Sunday, August 18, 2013

Death, Suicide and Euthanasia.

Until I experienced God through HIS Word and deed, I was fearful, apprehensive and didn’t desire death. But when I believed in Christ and became aware of the glorious life that awaited me, the fear of death vanished. Today, I welcome death anytime, for when I die I will be with my God forever. The fear of death is dead in my life (cf. Psalm 23: 4; Romans 8: 38-39; 2 Corinthians 5: 8; Philippians 1: 21-23), for death is the gateway to a glorious eternity with God.

While I was discussing with a very dear brother about the torment of evil and expectation of a joyous life, we hoped that the Lord’s second coming is imminent, for evil will be annihilated when HE returns in all HIS glory and splendor. So, death can be viewed as a transition from the evil world to a joyous eternity in heaven. If death doesn’t facilitate this glorious transition, then one hopes that the Lord would arrive soon to deliver us from evil and pain. If one fails to desire death from the perspective of a glorious eternal coexistence with God, the existential reality of evil could motivate the frail to die, as an escape mechanism from the pain of suffering.1

This is the predicament of a suffering man who loses all his means and hope to live on earth. He desires death through suicide as a means of exiting the world of evil and torment. But, is suicide acceptable?

Imagine a world renowned artist painting before a large audience. He finishes the spectacular work of art, and the audience is fascinated. Following are two scenarios: in the first, the artist unexpectedly shreds the painting to pieces! The audience is greatly saddened. In the second scenario, after the art is painted, a man from the audience unexpectedly grabs the art and shreds it. This man is detained by the police.

In both scenarios, the fascinating piece of art is lost. In the first scenario, the art is shredded by the owner. None can complain, but for the fact that the world lost a precious work. In the second scenario, a man shreds the art without the owner’s consent. This being theft and destruction, the culprit is nabbed by the police.

The above illustration serves as an analogy of our life. God is the artist and our life is HIS art. God, being the creator and sustainer, is the owner of every life. As in the scenario of the artist shredding his art, there could be, at most, a feeble concern, when the creator God, the owner of every life, chooses to eliminate that very life HE created. However, if anyone else eliminates that life (through suicide or murder), he is an unauthorized eliminator, for he rebels against God (the owner of life), who alone possesses all authority to eliminate the very life that HE created.

I say this at length to affirm that suicide is a sin against God. God makes and takes life. HE has the sole authority over every life. When man commits suicide, he dethrones God, and sins against HIM. Aquinas teaches that suicide is a sin on account of three violations – nature and self love, community, and God. He states that our freewill (inclination to commit suicide) should submit to God’s authority, who alone can decide our exit from this world.2

Having said this, I believe that a Christian who commits suicide is not hell bound, since we are saved by grace through faith. My rationale for this fact has been presented in my blog, “Way to Heaven? Not By Works!” A man who commits suicide violates God’s will and expedites his journey to the other side of eternity. Therefore, a believer in Christ should not commit suicide, instead he should trust in God for deliverance during moments of excruciating pain.

“The timing and manner of a person’s death belongs ultimately to God (Eccl. 3: 1-2; Heb 9: 27),” writes Scott Rae. 3Although death is considered an enemy (1 Corinthians 15: 55-56), for Christians, death is a vanquished enemy. God gives everyone who believes in Christ, the victory through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. Thus, it is mandatory that death not be resisted or expedited.

Let us look at physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.4 If a man is dying and his prognosis hopeless with any further treatment determined as medically futile, in general, he could be allowed to die. However, considering that man’s death is in God’s hands, removal of life support that leads to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia could be problematic. Not every decision to terminate life need be morally acceptable. For example, removing the ventilator that provides breathing support to a recovering patient would be unethical. Thus, we need to think through physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, because our moral choices would either abide by or abate the moral values that protect the sanctity and dignity of life - the dying included.

One can posit the validity of euthanasia from the realm of mercy - as a justified end to needless suffering. But medical alternates are: to sedate the patient to sleep (unconscious state) or to relieve pain (which could even hasten the death of a patient, but as an unintended act).

Scott Rae states that euthanasia could be advocated from, among others, the perspectives of ‘utility’ – avoidance of a high cost medical care, and ‘Personal Autonomy’ – one can decide when to die as one can decide when to marry. ‘Utility’ can be questioned from the ill-advised future possibility of coercing a terminally ill patient to consent to euthanasia, and ‘Personal Autonomy’ can be disputed citing the fact that an individual has no absolute right over his life. (This theme has been discussed in my previous blog on abortion).

Scott emphasizes that the opponents of euthanasia conclude that euthanasia and assisted suicide amounts to killing an innocent person. Since elimination of life is God’s prerogative, they reinforce that human beings cannot play God by eliminating human life. But this argument will not be accepted by atheists, who do not believe in God. The opponents of euthanasia also emphasize the redemptive value of suffering (suffering equips a believer to comfort others who suffer). If suffering is good for one’s life, then one can argue against every medical care that eases suffering. But why shouldn’t medicine alleviate unnecessary suffering? A better reasoning against the redemptive value of suffering is the proximity of suffering to death. If suffering leads to death, then the suffering one cannot positively impact the one suffering. So the redemptive value of suffering diminishes.5

To conclude, all possible medical treatment should be offered to the dying if the treatment can potentially save him. But, postponing death is not the only solution because every life is valuable irrespective of its quality. The development of medical technology could extend one’s life span, but one should be cautious to not use expensive medical resources on treatment that is futile. Medical treatment should be withdrawn when it is no longer helpful to a dying patient or when the treatment is more burdensome than being helpful to him. “Even though death is rightly to be resisted through reasonable medical means, the Christian’s eternal destiny is beyond death. In that sense, death for a Christian is by definition a “good death” because it ushers him or her into God’s presence in eternal life,” says Scott Rae. 

May the strength and wisdom of God prevail upon those contemplating suicide and those applying medical treatment in seriously ill patients. May HIS pleasing and perfect will be done in each life. Amen.

Notes and References:

1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Human Life as a Journey to God - 29.4, p208.

2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Living in the World – Moral Virtue - 64.6, p391.

3 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd Ed, p218, 2009.

4 Euthanasia is often termed, ‘mercy killing.’ It is a direct and intentional effort of a medical professional (e.g. through lethal injection of drugs) to help a dying patient die. (Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd Ed, p214.)

5 Scott B. Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics, 3rd Ed, p224-234, 2009.

(6) Thoughts pertaining to Physician Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia have been extracted from Scott Rae’s work, ‘Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics,’ barring sporadic interposals of my thoughts.  

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