Euthanasia: A Problem of Technology or Values?
by Denny Hartford, Director of Vital Signs Ministries
(Address delivered at the 1991 Nebraska Right to Life Conference.)
The common debate surrounding the controversy of euthanasia is couched almost exclusively in terms of technology. Such newly-popular terms as "brain death"; "persistent vegetative state"; "intrusive means of nutrition and hydration"; "heroic" means of "prolonging death"; the common paranoia over being "kept alive on machines," and so on - all these terms help to present society's responsibility to the infirm and severely disabled as a radically new problem because of the advances in this century of medical technology.
Even believing Christians speak and act as though the 20th century has presented God Himself with some kind of dilemma - a problem caused by the forces of science going beyond even His scope of action. In such a context, Christians have begun to look at the absolutes given in Scripture in a rather condescending way. "Well, those were applicable in Jesus' time and perhaps even in the 19th century but they certainly can't be applicable now, at least not in a literal way. We have new problems; we have to find new solutions. We require a more up-to-date source of authority to guide us through these murky waters." An exaggerated representation? I don't believe so.
However, a stark contradiction to what is, in fact, the disbelief of our culture, is the eternality of genuine Truth. It is to that Source which the believer should yield in order to fully and truly understand the problems of any era. And a basic element of the revelation of God is its timelessness. "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever" the Bible promises us, and His truth as given in the Holy Scriptures is also timeless - forever "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). No, God's Hand is not restricted by modern medical technology. A 20th Century Tower of Babel has not been erected which displaces Him from the throne of Truth. The world will still be judged by the revealed standards of His righteousness as they pertain to any moral question. And yes, that includes all issues of the sanctity of human life. The real conflict over euthanasia arises from one's response to these moral absolutes. Indeed, the debate is not, at its core, an argument based upon technology at all but rather upon changing values - changing values about life, about man, about death, about suffering, and about our responsibility to be generous, compassionate and consistent care-givers to those in need.
Such modern luminaries as Ted Turner, of course, believe that the Bible is no longer appropriate in today's moral climate. In his opinion, even the Ten Commandments fail to fit the current standards of our technological expertise. Therefore, Turner, a former winner of the American Humanist Association's "Man of the Year," has come up with what he calls "Ten Voluntary Suggestions" which he believes should replace the quaint but outdated Decalogue. Lacking in his 10 "suggestions," of course, is anything remotely similar to what God commanded, "Thou shalt not murder." Of course not; as an avid advocate of abortion and euthanasia, Turner insists all obstacles to our culture's modern passion for death be removed. And certainly the Law of the Lord does provide such barriers because: 1) it clearly and unequivocally promotes the sanctity of all human life; and 2) it strictly prohibits the slaying of innocent human life. "Thou shalt not murder."
Contemporary culture does not need to dispense with the Ten Commandments; in fact, it does so only at its grave peril, for God's law is binding upon those that do not know Him as well as those who do. Please note this carefully, because as in all areas of faith and practice, a respectful submission to the moral authority of God is critical to a correct understanding of the moral dimensions of euthanasia. For an accurate understanding of God's perspective of euthanasia, one must begin - not with technological advances, nor with heart-wrenching stories of suffering, nor with graphic descriptions of severely ill persons; nor with pitiful language dehumanizing the disabled; nor with demographic charts outlining the "cost containment" factor. No; how to properly respond to all issues concerning euthanasia must begin with one's understanding of how careful meditation of the clear and unequivocal statement of God Almighty: "Thou shall not murder!" For the one who ignores this Commandment - believer or unbeliever, common thug or sophisticated physician; that person will one day face the righteous wrath of heaven for the lethal crimes perpetrated against those created in the image of God.
It is now an uncontested truism that we live in a post-Christian era. Whatever doubts there were about this point a generation ago have certainly dissipated. Sexual immorality of an extent and a variety that was once-unbelievable; the wide-spread abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs; the staggering and barbaric holocaust perpetuated by both surgical and chemical abortionists; the nearly complete destruction of the family; the regular glorification of sadism and moral perversity by our media; the ravages of AIDS and suicide and violent crime - all these and more are the temporary successes of Satan himself, the being who Jesus revealed as "the thief who breaks in to steal, kill and destroy." (John 10:10). The inherent dignity of the human being - each human being - is nearly overshadowed by the force of violence in our day. Nevertheless, the timeless truth remains despite all attempts to eradicate it. Despite the innovations of the esteemed Mr. Turner and his kind, God's eternal law stands. "Thou shalt not murder!"
Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. In the 20th century as well as in Eden, humans in their very nature bear the evidence of creation by the Lord's Hand in an unique, infinitely valuable form. People reflect the image of their Creator and, as such, represent the pinnacle of His entire, wonderful creation. Therefore, to murder an innocent human life, in addition to being a heinous crime against man, represents also the gravest act of blasphemy. Even if the killing is shrouded in the defensive justifications of abortion, infanticide or euthanasia, murder is always unacceptable to God. No public opinion poll can change the timelessness of His directive.
Christians especially must heed this message and be fully aware of the force which God intends. The Commandment does not read, "Thou shalt not murder unless you have a heartfelt motive." It does not read, "Thou shalt not commit murder until the 20th Century when advancing technology, overpopulation, economic considerations, fear of lawsuits, concerns over being a burden, and so on make it socially acceptable for you to do so." As the writer of Proverbs instructs us, we must "Write the commandments on our heart" and thoroughly live them. God forbid that we ever allow the world to re-write the words He originally gave or that we would fail to be brave champions for every part of His Revelation.
Christians serve the God of Scripture, not the god of this world. It is because of the loyalty that we owe to Him Who bought us with His own sacrifice that we are obliged to fight for the lives of unborn babies. It is also the source of our duty to fight for the lives of those who are threatened because they are handicapped or disabled or who, for any other reason, are potential victims to the disregard our culture shows for human life. It is because He commands us to meet the concerns of the truly needy that we must fight for the very right to life of the elderly, the infirm, the severely disabled, who sick though they may be, are not "vegetables"! Human beings are always human and therefore deserving of the full protection, respect and care others can provide.
Let me enlarge a moment upon this tragic error which is committed, even by Christians who have begun to heed more carefully the teachings of the world than the teachings of the Bible. A friend of mine, a generally faithful evangelical pastor, once spoke to me about the difficulty he had in going to the nursing homes and the hospitals in his regular visitation responsibilities. He confessed to me, "It's so sad to me because I have to deal with people who have been stripped of every shred of human dignity." You see, in this respect my friend's ideas had certainly been influenced more by the world than by Holy Scripture. I replied, "Pastor, have you pondered exactly what constitutes dignity in a human being? For instance, would you say that I possess dignity because right now I am continent or ambulatory or because I do not drool on myself? Am I dignified because I can still carry on a conversation with you about the nuances of theology? Perhaps you think I yet possess a 'shred of human dignity' because I am economically productive or because I do not require regular physical sacrifices from others? No! Human beings possess dignity because and only because we are created in the image and likeness of God - period!" My friend listened and soon agreed - "human-ness" is inherent in all people, regardless of age, race, degree of health, or social utility.
Let's use some common sense. When we were newborn babes, we were certainly not ambulatory. We were incontinent; we drooled; we were completely helpless. But no one claimed we were not fully human. (Well, until recently when someone like anthropologist Peter Singer argues that a healthy pig is "more human" than a newborn or some severely retarded children.) But back when moral lunacy was not yet the norm, no one dared to say that an infant did not possess inherent and invaluable worth. No one called babies "vegetables" or said they had been "stripped of every shred of dignity." Furthermore, those who looked after kids were not shamed, or criticized or thought of as foolish. They (the nurturing mothers and fathers and older siblings and cousins and neighbors) were applauded because they were doing something that was considered natural and necessary and compassionate. They were simply taking care of human beings that could not at that stage of life care for themselves. So why do we now so totally reverse these values when dealing with human beings at other stages of life? Is a baby's life only valuable because of its potential? No, rather it is due to the intrinsic stamp of the Divine. Therefore, we cannot allow the denial that the very same stamp is not imprinted upon anyone, including the disabled, the old, or the severely infirm.
