One of the new problems people face today is the question of what to do when you have a painful terminal illness. Improved medical treatments have allowed us to live longer with diseases that previously would have ended life. This has led to increased interest in physician-assisted suicide.
As I write this, I am dealing with my younger brother facing the end of life due to a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. The disease has changed him from an active, in control, retired military officer to a man confined to a wheelchair, in great pain, and unable to care for himself. He and I have talked about physician-assisted suicide a number of times. Each time we do, the discussion gets more difficult.
Christianity Today (April 2017, page 18) reported that Lifeway Research found that 38% of the American public believes that physician-assisted suicide is morally acceptable when facing a painful terminal illness. Their study shows that 42% agree that physicians should be allowed to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives. Those numbers have been climbing, and they will continue to do so.
It is easy to give simplistic condemnations of those who choose to end their lives in this way. When we are in the situation, it becomes much more challenging. For the Christian, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Do we have any right to end the body’s life? Is a body racked with pain and twisted with a horrible disease a fit place for God’s Spirit? What effect does ending one’s life have on the loved ones? Is there ever a time when a person cannot minister to others even as they battle a horrible disease? These are all hard questions to answer.
It is obvious that our society is moving toward the time when euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide will be widely available. That is already the case in the Netherlands, and several states have passed laws allowing it. While the atheist may feel that human life should be treated like all other kinds of life, the Christian has a higher view of human life. This makes the decision more difficult when the end of life comes, but it also mitigates many of the fears and concerns that death brings. Life isn’t easy, and the end of life can be the most difficult. We need to study and pray together and support one another in these end-of-life issues.
–John N. Clayton © 2017