Since the fall, we are all destined to die. However we were created to live, not to die. Death is not how God intended this world to be. In creation, death was not natural, but now it is an ugly reality. Anyone working in nursing or aged care can tell you graphic and regular stories of end of life care.
With the aid of drugs and other medical equipment, we have extended our ability to live longer than naturally intended. While not avoiding death, we can sometimes postpone death’s arrival for a few months or years. Quality of life is rarely improved, but we do artificially extend our existence for a period of time. Fifty percent of our medical bills are incurred in the last twelve months of our lives. It is amazing that as a society, we can justify spending that much money to avoid something that is coming anyway. Maybe that speaks to how society silently fears the unknown of eternity. As someone who knows Christ, I say “bring it on.”
I do not have a death wish. Nor am I going to go and jump off the Gap. But I really identify with Paul when he says “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I would rather die suddenly at seventy than slowly die into my eighties.
But this brings us to an interesting point. What are Christian ethics regarding end of life issues? Let me say from the outset that I am not an expert here, but this is my current thinking based on both theology and my application of it in today’s complex world.
Pulling the plug
Many families face the heart-wrenching pain of watching an older relative grow towards death. At some point the family needs to make life/death decisions for their family member who becomes incapacitated. I see no theological problems with pulling the plug or removing a certain drug prescription. If God wants the individual to live, he will sustain their life without human intervention. I am in no way trivialising the scenario, but I think we must debunk the idea that it is murder to deny life sustaining medical assistance.
This is a bit of a grey area. I don’t hold to the traditional Catholic view that suicide is a mortal sin. Suicide is not something that I would recommend or justify. However, for many people with incurable diseases and pain, suicide is an ever present temptation. Many succumb to that temptation. If someone takes that way out, then they will answer to God for that. However, let’s not judge their action as any worse than our failings.
Often times a suffering individual cannot bring themselves to suicide. This could be for multiple reasons, religious or internal fortitude. They then ask a friend or relative an extremely obnoxious question. “Will you help me kill myself?” It is hard to say a blanket no, but I lean that way. Thousands of moral dilemmas can be raised here (e.g. the mortally wounded soldier in battle, etc.). I am sure there are examples galore out there in which we could make an argument one way or the other. I would like to think that if someone is in the situation of knowing the number of minutes/days/months they have left, that they would spend time considering Jesus. My approach would be to bring him into their thinking. I believe then a correct decision will become clear.
In no way do I support this. We may as well call it murder. This already happens frequently in our nation under the title of abortion. I pray that we as a society will reject involuntary euthanasia for the elderly and wind it back for the unborn.
It is hard to put a positive spin on this topic. But I do like to remind us that the solution to all our our problems is Jesus. Death is a depressing topic, but when we focus on Jesus we are reminded that death is not the end. For us followers of Jesus, it is merely the portal through which we will meet Jesus face to face. When we focus on him, the ugliness of death does fade. And this truly is a blessing.