Sunday, January 30, 2005

Euthanasia - To Kill or Not to Kill

This week's Vox Apologia topic is "Euthanasia," or, as it is sometimes called, "mercy killing." What can be said about euthansia from a Christian viewpoint? What is wrong with putting people out of their misery? We do it to our beloved pets - what's the big deal about extending the same "mercy" to our beloved friends and/or family? Why keep a terminal patient alive, when the inevitable will come anyway? Why utilize expensive, artificial means to sustain someone in a persistent vegetative state?

The answer lies in the Christian view of mankind. First, man is unique in God's creation in that he alone is said to have been created in God's image: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). Twice within the same breath we are explicitly informed about the imago Dei. It was not bestowed upon beasts; rather, man was given dominion over the animal kingdom. Consequently, there is a world of difference between putting an animal to sleep and euthanizing a human being, even if both are said to be "suffering."

What is it, though, about the imago Dei that makes euthanasia morally wrong? Setting aside the question of motives for a moment, euthanasia is, undeniably, the killing of another human being, a human being who bears the imago Dei. Anyone who wantonly kills another person has therefore placed himself under the judgment of God. As we read in Genesis 9:5-6, the Lord God says, "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made him." Here we have the specific application of the imago Dei as justification for punishing the deliberate taking of human life. Note, too, that capital punishment is the prescribed form of justice for murder. This was, of course, reiterated hundreds of years later in the law of Moses.

Secondly, a Christian view of mankind acknowledges God's supreme sovereignty (and, correspondingly, man's finiteness and limitations). God being sovereign means, among other things, that He alone determines our life span. It is His prerogative to set not only the hour of our birth, but the hour of our death as well. As the psalmist wrote, "And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them." (Psalm 139:16b) This is (or should be) a tremendous source of comfort for the believer, for it assures us that, from the divine viewpoint, there is no such thing as a premature death. Euthanasia, then, is a form of idolatry, a bald attempt to play God by determining who should live and who should die, based on little more than human notions of suffering and "quality of life."

Some attempt to justify euthanasia by highlighting their allegedly altruistic motives; namely, that it is more "merciful" or "compassionate" to kill someone rather than let that individual live in pain and suffering, or that somehow a diminished capacity warrants extinguishing that life. This, however, is not consonant with Scripture, and is a purely human definition of "mercy" or "compassion." Desiring to alleviate suffering is a good sentiment; however, the problem lies in that this so-called "mercy" is divorced from the truth of Scripture, which nowhere commends the taking of human life strictly for the purpose of eliminating suffering. Furthermore, even extreme physical pain is unlikely to be unbearable, given the medicine and palliative treatments currently available. And mental suffering, either on the part of the individual or his family? Again, counseling and/or treatment is readily available to those who want it. Similarly, the "quality of life" argument is an attempt to apply a man-made rather than divine yardstick to measure the worth of a human life. The insinuation that some lives are simply not worth living due to diminished physical or mental capacity is, at its heart, a denial of the imago Dei. Any worth or value of human life is directly attributable to man bearing the image of God, and is not a result of some intrinsic characteristic such as mental or physical capability.

Still others are more transparent in their motives, candidly admitting the financial advantages of euthanasia when faced with the prospect of sustaining a person for an indeterminate length of time on artificial life support. Why be burdened with caring for a shell of a human being in a persistent vegetative state? they reason. The key word here is "burden" - indicating selfish considerations rather than compassion and concern for the individual. Again, the Christian worldview deems that human life is invaluable due to the imago Dei and therefore cannot be compared to a financial bottom line. Furthermore, doctors have been wrong in their diagnoses regarding the permanency of vegetative states. There are documented cases of people waking up and recovering from seemingly irreversible comas, even after a number of years. Those who decide to pull the plug based on the limited knowledge of a fallible physician will always have a gnawing "what if...?" plaguing their conscience.

Man's attempt to define "mercy" and "compassion" inevitably leads to sliding definitions of "pain and suffering" and "quality of life," since they are ultimately based upon his subjective understanding, rather than Scripture. Financial considerations betray the selfish motive of euthanasia, subjecting the decision to live or die to a cost-benefit analysis. Accordingly, it is the Christian's duty to reject euthanasia as a consequence of humanistic, worldly thinking.

No comments: