The Best Help Is Available!
FOR the Christian the choice and extent of care for the terminally ill might raise profound questions. For example:
Would it be unscriptural to do less than everything possible to preserve life? And if it is morally acceptable to allow someone to die naturally, without heroic intervention to prolong life, what about euthanasia—a deliberate, positive act to end a patient’s suffering by actually shortening or ending his life?
In this day and age, these are important questions. However, we are not without help in answering them.
An inspired writer aptly said: “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses.” (Psalm 46:1) That is true for us too in considering the present matter. Jehovah God is the source of the wisest, most experienced help. He has observed the lives of thousands of millions of people. He knows—better than any doctor, ethicist, or attorney—what is best. So let us see what help he makes available to us.—Psalm 25:4, 5; Hebrews 4:16.
A Right View of Life
We do well to realize that the philosophy of preserving life at all costs is not confined to medical technologists. It is a natural product of modern secular philosophy. Why is that so? Well, if this present life is all there is, then it might seem that our personal life should be preserved under all circumstances and at all costs. But this secular philosophy has in some cases resulted in technical nightmares—unconscious people being kept “alive” on machines for years.
On the other hand, there are those who believe in immortality of the human soul. According to their philosophy, this life is but a way station on the path to something better. Plato, one of the originators of this philosophy, held:
“Either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. . . . If death is the journey to another place, . . . what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this?”
A person having such a belief might regard death as a friend, to be welcomed and perhaps even to be hurried. Yet, the Bible teaches that life is sacred to Jehovah. “With you is the source of life,” the inspired psalmist wrote. (Psalm 36:9) Should, then, a true Christian agree to share in euthanasia?
Some feel that there is Scriptural reference to the subject when King Saul, severely wounded, begged his armor-bearer to kill him. They have viewed this as a type of euthanasia, a deliberate act to hasten death for someone who was already dying. An Amalekite later claimed to have complied with Saul’s request that he be put to death. But was that Amalekite thought of as having done good in ending Saul’s suffering? Far from it. David, the anointed of Jehovah, ordered that this Amalekite be slain for his bloodguilt. (1 Samuel 31:3, 4; 2 Samuel 1:2-16) This Biblical event, then, in no way justifies a Christian’s having any part in euthanasia.*
Does this mean, though, that a Christian must do everything that is technologically possible to prolong a life that is ending? Must one extend the dying process as long as possible? The Scriptures teach that death is, not a friend of man, but an enemy. (1 Corinthians 15:26) Further, the dead are neither suffering nor in bliss, but they are in a sleeplike state. (Job 3:11, 13; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:11-14; Acts 7:60) The future prospects of life for the dead are totally dependent on God’s power to resurrect them through Jesus Christ. (John 6:39, 40) So we find that God has provided us with this helpful knowledge: Death is not something to be longed for, but neither is there an obligation to resort to desperate efforts to prolong the dying process.
What guidelines could the Christian apply in a situation where a loved one is in a terminal state?
First, we must acknowledge that each situation involving a terminal illness is different, tragically different, and there are no universal rules. Furthermore, the Christian should be careful to consider the laws of the land in such cases. (Matthew 22:21) Keep in mind, too, that no loving Christian would advocate medical neglect.
Only when there is undeniably terminal disease (where the situation has been clearly determined to be hopeless) should consideration be given to asking that life-support technology be discontinued. In such cases there is no Scriptural reason to insist on medical technology that would simply prolong a dying process that is far advanced.
These often are very difficult situations and may involve agonizing decisions. How is one to know, for example, when a situation is hopeless? Though no one can be absolutely certain, reason needs to be exercised along with careful counsel. One medical paper advising doctors comments:
“If there is disagreement concerning the diagnosis or prognosis or both, the life-sustaining approach should be continued until reasonable agreement is reached. However, insistence on certainty beyond a reasonable point can handicap the physician dealing with treatment options in apparently hopeless cases. The rare report of a patient with a similar condition who survived is not an overriding reason to continue aggressive treatment. Such negligible statistical possibilities do not outweigh the reasonable expectations of outcome that will guide treatment decisions.”
In such a predicament, the Christian, whether patient or relative, would rightfully expect some help from his physician. This medical paper concludes: “In any case, it is unfair simply to provide a mass of medical facts and options and leave the patient adrift without any further guidance on the alternative courses of action and inaction.”
Local Christian elders, being mature ministers, can also be of great value. Of course, the patient and his immediate family must make their own balanced decision in this very emotional situation.
Finally, reflect on these points. Christians very much want to stay alive so that they can enjoy serving God. They realize, though, that in the present system, all of us are dying; in this sense all of us are terminally ill. It is only through the ransoming blood of Jesus Christ that we have any hope of reversing that situation.—Ephesians 1:7.
If death does come to a loved one, hard as this is, we are not left to agonize and grieve “just as the rest also do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Rather, we can take comfort that we did the best we reasonably could for our sick loved one and that any medical assistance we employed was at best of temporary help. We do have, though, the happifying promise of the One who will free us from all such problems when ‘the last enemy, death, is to be brought to nothing.’—1 Corinthians 15:26.
Yes, ultimately the best help for the dying will come from the God who gave life to the first humans and who promises a resurrection for those who exercise faith in him and in his Son, Jesus Christ.—John 3:16; 5:28, 29.
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Does the death of Saul support euthanasia?