This issue of information (more particularly, the source of information) is absolutely crucial to a full and accurate understanding of the euthanasia tragedy. For instance, nearly all of the information American Christians have regarding euthanasia, (including the meaning of such terms as being "kept alive on machines," "brain death," "persistent vegetative state", and so on) comes via secular news programs or, worse yet, from television movies which are cleverly crafted to present a point of view regarding morality and the sanctity of human life which are poles apart from that of orthodox Christianity. Now be honest; if you are like most Christians, you know that you have received considerably more "data" about euthanasia from these sources than you have from the pulpit or from reading material that is both scientifically and Scripturally sound. These news programs and "docu-dramas" manipulate the viewer to such an extent that even those who claim to believe "Thou shalt not murder," find themselves with emotions moving in a completely contrary direction. Indeed, the Christian whose informational sources are the organs of the mainstream media finds himself in that ironic situation where even if he remains able to think one way, he discovers he feels quite another about the issues in the euthanasia debate. The great call for believers, then, is to make sure that our emotions are always governed by correct thinking. This must be true in our lives no matter what the issue. The will of man must always be subservient to the will of God. The absolutes God reveals cannot be ignored nor altered simply because the T.V. anchorman presents them as old-fashioned or because the Norman Lear crowd demands them to be. So, please beware; when you discover that your emotions are taking you in a direction that is clearly contrary to the revealed Word of God (for instance, when your distress over the lingering suffering of an elderly man causes you to sympathize with the person who murders him via a so-called "mercy killing"), you can be quite sure that the problem lies in the naive and carnal emotions of man - not in the perfect absolutes of a holy, compassionate God.
Suffering: The Forgotten Virtue
A major source of the social impetus towards euthanasia arises from the deep and pervasive worries of Western culture about suffering. In America (a materialistic, youth-oriented, health-worshipping, pleasure-addicted society), physical suffering represents perhaps our citizenry's greatest fear. We have been trained to feel and think that way since we were children. When the chief aims of life are taught to be pleasure and ease, the threat of suffering poses an unbearable challenge. I carry in one of my Bibles an advertisement that came in a Sunday newspaper supplement years ago. It was a large, colorful poster advertising a big, beautiful, reclining chair. It was a beautiful ad, carefully created and expertly air-brushed to elicit pleasant thoughts of comfort. But what really struck me was the bold caption below the photograph of the recliner - "More than a chair...a way of life!" How exemplary this is of American culture! It is quite similar to the T.V. advertisements about another reclining bed company that I've seen advertised on movies which I've caught on Sunday afternoons. You probably know the one I'm talking about - it is the bed that you can sit in a hundred ways. You can sleep in it and eat in it and, for all I know, drive to the mall in it! It is a keen example of how deeply Americans love comfort. Furthermore, we love comfort to such an extent that we are increasingly dedicated to the eradication of whatever is discomforting, let alone pain or suffering. In this, the pro-euthanasia forces have met with a generally agreeable American public in pushing the doctrine that suffering cannot be tolerated - even if the antidote to suffering is death itself! "If the elimination of suffering requires the elimination of the sufferer - well, so be it! "No suffering! No pain! No depression! No sacrifice!" In fact, we Westerners hate suffering so much we no longer will even tolerate the suffering of others in our presence because it is simply too ugly, too frustrating and too much work for us to bear the burdens of others.
Have you been in a nursing home lately? Tragically, most Christians have to answer this question in the negative. So much loneliness; so much fear; so much anguish and pain, so much spiritual confusion and grief - and yet so little outpouring of Christian compassion to these people who live in need of the light and warmth which other people can provide. In every neighborhood in this country, there are these easily-located centers of ministry opportunity yet the Church is usually too interested in "fellowship" events to lend any of its time to people in conditions of suffering and loneliness. No, instead we choose to ignore even the desperate plights of the poor, the unwed mothers, the prisoners, the post-aborted women, the infirm elderly, the disabled, the bed-ridden, other needy persons while busily engaged in "care groups" made of middle-class people like ourselves whose "needs" pale in comparison. Why? Because even with the glaring light of Scripture revealing to us our responsibilities, our love of comfort causes us to turn our hearts away from that which would involve some sacrifice on our part; indeed, which would require the vicariousness of suffering ourselves.
The idea that suffering is something potentially beneficial is about as foreign an idea to our culture as one can get. Yet it is not foreign in the Scriptures, nor is it foreign to a thoroughly Christian way of life. Yes, if one worships pleasure and comfort, there's no question that she will denigrate, in whatever ways she can, the potential benefits (yes, benefits) of suffering. However, the believer in Christ claims to worship He Who has revealed Himself through the Bible. Therefore, Christians must earnestly consider the virtues of testing and purification and weigh them in a Scriptural "balance" against the belief system of a post-Christian culture. One must consider the development of patience, perseverance, and the acquisition of a spirit of compassion which the Word instructs us are the end results of suffering. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that these virtues are to be pursued vigorously, not avoided. Indeed, suffering is not only an inevitable part of life, but the Bible reveals godly suffering to be a key element in the life of a maturing, faithful servant of Christ.
Let's look at just a few of the many biblical texts relevant to this important point. "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings." (Romans 5:15) Now consider these lines closely. Ask yourself if this is an accurate demonstration of your feelings toward suffering. "We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit Whom He has given us." (Romans 5:3-5) In a similar vein, this is what the Holy Spirit speaks through the apostle Paul later in Romans 8:18. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." How exciting! This is one of those Scriptures that my late grandmother quoted often as she patiently endured the common difficulties of old age. Note the comparison the verse presents between enduring in this life with enjoying the eternal riches of life to come. It is openly admitted that there is hardship and suffering in life; but, these are shown to be opportunities to bring us closer to God and to refine the joys we will experience in our everlasting relationship with Christ. Verse 22 of this chapter states, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoptions as sons, the redemption of our bodies." The redemption of our bodies! One of the great promises of heaven is that though this "earthly tent" (as Paul calls it in 2 Corinthians 5:1) is continually decaying because of sin, even the physical body will be redeemed of those whose trust for salvation is in the work of Christ alone. It is a great, great hope! However, unless you understand its relationship to the patient enduring of life's trials, the meaning is lost as are the spiritual rewards. "For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness." (Romans 8: 24-25)
Another compelling passage detailing heaven's perspective on suffering and sacrifice begins with 2 Corinthians 4:7 and goes on through the first 5 verses of chapter 5. Let me quote here just a portion of this provocative challenge: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side but not crushed. Perplexed but not in despair. Persecuted but not abandoned. Struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." Even in the midst of true suffering, the inner man of the Spirit can be triumphant! How different this teaching is from a society that paints the rigors of life as something to be avoided at all costs - even if that avoidance requires premature, physician-induced death.
What does the Lord say through the Apostle Peter about suffering? Look at 1 Peter 4:12-13: "Dear friends do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering." Now this is an amazing declaration! Speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter emphasizes the normalcy of trials, even painful ones. It should seem obvious to us that trials can be painful but how uneasily this idea sits when it comes to our actually experiencing it. Do your conversations with the Lord go like mine often do? "Sure, Lord; I guess I'll take some testing if I absolutely have to, but hey; make sure it's not too tough. I mean; I don't want it to really hamper my style! After all, you know what my 'to do' list looks like Lord, so you know I can't afford to let suffering really interrupt my schedule. Okay? But sure, I'll take enough suffering that I can assure other people that I too have spiritual fortitude, but please make sure it doesn't last too long or hurt too bad or that it doesn't really interfere with the things I've got going!" Sound familiar? But the Lord says to us all (even we Christians who live in the pleasure and affluence of the United States), "Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange was happening to you." Peter says (in effect), "Grow up! What do you expect out of life? Don't be surprised by suffering but rather be ready for it; be equipped; be hardened for service as a good soldier of the King!"
The passage continues with this command: "Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.." (I Peter 4:13) Have you learned to truly rejoice in your suffering? Well, if you were thinking and living "Christianly," you would! It is absolutely essential to acknowledge the superiority of God's Word to our emotions, our weak wills, and our frail physical bodies if we desire to really know His will on suffering.
As hinted in some of these passages, a key element of God's allowance of suffering is certainly the eternal benefits which can be gleaned in the refined faith and character of the Christian who patiently endures it. This should be said to be an "inner" result and the Scriptures we've mentioned thus far emphasize this truth. However, there is another crucial purpose behind suffering, one that speaks powerfully to a world that needs to see beyond itself to the reality of the eternal God. Thus, suffering has an "outer" purpose that is also very important for us to grasp. Note the words of Jesus in John 9: 3. The context is the healing of a man who had been blind from birth and the disciples were questioning the Lord about whether the condition was a curse brought on by the sins of the blind man himself or of his parents. The reply of the Lord, however, emphasized that personal sin was not the issue at all. "It was neither that this man sinned or his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him." Jesus reveals here that real suffering, real pain, real loss is sometimes asked of human beings in order to more brilliantly illuminate the power of God. In this specific backdrop, agonizing suffering was required of a man to allow for a miraculous healing - a healing which testified to the supernatural authenticity of the Messiah. Other cases of Scripture show somewhat different ways in which God can be glorified through human trials. These include the testimony of patient endurance, the realization of mortality and sin which compels one to consider spiritual matters, and the opportunity for His grace and mercy to be bestowed through others to the person undergoing suffering.
