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.
— John N. Clayton © 2022