What Is the Bible’s View?
What About “Mercy Killing”?
THE woman lay on a hospital bed dying of an incurable disease. One day her son entered her room and fired three shots, killing her. He did not try to hide what he had done, but said: “She’s out of her misery now. I shot her.”
This man was indicted for murder, but the jury returned the verdict “not guilty.” Why? Apparently because the man killed his mother in order to put an end to her suffering. This was a case of “mercy killing,” or euthanasia (Greek for “good death”).
Mercy killings appear in the news from time to time. Often the “killers” seem to be well motivated, desiring to put sufferers “out of their misery” when physicians offer no hope of improvement. Sometimes the sufferers even plead with others to put them to death.
What should be the Christian’s view in situations like these? Is it right to employ “positive” euthanasia, deliberately putting an individual to death? What about “negative” euthanasia, allowing a terminally ill person to die by not initiating or continuing “extraordinary” treatment that would only forestall death for a short time?
There is no question that such situations are not easy to deal with. Very deep emotions may be involved, making it difficult to exercise sound judgment. But the Bible contains principles that will prove helpful to people in weighing matters properly.
The Scriptures show that God views human life as something precious, sacred. The sixth of the Ten Commandments states: “You must not murder.” (Ex. 20:13) The Bible provides a definition of murder at Numbers 35:20. According to The New English Bible this verse reads: “If the homicide sets upon a man openly of malice aforethought or aims a missile at him of set purpose and he dies, . . . then the assailant must be put to death; he is a murderer.”
Does “mercy killing,” which is not motivated by malice or hatred, fit that description? Well, in the case of positive euthanasia, is it not true that there is a “set purpose” in the sense that the act is premeditated? And is not a “missile” (such as a bullet from a gun, a pill or needle) often employed?
Another thing to consider is the Bible’s command that Christians “hold a good conscience.” (1 Pet. 3:16) That positive “mercy killing” could adversely affect one’s conscience is evident from the comments of Robert S. Morison in Scientific American of September 1973: “The overwhelming majority of physicians and certainly a substantial majority of laymen instinctively recoil from such active measures as prescribing a known poison or injecting a large bubble into a vein.”
Also, Jehovah God requires Christians to “be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Rom. 13:1) Euthanasia is illegal in the United States, Canada and almost all other countries. It is true that few people draw the full penalty from this crime. However, it is not only fear of penalties, but “conscience” that should motivate Christians to obey the laws of the land.—Rom. 13:5.
Because they respect God’s view of the sanctity of life, out of regard for their own consciences and in obedience to governmental laws, those desiring to conform their lives to Bible principles would never resort to positive euthanasia.
But what if the question is whether to begin or to keep up special treatment where death is imminent and cannot be avoided? Medical authorities may state that the best they could do would be to stretch out the dying process by employing mechanical devices such as respirators to keep the lungs breathing, cardiac stimulators and other extraordinary means to sustain the patient. Such procedures might be very costly and bring further discomfort to the dying person. Does the Bible require that such measures be taken? No, in such a case allowing death to take its course uninhibited would not violate any law of God. There is no Scriptural requirement to lengthen a dying process that is already well under way.
But there is need for considerable caution in this connection. Sissela Bok, in Bio-Science of August 1973, describes the problem physicians face in deciding whether to give up treatment and let someone die:
“The first function—the struggle against death and disease—must be shown to be unattainable if it is to be given up without regret by physicians. Yet it is difficult ever to be certain that it is unattainable in a particular case; to know that death is inevitable for a patient. The chance of a mis-diagnosis is always present; even the best diagnosticians make errors in predicting death (Kamisar 1958). And where the diagnosis is correct, the prognosis may still be affected by a new medical development.”
So it is very difficult to determine whether to withhold extraordinary treatment in many situations of extreme illness. Each case has its own peculiarities and must be decided with regard to God’s view of the preciousness of life. But those responsible for such a decision should weigh the evidence carefully before concluding that a person is about to die.
Often the reason why people consider euthanasia is that there appears to be no hope of relief for the one who is suffering. While some cases are beyond the capacity of science to solve, the Bible provides a genuine hope that sickness and death will disappear from the earth in the near future. Revelation 21:1-4 speaks of a new order of things, symbolically called “a new heaven and a new earth” in which “death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”
In that new order, not only will people no longer become sick, but those who are now afflicted with infirmities will be permanently healed. (Isa. 33:24; 35:5-7) According to Jesus’ promise at John 5:28, 29, “All those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.” The fulfillment of this marvelous promise of a resurrection was actually “seen” by the apostle John, as recorded at Revelation 20:11-15:
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne . . . And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them.” That means that all the dead in Hades (mankind’s common grave) will return to life, with opportunity of remaining alive forever in perfect health on an earth restored to paradise.
According to the Bible’s timetable, we are now living in the “conclusion” or “the last days” of the present system of things. (Matt. 24:3-34; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) That means that God’s new order will become a reality within this generation. What gladsome news that is! And while awaiting its fulfillment, the Scriptures advise: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.”—Ps. 55:22.