Laura is a 24-year-old in Belgium who plans to die by euthanasia this summer. She is not terminally ill. Rather, she explains that she has wanted to die ever since she was a child. “Life, that’s not for me,” she says. She has been approved for death by lethal injection. The chairman of Belgium’s federal euthanasia commission recently stated that 50 to 60 psychiatric patients like Laura are euthanized each year.
Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002. Last year it became the first nation to legalize child euthanasia. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, Belgian doctors also “hasten the death” of patients “without an explicit request.” More than 1,000 patients a year are euthanized in this way. As Cambridge professor Jack Keown explains, “If a doctor thinks death would benefit the patient, why should the doctor deny the patient that benefit merely because the patient is incapable of asking for it?”
More countries are asking similar questions. In a recent poll, a majority of people in 13 out of 15 nations agreed that euthanasia should be legal. Some 20 states in America are considering euthanasia measures. According to Gallup, 69 percent of Americans believe physicians should be able to legally “end [a] patient’s life by some painless means.” This is nearly double the percentage who supported euthanasia in 1950.
As we deal with this difficult subject, what biblical facts should we consider? (For more on this issue, see my “Euthanasia and the Word of God.”)
One: human life is sacred. We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:28; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9). So long as people are able (or potentially able) to relate to God, their environment, others and themselves, they retain God’s “image.”
Two: we should not choose medical options intended to cause or hasten death, since God gives us life (Job 33:4), numbers our days (Job 14:5), and appoints our time to die (Hebrews 9:27).
Three: we are not obligated to extend biological life when the “image” of God is no longer present. Removing a person from life support does not prevent God from acting miraculously—he raised Lazarus from the grave after he had been dead four days (John 11:38-44). Our Father does not require medical support to heal.
One more point: I believe we can choose medical treatments that enhance our quality of life, even if these treatments have the unintended consequence of shortening life. “Palliative care,” medical attention that intends to relieve symptoms and improve life quality for the patient and family, can be extremely valuable.
Expect to see more countries go the way of Belgium. A culture that views truth as subjective opinion has no objective reason to value human life. But God does. He made each of us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16) and engraved us on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:16).
And since we’re all dying, he invites us to say with Paul, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”