Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) was legalized in Canada in June 2016. The term euthanasia will be used instead of MAID to differentiate it from palliative care. The conditions under which a health-care provider can legally administer euthanasia in Canada are several: a person must be at least 18 years old and competent at the time of administration. They must be suffering intolerably from a physical condition that is considered grievous (serious) and irremediable (no cure). They must be unwilling to undergo any further treatment for that condition. Their death must be reasonably foreseeable. Suffice it to say that attempts to loosen up the eligibility criteria have resulted in current challenges to almost all of these conditions.
How might a Christian help a fellow believer contemplating the option of euthanasia? Firstly, they might seek to provide clarity and reassurance for that person, then walk alongside them in the last part of their earthly journey. Supporting palliative and hospice care, where available, is a practical way of doing this. Communities of faith must rally around the affected believer and their family, thus becoming an extended support system. This is true even while the believer is exploring and possibly pursuing euthanasia. Persistent and committed support makes a definite difference in the outcome.
It may become necessary to provide clarity to the Christian response to euthanasia. Is euthanasia a sin? Is it morally wrong in God’s eyes? Traditionally, the church has considered euthanasia, like suicide, to be a sin. Why is this so? Consider the answer to that question from an evangelical Protestant point of view.
The guide to right living is found in the Holy Bible. A Christian can discover God’s will for their life and how they should live by reading, understanding and obeying the truths of the Bible. This is possible only by the revelation and guidance that come through the Holy Spirit. Of course, a person should seek aid in their understanding through the teaching of like-minded Christians and spiritual leaders. Ultimately, however, an individual must make their own decisions. Once decided, they should follow their conscience (Romans 14:5,12). A healthy conscience grounded in Scripture, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, is their moral compass.
God’s Word does not directly address the morality of euthanasia even though historically it had been practised by some ancient cultures. Biblical stories of suicide, though, are generally regarded as human failures. Some of these occur in the face of extreme emotional distress, as in the case of Judas (Matthew 27:3-5; Acts 1:24-25), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23) and Zimri (1 Kings 16:18-19). Others occur in the heat of battle, like King Saul and his armour-bearer (1 Samuel 31:3-6) and Abimelech (Judges 9:52-54). In the case of Samson, upon reconciliation he demonstrated the ultimate act of self-sacrifice (Judges 16:28-30). Throughout church history, suicide has been considered a sin, even a sin that “leads to death,” which may prevent a person from going to heaven (1 John 5:16-17). When suicide is a consequence of mental illness such as severe depression, concessions are made because the person is less accountable for their actions. In the case of euthanasia in Canada, to qualify at present a person must be in their right mind and not influenced by mental illness. Suffering itself, of course, can lead to extreme emotional distress, and this may be a causative factor in requesting euthanasia. It is critical, therefore, that a Christian who finds himself in this state be given adequate supportive counsel.
Further direction is taken from several other biblical principles. The first principle is that people are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and their God-given life is sacred (Psalm 139:13-16). Life is a precious gift given by God. It must be highly valued regardless of the circumstances of that life. The intrinsic value of life is not circumstantial. Suffering, even intolerable suffering, is not a just cause to relinquish or diminish its value. God can continue to use a person in their suffering to fulfil His will and accomplish kingdom work. The biblical stories of Job (Job 36:15-23) and our Saviour, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 Peter 2:21; 4:1-2) both provide in-depth examples of this biblical truth.
Another principle is that God gives and takes life, and therefore He should be the arbiter of deciding when life ends (Deuteronomy 32:39). When a person determines the day and hour of their death by requesting euthanasia, they usurp His authority. There is also the command that it is wrong to murder (Exodus 20:13). Although this is normally understood to be the malicious killing of another person, it can also include the determination to kill oneself.
Euthanasia is hastened death decided upon by the individual. It is an expression of self-determination. The Christian life represents the opposite: it is a life submitted to the will of God. A Christian gives control of their life over to God when their autonomy is surrendered (Galatians 2:20). This act of obedience is an important part of a committed Christian life.
Will euthanasia keep a Christian from going to heaven, God’s eternal reward? God is gracious and the merciful judge of all people, Christian and non-Christian alike. The ultimate answer to that question thus lies with God Himself, who understands each individual human heart and intention.
A Christian, when well, might have a clear aversion to euthanasia and yet, when ill, may find themselves willing to consider it. Why would this be? Anxiety and fear of the dying process play a role. This is different from death itself, which for a believer simply ushers them into eternal life with their Saviour (2 Corinthians 5:8). In addition, one might wish to avoid being a burden by sparing trouble for their family and caregivers. Also, one might be impatient to meet their Saviour and feel no need for further delay (Philippians 1:21-24). Or one might feel pressured by societal expectation that prolonging one’s death is an unnecessary expense and drain on the system. These are some of the reasons why a Christian might be tempted to choose euthanasia.
As euthanasia becomes more accepted and common in society, the above-mentioned Christian distinctives and reservations about it may become overshadowed. It will be critical to remember and live by these first principles. Adherence to Scripture and observance of a well-informed conscience will be vital to living out the Christian life to its ultimate earthly end as determined by the heavenly Father.
Donato Gugliotta has practised family medicine for almost 33 years and resides in Trenton, Ont., with his wife, Susette. They attend and serve at Bethel Pentecostal Church with their two married children and five grandchildren.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2020 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2020 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.