Martin Luther wrote from an intense personal experience when he addressed the topic of enduring trials and testing. Throughout his life, Luther experienced ill health, often severe. He had to deal with problems of the heart, kidney and bladder stones, ulcerated legs, devastating prostate troubles, migraine headaches and recurrent breathing difficulties. However, Luther refused to see his illness as divine punishment but rather as a natural consequence of man's sinful state. It was to be countered with both prayer and medication but one relied ultimately on the will of God. Indeed, he felt God's presence and power more acutely in his sickness than in times of greater vitality. After recovering from an illness so serious that his basic life signs were undetectable, Luther wrote the great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," in which he expressed his trust in God's victory over the devil's forces with the concluding words, "Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom's ours forever."
Also, take note of the following words from the great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon. He too dealt with poor health all his life, but especially in the last decade of his life, he was nearly incapacitated by illness. He writes, "I have suffered many times from severe sickness and frightful mental depressions seeking almost to despair. Almost every year I've been laid aside for a season, for flesh and blood cannot bear the strain, at least such flesh and blood as mine. I believe, however, the affliction was necessary to me and has answered salutary ends. But I would, if it were God's will, escape from such frequent illness. That must be according to His will and not mine." An honest admission of the pain that trials involve, but near the end of his life, Spurgeon also wrote this, "I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the possible exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of much greater use to the saints than has health."
These testimonies can provide an excellent beginning for our revised ideas about suffering. Seeing trials through a spiritual perspective is very, very important for each Christian. It is necessary for an enlightened understanding of euthanasia, but crucial too for a godly approach to personal suffering. Let me give you a stirring example from my own experience which demonstrates elements of all of these purposes of suffering. A friend of ours who is now a pastor down in Phoenix went into inexplicable convulsions when he was a very young man. He was put into the hospital for a week. The doctors never did diagnose what was wrong with him and he has never experienced a recurrence of anything remotely akin to those convulsions even though that incident occurred 22 years ago. However, because of the strong Christian testimony of my friend and his brother, the man that was hospitalized right next to him was convicted of his need of the Savior and he confessed Christ as Lord. Now at least part of God's purpose in this situation seems rather obvious. Suffering and a believer's willingness to endure it patiently without groaning or complaining to God helped create a light in that hospital room that drew another man to eternal life. How exciting! I'm sure many of you could relate similar experiences.
A good friend of mine is Ann Hovanec, a wonderful woman whose husband is one of the pastors down at the Open Door Mission in Omaha. Not many years ago, Ann's mother, who was a devout Christian, was dying. Ann tells the story about how much she loved and admired her mother for her teaching, her lifelong example, her devotion to Jesus Christ. When her mother was experiencing her last painful days in New York, Ann went back to sit at her bedside. As the suffering grew more intense, Ann talked to her mom about how she admired her all the more for the way that she was enduring the suffering - how she was continuing to love God and to praise Him even in her pain and incapacitation. Ann's mother said to her, "You know, Ann, all my life I've tried to teach you how to live. I thank God that I now have the chance to teach you how to die."
Christians in the West need to learn how to suffer in a spirit and with a resolve that glorifies Jesus Christ. We can do this by learning from the beautiful and intense examples given to us by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We can do this by paying close attention to our spiritual heritage. Most of all, we must learn from the Holy Scriptures. We need, both for our sakes and for the sake of a lonely, frightened and spiritually lost world, to learn how to bravely and cheerfully bear up under even the most severe trials. In the same way, we must also dedicate ourselves to ministries of mercy - revealing to the whole world the true heart of God. As we do so, I want you to imagine the incredible witness we can provide to an unbelieving world - a world full of people who are without a firm grasp of the eternal life offered to them by the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The Director of Citizens United resisting euthanasia is another pal of mine, Earl Appleby. For Earl, the fight against the death ethic of euthanasia has not been an abstract one for he and his family have lived out the theology presented in this article. They have faced the difficulties of physical and emotional suffering in a great struggle, but they have shown many of us how tender and beautiful and strong the life of Christ can be when lived in accordance with God's will. You see, Earl's father died last year after years of a severely incapacitating illness. Yet Earl and his mother and sister lovingly cared for his father at their home, because they could not rely on quality, spiritual care elsewhere. This family cared for their husband and father for many years. I want to tell you, I've been in their home and have been able to participate with them in the activity of feeding Earl's dad, talking to him, praying for him. I cannot express the awesome sense of holiness that existed in that back bedroom of the Appleby home. Yes, even by his suffering, in that state of being as helpless as he was, Earl's father provided the opportunity for his family to be ministers of Christ in an unique and very powerful way. Again, this is so foreign to us - the idea of sacrificially providing care in such difficult circumstances...care over a long period of time...care that takes us away from our culture's preoccupations with ease and comfort and entertainment. I ask you to look inside your own conscience; look at your own loved ones; look honestly at your own fears and complaints about suffering; and then take your heart to the clear teachings of the Word of God. Only through His clarity can we understand the sanctity of life and the place of suffering.
