Is Euthanasia A Euphemism?
A euphemism is an agreeable, pleasant-sounding expression that is substituted for one that may be offensive or unpleasant. “Senior citizen” is a euphemism for an old person. “Husky” or “full-figured” are euphemisms for overweight or fat people. Is euthanasia also a euphemism?
The word “euthanasia” literally means “good death” or “easy death.” It is the act of killing, for reasons of mercy, persons who are hopelessly sick, handicapped or injured. Consequently, euthanasia is more commonly known as “mercy killing.” But is killing for reasons of mercy somehow less than killing? Isn’t mercy killing a euphemism for murder?
Why Not Euthanasia?
The issue of euthanasia is very real. Advances in medical technology have enabled us to prolong life far more than in the past, and all kinds of hard questions are being raised. For example, why shouldn’t an old person be allowed or even persuaded to die with dignity? Why drag out the life of the elderly who’ve already enjoyed full lives? And what about hopelessly ill or injured persons of any age? Why not mercifully “pull the plug” and by-pass a lot of needless pain and suffering? Why prolong the life of an infant born with major physical handicaps or severe mental retardation? Wouldn’t a lot of expense and years of anxiety be avoided if such newborns were just permitted or even “helped” to die a natural death?
These questions are just some of the many being raised in this uncharted area. Euthanasia is not an issue with quick and easy answers. In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult issues facing the Christian community today. What are the biblical answers to such questions?
You will not find the word “euthanasia” in the Bible, but there are scriptural principles in God’s all-sufficient Word that apply to this complicated matter. The following five verses give us some guidelines and boundaries for our thinking on this issue: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13 NIV); “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Ex. 4:11); “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10); “There is no god besides Me. I put to death and bring to life” (Dt. 32:39); “There is a time for everything … a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:1-2).
On one hand, the Bible teaches that to willfully and deliberately terminate an innocent human life is wrong. To do so breaks the sixth commandment which expressly prohibits murder (Ex. 20:13). But what about life that is less than normal? God’s response to Moses in Exodus 4:11 is a strong statement showing that the presence of physical handicap does not in any way lower the value of human life. God has purposely allowed some handicapped persons to be born and live. Exodus 4:11, therefore, logically condemns the putting to death of handicapped newborns or handicapped individuals of any age. The reason why God has made some “deaf or mute … or … blind” is not the question (Jn. 9:3). The point here is that to deliberately end the life of a “less than normal” person is to kill – even if it seems more compassionate or “efficient” in some cases.
But what about the person who is going through extreme suffering or experiencing intense pain due to illness or injury? Isn’t euthanasia justified in this case? The book of Job gives some guidelines. Job is well known for his patient endurance through suffering. Some insight into the extent of Job’s very painful physical condition can be seen in Job 2:7-8; 7:5; 13:28; 30:16-18, 30. Wouldn’t a merciful death have been better for Job than the continuous, torturous pain of worms eating away at his body? Even Job’s wife suggested that it would be better to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) than go on living in such a miserable and painful condition.
Job himself longed for death (Job 3:20-22). But he chose to endure. His response was, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job recognized that his suffering was by divine permission and purpose. The fact that the end of this verse says that Job did not sin in all of this shows that his analysis of the situation was correct. His decision – to endure suffering rather than having his life taken before God’s time – was right. Again, the reason why God allows suffering is not the question. Nor is the question of using pain-killing drugs before us. (Prov. 31:6-7 seems to allow for the medicinal use of drugs to relieve pain.) The conclusion here is that to mercifully terminate a life of suffering and pain is not justified. It is the wrongful taking of human life. It is murder.
It’s God’s Choice!
On the other hand, the Bible just as clearly teaches that God does have the right to terminate life. Whether in judgment, mercy or for some other sovereign purpose, God is never wrong in taking a life. In Deuteronomy 32:39 God declares, “There is no god besides Me. I put to death and bring to life” (see also 1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 90:3). The giving and taking of life are the prerogatives of God alone. It’s true that God has delegated capital punishment to human governments (Gen. 9:6). And there are legitimate questions about just wars and self-defense. While these matters certainly have biblical grounds for discussion, they are not the issue before us. The focus of the argument here is that while we do not have the right to take innocent life, God very definitely does. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 goes further and says that there is even a “time to die.” God not only has the right to take a life, but has a time appointed when it will be taken.
The whole point of the oft-quoted Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is that all the events of life are divinely appointed. Human responsibility, moreover, is also in view, as a matter of our duty in light of these divinely appointed times. When it is “time to be silent” (Eccl. 3:7), for example, we may be silent or make the mistake of opening our big mouths. When it is a divinely appointed “time to weep” (Eccl. 3:4), as seen in Romans 12:15, we may weep or we may sin by not being concerned. Man has a responsibility in all the areas mentioned (including capital punishment and just war, which seems to be the focus of Eccl. 3:3) to be sensitive to God’s appointed times and act accordingly. Along this line, then, could we not make a mistake and prevent the death of an individual whose divinely appointed “time to die” has arrived? Should we use every extraordinary medical technique available to prolong life? Is there not a line between protecting the act of living and prolonging the act of dying? If taking a life before God’s appointed time of death is wrong, is not perpetuating a life beyond God’s appointed time of death also wrong?
How Do We Know?
But how do we know when God’s appointed “time to die” has arrived for an individual? This is the basic question for the Christian. In other words, euthanasia by definition should not be an issue since it is wrong according to the Bible. It is just a euphemism for killing or murder. But preventing death by perpetuating a life that God is taking is really another matter. It is true that there is some overlap here with so-called “passive euthanasia.” However, it is probably best to think of not perpetuating life as a separate issue, because in many cases of passive euthanasia, something could and should have been done for the dying instead of precipitating death by doing nothing.
Unfortunately, the decisions are usually not black and white. An infant born without a brain or a decapitated accident victim are obvious cases where the “time to die” has arrived, and using life-support systems to keep the bodies “alive” would be wrong. However, most situations are much more complex and many factors must be taken into account. The request of the terminal cancer patient, the living will of the permanently unconscious individual or the possibility of a miracle cure are just some of the particulars that must be considered before a decision is reached. In situations like these, Christians must pray that God’s will would be revealed and carried out. And in all cases Christian care should be given to the patient as we seek to follow the biblical guidelines.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org