Euthanasia and assisted suicide are technically different, but in both cases homicide and the violation of the sanctity of life are involved. In one case, it is murder, and downright suicide in the other. In euthanasia, an agent who is usually a physician, whether voluntarily or requested, brings about the death of the patient by administering some lethal treatment. In assisted suicide, the individual himself or herself carries out the act with guidance and means provided by the agent, (in legal terms, the agent is accessory to the fact).
Suicide or self-slaughter is in fact murder and therefore a violation of God’s law. Characters in the Bible who committed suicide did so in tragic situations and were all persons who had fallen away from God. This is true of Ahithophel, Abimelech, Saul, Judas and arguably Samson. (2 Samuel 17:23; Judges 9:54, 1 Samuel 31:4, Matthew 27:5, Judges 16:30). If suicide is morally wrong, so is assisted suicide. Assisted suicide like euthanasia is defended under the principle of the individual’s „right-to-die‟ which admittedly is a controversial concept. There is certainly no doubt that in addition to ownership by creation, the Christian is bought by God and is not his/her own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In any case, by making all mankind in his own image, God has not only made life sacred but exercises sovereignty over life and the right to give and take it. Like euthanasia, assisted suicide is an affront to divine authority and a violation of the sacredness of life which has a spiritual dimension. Assisted killing, however, should be distinguished from the patient’s decision to refuse treatment which merely sustains life artificially. The right to be allowed to die is in order in that situation.
Arguments in favor of euthanasia seem appealing on the surface. Proponents base their case on humane feeling and a supposed basic human right – the right to die. It is directed at terminally ill persons especially those who are in unremitting pain. The term, “terminally ill‟ is problematic since some persons who have been so diagnosed, continue to live long after the physician’s prediction. Due to the vagueness and uncertainty associated with the concept „terminally ill‟, further qualifying conditions such as suffering severe physical or psychological pain, physical or mental debilitation are added. These vague terms merely leave the helpless and hopeless patients open to abuse.
Indeed evidence of abuse has been documented. Euthanasia has been inflicted not only on the diagnosed terminally ill, but on the chronically ill, and those in acute physical and psychological distress. It is even suspected that euthanasia is used as a means of eliminating some infirmed and disabled persons in order to relieve relatives and the State of the burden and cost of healthcare. As Dr. Ndigi Dagbue of the St. Lucia District asserts, this cost-containment matter “would mainly affect the poor who cannot afford private health insurance”. 1 The “right-to-die‟ argument is baseless on both logical and biblical grounds. God who is the giver of life and has appointed our death, and is the only one authorized to take life. (Hebrews 9:27; Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).
“Mercy-killing” which is an approval term for euthanasia raises serious ethical principles. This is why it is not universally endorsed and even in countries where it is legalized, the medical profession is divided on the propriety and morality of the act.
Based on these considerations, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies (PAWI) joins with those who condemn euthanasia, and applaud the several Medical Associations whose members predominantly oppose it. In this we are on good and godly grounds. It is contrary to God’s laws and the laws of many nations for persons to take their own lives or the lives of others. When man arrogates to himself the power to terminate life, he or she usurps the divine authority and comes under condemnation.
Euthanasia used as a means of relieving society of its obligation to care for the sick and infirm is a shameful dereliction of duty and a serious moral failure. Instead of euthanasia or assisted suicide, the emphasis should be placed on treatment and care which soothes, and alleviates pain and suffering to the greatest extent in the hopelessly ill. Miracles are still possible and this makes it dangerous to terminate a life before God’s appointed time. PAWI recognizes a difference between removal of artificial life-support and euthanasia. It endorses the position of the National Association of Evangelicals in their 1994 Resolution on the issue:
“Where patients are terminally ill, death appears imminent and treatment offers no hope of cure, it is morally appropriate to request the withdrawal of (artificial) life support, allowing natural death to occur.”
PAWI reaffirms the sanctity of life, which the Bible as the word of God, upholds. The taking of human life in any form is wrong except in the case of judicial punishment administered by the state and the abortion of a fetus to save the mother’s life where the mother’s life is in jeopardy in childbearing. We are not indifferent to human suffering and commend continuing investment in effective modes of palliative care along with Christian-based psychological counselling. To contribute further to patient well-being and the alleviation of suffering we recommend that Christians get involved in:
- The care of patients who are terminally ill or face an indefinite period of suffering.
- The provision of appropriate spiritual and psycho-social support for those with incurable illnesses.
- The education of patients on their condition and prospects, and the legitimate options open to them.
Approved by General Executive – May 15th 2010; Ratified at 33rd General Conference – May 16th – 21st 2010