Death: An Enemy or a Friend?
Even in what would seem to be a plain matter, contemporary Christians have actually begun to accept new and intriguing ideas about death. These ideas come from many sources but here too, as in all areas of life, we must examine them all by the eternal light of God's Word. Let it be plainly said: Death is our enemy; Death is not our pal. Yes, even though Jesus Christ has by the power of His cross removed the sting of death for the believer, Scripture never treats death as anything but our enemy. Death is to be exposed, not masked! It is to be fought, not embraced! The attraction of our culture to death is eerie but it is evident to those who thoroughly investigate the scene. Suicide, assisted suicide, violence in the streets, abortion-on-demand, lawyers clamoring for the "right to die," the euthanasia agenda; the "menu-guide" of Derek Humphrey's best-selling Final Exit - the evidence is pretty overwhelming. Where did the love affair with death start? Well again , a great deal of the momentum comes from the love of comfort which is entrenched in our society. It is so deep that the cessation of suffering, even if it requires death itself, is not only acceptable but desirable. Another source to be noted is the movement of thanatology, with its optimistic recounting of "near-death" experiences. There are also the very popular doctrines of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross whose rhetoric of the "stages of dying" (denial, alienation, anger, etc.) are much better known than is the fact that Kubler-Ross was involved with the occult and conversed with spirits. If the Christian begins to "patronize the death angel," as it were, and treat death as only a portal into some ethereal world of light and music, his deception will damage more than his own experience. Indeed, Scripture is clear about not only the reality of death as the "wages of sin" but also the reality of damnation for the unbeliever. Death is no picnic, no stroll down the tunnel to a nether world. It is either the "homecoming" of he or she who has trusted in Christ's atonement ("absent from the body, present with the Lord" as II Corinthians 5: 8 states) or it is the ultimate tragedy of eternal separation from God and all others. To the degree that the Church is muddled on this key truth, then to that same, sad degree believers will tend to ignore: 1. the duty to battle to our last breath the enemy which is death; and, 2. the desperate necessity of evangelization which bids us tell the "good news" of Christ's atonement. To forfeit our responsibility to do either of these tasks is a serious departure from orthodox Christian teaching.
"Death with dignity" is, of course, one of the common slogans that clouds the biblical revelation concerning death. Let us therefore go back to basics in order to evaluate the slogan. Death exists because of the wages of sin - (Romans 3:23 and a host of other Scriptures emphasize this.) It is the end of the physical body. It is the complete breakdown of our flesh followed by the unavoidable ugliness of decay and destruction. So, how can we actually mask death's horror by mere words? Death is not dignified; no one should pretend that it is. I hear this line often and I think, "Just what on earth does 'death with dignity' supposed to mean? Is this supposed to be like the movie version of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar - the hero going down with the ship after winning his great victory with strains of "Hail Britannia" playing as he slipped into the 'great beyond'?" True, one can meet death in a dignified fashion; one can face whatever assails them humility and with courage and trust in God. But death itself is certainly not dignified. Death is a horrible experience. It is the wages of sin. Remember in heaven, for instance, there will be no death! In Eden, the perfect paradise before the fall, there was no death! Again, this doesn't mean that for the Christian death need be feared, but it does need to be fought! We do not negotiate peace terms with the angel of death nor ignore its stark reality. Indeed, the faithful believer is one who understands death and fights it - all the time joyfully telling others of the "good news" of salvation which allows people to meet He Who overcame death. It is the same foundation from which Christians who genuinely care about the sanctity of life need to ban together to fight the abortionists of every stripe and to also oppose those who would kill other victims via lethal injection, the withdrawal of food and water, and so on.
It is Satan who loves death. In John 10:10, we read Jesus' description of the devil as "the thief who breaks in to steal, kill and destroy." Satan is doing this in our culture on an unprecedented scale. Not only with the mass destruction that we see in war or the holocausts of Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin that we've seen in this century but, as we've examined earlier, through suicide; abortion; drug abuse; gang violence; murder rates; and now euthanasia. The devil loves death, but the Christians should love life. "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants." (Deuteronomy 30:19)
The Agenda of Mercy
The problems thus far presented are real ones but we must bravely face them all: the weakness of the Church's defense of the sanctity of all human life; the indifference with which we have read the Bible's teaching about suffering; and the compromise Christians have made with our culture's embrace of death. However, there remains another tragedy which we must now address and correct if we are to respond in a positive way to the new threat of euthanasia. It involves our willingness to once again accept a Christlike attitude towards those in desperate physical and emotional needs. Is it not grievous that our hands have become atrophied when it comes to ministering to the sick, to the elderly, to the severely disabled? This is a great stain on the reputation of the Church and a great cause of sorrow to the Lord Jesus Himself. For example, when the first hospitals were founded, beginning in the fourth century, they were done so by Christians. Historically, it has been the people of faith that have created the orphanages, the centers for the sick, the outreaches to the lepers, the schools, the missions, and so on. However, we now leave these tasks largely to the government or to the secular charities such as United Way or the Shriners. But it was once the Church who cared for the sick. One should not need to list all the Scriptures that exhort us to minister to those in need in order to establish this mandate; there are so many, including the plentiful examples provided by Jesus Himself. We cannot shrug these clear commands away. Indeed, if the Church fails to demonstrate our concern, our compassion, our willingness to suffer and sacrifice along with others, then we will have very little right to say to the world, "Don't kill yourself." Our moral authority to oppose euthanasia will rightly be measured by our compassion as well as our courage. Remember the example in the epistle of James when the picture is presented of a man in great need being met by a "believer" who merely says, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," yet does not give the man what is necessary for his body? The Bible asks, "What profit is that faith?" The needy man is naked. He is hungry and thirsty. And James issues this stern warning - a warning directed at Christians of all times and cultures. What profit is it if anyone says to him, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled" but then fails to respond in positive compassion? If Christians simply say to the world, "Don't kill yourself. Don't allow your doctor to assist you in suicide. Don't murder people by lethal injection or by starving them or dehydrating them to death," but are then unwilling to demonstrate the comprehensive love of Jesus Christ to the sick, the lonely, the disabled - , our message will never be taken to heart.
One of the beauties of the pro-life movement in its struggle against abortion is that pro-lifers have not just come to the battle with picket signs, but with Crisis Pregnancy Centers, shepherding homes, adoptive parents, post-abortion counseling, real assistance to people in problem pregnancies, and fervent intercession, and factual information. There is ample evidence of our compassion along with our justifiable protest over the killing of the "little ones." Praise God for this type of consistency. We now need to demonstrate this comprehensive compassion in our battle against euthanasia.
A beginning step in this compassion is to avoid the dehumanization of certain people which the euthanasia movement encourages. As I have emphasized, a person is created in the image and likeness of God. This is true of every person, no matter their age or the condition of their health. Therefore, let me say it plainly: No one is ever a vegetable! Indeed we all should pledge to God and to each other that we fully accept His teaching that people are never carrots; they are never lettuce. So, too, let us pledge to never again use the word "vegetable" to describe a fellow human being, no matter how sick they are. Let us watch closely our language because it both reflects and contributes to our incorrect thinking about the elderly, the disabled, the sick. The inherent human dignity that all people possess need not be reflected in any way that you can quantify, any way that you can even discern. The inherent dignity of any person's life lies not in any ability he possesses, but simply in the fact that he is!
This sanctity of life ethic has tremendous ramifications for Christians as we seek to be the "salt of the earth" in our time. It means, for instance, that we show compassion and respect and dignity to all patients. It means we should not treat people, at any point in their sickness, as cadavers. We should not treat them as mere donors for parts others can utilize; nor kick them out of the hospital and thus bring on an early death because they are not rich enough; nor starve them to death because we discern no "quality" in their life. This latter example applies to an alarming practice in Western hospitals and nursing homes right now. In fact, the euthanasia struggle currently lies at this crucial juncture; namely, the killing of patients through so-called "passive" means by denying them the life-sustaining necessities of food, water, oxygen, or antibodies.
When I grew up, a common form of entertainment were the classic westerns of Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, and their kind. I think often of a frequent scene in such movies when I am considering the denial of these basic needs. Remember the scenes where a fellow would be riding on the buckboard or the Conestoga wagon or the stagecoach when suddenly out of the blue....Thunk! an arrow right through the chest. The guy falls over into the dust and he gasps out, "Water, water!" And you know what happened - the hero would kindly give them a drink while treating them with sympathy and warmth. But in today's culture, the modern cowboy would probably play the scene quite differently. He would climb down, start to unscrew his canteen but then catch himself suddenly before committing a medical "faux pas". He might say, "Whoa! What am I doing? I'm sorry, old pard, but giving you a drink of water would only be prolonging the dying process, and after all, I sure don't want to do anything 'extraordinary' or commit you to an obviously 'burdensome' treatment! It's pretty obvious that your 'quality of life' is pretty darn near gone, my buckaroo, and so I'm gonna help you have a 'dignified death,' yes siree!" So, he screws the cap back on the canteen, gets on the wagon and takes off. As kids, of course, we would have immediately rejected such a scenario and rightly so. Have we become so much more foolish as adults?
A much keener description of this point than even these memorable old movies, however, is made by Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, who described the faithfulness of His servants like so - "When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. When I was hungry, you fed me." Note carefully also, it was to the unfaithful that He said, "When I was thirsty, you gave me not to drink. When I was hungry, you did not feed me." A very profound Scripture for our time!
Finally, let me address the problem of desertion. Many of you know all too well how very difficult it is to get to a loved one who is hospitalized in the intensive care unit. My belief is that our fear of those days or months immediately preceding death involve our fear of being deserted in our pain and loss more than anything. This is an area of concern which we should turn into institutional reform because, for the most part, it is not medical reasons that keep us out of that intensive care unit. Rather, it is the concerns of economics and the unnecessary ease of the medical facility which creates this isolation. A room "uncluttered" by family and friends of the patient makes it easier for the staff perhaps, but certainly not for the patient. Such action is often called "medical feasibility" which is the same excuse used in the talk about feeding tubes and other medical treatment. But, in so many cases we are finding out that what constitutes "feasible" concern is economic, not medical. For instance, the hospital may only have one float nurse on duty at night and she simply cannot go around and spoon feed every patient; therefore, they go with gastric tubes. We need reform in this area! We desperately need to return to an ethic that treats the patient's needs rather than the extraneous ease of the medical establishment.
For the Church of Jesus Christ to abandon the sick, the disabled, the needy is a tremendous stain on our reputation. We should have little wonder that the world is indifferent when we talk about the gospel. The answer comes back to us when we look in the mirror - we Christians are not living a dedicated obedience to the Scriptures. We are not standing for the virtues that are embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ. Were we to do so people would more likely receive our message in the same way that the man came to Christ through the sweet testimony of my friend in that Omaha hospital room.
I challenge you as individuals, as families, as pro-life groups, and churches. I challenge those who are running a C.C.D. class, or teaching Sunday school, or leading a Bible study, to go and create a service ministry out of visiting the sick and the needy. It may break your heart and it will certainly require a bit of effort and time and spiritual energy, but go to them. Do not desert them in this hour - go to minister the love and Christ.
As we go to the foundation of Truth; namely, the Revelation of God in His Word, we can re-discover the beauty and supernatural sense which alone can heal our critically-ill culture. The Scripture rather than the media and the "experts" of the world, must become our source for a renewed dedication to the sanctity of every human life. From the Lord we receive instruction on how to respect the inherent dignity of people because of the intrinsic stamp of His image on each and we take from Him those challenges we have examined here: to patiently endure suffering and receive it as a normal and beneficial part of one's spiritual pilgrimage; to treat death as an unequivocal enemy; and to make our hearts and hands quick to serve the needs of those in our midst. The bankrupt and nihilistic philosophies of euthanasia can be effectively opposed as we understand His heart and fight in His power.
"Father, I pray as a community of believers that we all would catch new visions from you. You never want us to become satisfied with our performance of the past. I pray specifically that you would give us a new vision of Your specific calling in our lives. Then, please equip us to do Your work. Lord, I ask that our defense of the sanctity of human life and our zeal to be Your lights would capture the hearts of many non-Christians as they begin to see the Lord Jesus in us, living out the commands of the Faith. I ask these things in the name of Christ, our Redeemer and Lord. Amen."