chilled, and a woman came to warm him not for sexual purposes but to relieve his discomfort. (See 1 Kings 1: 1-4).
The doctors I know are horrified at the prospect of deciding to end someone’s life. It is hard to assess the collateral damage of someone saying, “I choose to die rather than blessing others, especially my family.” In many cases, financial concerns are a significant motivation for ending life, and there are horror stories of involuntary euthanasia in Holland. Christians should lead the charge to develop medical steps to relieve suffering and pain. Financial problems should not be an issue in a wealthy country like the United States.
From an atheist’s viewpoint, death is the end, and physician-assisted death is merely the solution to suffering. However, I continue to be reminded of my son’s last words to me before he died. He said, “Dad, I am going to see Mom, and I will actually be able to see her and be with Jesus.” These words were from a blind, mentally challenged, COVID-ravaged young man who had battled muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and schizophrenia all of his life. He was ready to move on to something better.