We examined in the last post the fact our submission to Jesus as Lord provides us with an adequate motive for dying.
7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.
8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.
This post deals with technical matters dealing with death. I want to deal with the issues of Euthanasia that family members of the terminally ill (and and the medical personal who treat them) face in the pending death of a loved one/patient. I think this will be beneficial in our world where insurance companies and government agencies push so-called “living wills” and “durable powers of attorney.” My view is loved ones need to make decisions for us when we cannot do so for ourselves. We need to be informed when everything is going well, so that when we are faced with a difficult decision, we are ready as far as possible to make it. We leave a loved one our legal power of attorney to act for us if we come to that time when we cannot act for ourselves.
Euthanasia is a form of suicide, albeit second-handed.
By necessity, euthanasia requires at least one other person to assist in the death of another—a friend, a family member, or a health care worker. (see “Euthanasia” and “Suicide,” below)
“The Communion of the Saints” from the Apostles’ Creed
includes respect for and support of the dying.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) forbids in the strongest terms any form of euthanasia.
2276. Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect.
2277. Whatever its motives and means, [active] euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons, [and] is morally unacceptable. (see “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” below.)
Those who are the most vulnerable need to be respected, supported, and protected!
Active and Passive Euthanasia
Medical Ethicists make a necessary distinction between active and passive euthanasia. This is important for medical personnel.
2278. Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of [heroic measures]. (see “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” below.)
Passive euthanasia is the refusal of “heroic measures” for the terminally ill. Medical workers and family members who refuse “heroic measures” for the terminally ill do not commit murder.
The questions for those with a legal power of attorney for a terminally ill person are:
(1) What would prolong my loved one’s life? or What would insure quality of life as my loved one dies?
(2) What would just prolong my loved one’s death?
Exercising one’s power of attorney to refuse heroic measures is not murder. The point is not to prolong death.
The above etching is of a Civil War Nurse caring for the dying. Prior to this time triage (selection of which to treat first), centered on selecting which ones were likely to live and basically ignoring those who were expected to die.
A Personal Experience
I served as a volunteer Chaplain at two hospitals over the years. At one hospital a person was in the last 6 months of terminal cancer. There was a zero chance of this person getting better. One relative insisted the person undergo heart bypass surgery since several arteries were blocked. The patient died on the operating table and the surgery cost $350,000 at the time. Due to limited hospital resources, someone else had to be denied bypass surgery for this to happen. (Two persons may have died.)
In my view, the surgery was a “heroic measure” and should not have been performed on a terminally ill person. Denial of this surgery would be a form of passive euthanasia. However, undergoing the surgery followed by death was not active euthanasia since the death was not planned or foreseen as a direct consequence. (See “Euthanasia” below for two distinctions in euthanasia).
It is not wrong to put a Do Not Resuscitate [DNR] sign on a person who is dying of cancer. To give medical care in such a case is not to prolong life, but to prolong death. (See D. L. Moody’s experience in the last post.)
I am not in favor of withholding a saline drip from a terminal patient. Palliative care also is desirable. Should a patient die from prescribed narcotics to dull pain, this would not be murder since death was not foreseen or planned. Medical personnel would not be culpable for administering the prescribed dosage.
Where are we today in Western Society with Euthanasia?
We often hear of “death with dignity.” Whose dignity is affirmed? Whose dignity is denied? God’s honor and dignity are at stake, too. And, one of His image-bearers is involved, also.
I remind myself constantly, all human beings are created in the image of likeness of God.
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Some have less of a capacity to mirror their Maker than others do, but they still bear that image. Euthanasia is not pleasant to think about, but the Lordship of Christ is to extend over all areas of our lives, which includes our death.
A Truly “Good Death” Described
“In his book, The Walk: the Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends, musician Michael Card recounts the many ways that biblical scholar Dr. William L. Lane mentored him, beginning with his time at Western Kentucky University and ending with Professor Lane’s death.
Dr. William L. Lane (left) and Michael Card (right)
“Card recalls what occurred when Bill Lane learned that he had cancer, near the end of his life (age 68). [Bill] and his wife decided to move to Franklin, Tennessee, to be nearer [Michael Card].
“During the conversation Bill told me why he wanted to spend his last days there. ‘I want to come to Franklin,’ he said, ‘to show you how a Christian…dies.'” (see “Card” below)
Who knows what we might show another as we die to our Lord. It is Christ who holds the keys to death and the grave (Revelation 1:18), and we dare not assume that right ourselves. All who visit us at the end may see how a Christian who has lived to his Lord now dies to his Lord.
Lord, I admit I fear the time between my last illness and death.
I do not fear death itself since I will be with You forever.
Help me to oppose euthanasia in all circumstances;
in conversation and mentoring others; and in my own belief and actual practice.
Guide my steps by your Word and Spirit.
And, at the end, come to me and take me to live with You forever!
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Card, M. (2009). Accessed 20 June 2018 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/ blogs/justin-taylor/i-want-to-show-you-how-christian-man/ Michael Card is a Christian musician who wrote “Immanuel,” and “El Shaddai,” etc.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1993). Accessed 18 July 2018 from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P7Z.HTM
N. B. I have already stated in an earlier post that I often rely on the Catechism of the Catholic Church because it deals with most modern ethic issues well. Older catechisms were written in a time when modern issues weren’t even thought of.
Euthanasia. I want to make the following distinctions: (1) “Active euthanasia” is assisting another person die. This is in violation of the 6th Commandment—”You must not murder!” Exodus 20:13 (translation mine). (2) “Passive euthanasia” is withholding heroic measures from a person who has zero chance of living. See Pankratz, R. C. and R. M. Welsh. (2001). “A Christian Response to Euthanasia.” Accessed 20 June 2018 from http://www.tkc.com/resources/resources-pages/euthanasia.html
Suicide. Suicide is not an unpardonable sin. Sometimes people snap under the pressures of life. They take their own life as a means of escaping those pressures. Survivors have to deal with the aftermath of pain that follows in the wake of suicide. I wouldn’t add to that pain by suggesting a loved one who took his own life will not be heaven.
© 2018 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved