In 2015, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that Robert Stransham-Ford was permitted to commit medically-assisted suicide. Because he died a day before the ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled the case invalid.
Definition: The term “euthanasia,” comes from two Greek terms, eu meaning “happy, good,” and thanatos meaning “death.” Typically in our culture, the term refers to “mercy killing,” the deliberate killing of a person, through active or passive means, who is suffering an illness believed to be terminal.
Arguments for euthanasia:
1. People have a right to die with dignity. People can make autonomous decisions, including the
right to privacy and a dignified death.
2. It is an act of mercy on the suffering person.
3. It is an act of mercy on the suffering family.
4. It relives the family of a financial strain.
5. It relieves society of a financial burden.
6. The difference between biographical life and biological life.
The Two Categories
Euthanasia is usually divided into two categories:
• Passive euthanasia
• Active euthanasia
The patient’s desire to die does not completely determine the morality of the situation.
Biblical Principles Applied to Euthanasia
1. God, not man, is sovereign over life and death.
• Suicide is, in essence, self-murder which is prohibited by God. It is condemned in Scripture (Jonah 4:3; Job 3; 1 Sam 31).
• God is sovereign and He alone determines the length of our days (1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 39:4).
• Because the Christian has been purchased by God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), he is responsible to honor God in his life. He does not own himself. God owns him.
• Physical life is essentially good, not merely a means to another good. Our bodies are not incidental to our existence; they are an necessary aspect of our being. Thus our physical life in itself is good.
2. Killing an innocent human is wrong no matter how merciful it may seem to be (Gen 9:6; Ex 20:13).
• Man is made in God’s image; therefore, life is sacred. God is the only one who has a right to make or take innocent life.
• If one takes the life of another human, he gives up his own right to life.
• Circumstances do not change this principle.
• God uses pain and suffering for His own purposes.
3. There is a distinction between protecting life and prolonging suffering.
• The Bible commands us to protect the life of the innocent, the helpless, and the suffering. We should provide the ordinary means of sustaining life – food and water, shelter, normal medical care, etc.
• Christian ethics demand that the infirm be treated in a humane, compassionate way (Prov 31:6).
• With today’s medical technology, doctors can keep a person’s body functioning far beyond the time it would naturally die.
Evaluation of Passive Euthanasia
Natural passive euthanasia is withholding unnatural life-sustaining equipment, so as to allow a natural death. These would include respirators and artificial organs, kidney machines, artificial heart, etc.
Unnatural passive euthanasia is withholding natural means of sustaining life: food, water, and air. It remains then to understand what circumstances would permit natural passive euthanasia.
1. Taking a life by euthanasia is never right, but allowing someone to die is not always wrong. Withholding food, water and air to do so is murder, because the action leads directly to death.
2. Modern technology has allowed us to keep alive a person with an incurable disease who is irreversibly dying. This is unnecessary.
3. Some technologies have to be distinguished from others.
4. The disease should be clearly irreversible.
5. The patient has veto power over the choice to not extend the life by artificial means.
*Material adapted from Brad Anderson & Norm Geisler
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa