How Does the Bible Address Medical Assistance in Dying?

Contributing Writer
How Does the Bible Address Medical Assistance in Dying?

Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), also known as assisted suicide, euthanasia, and other similar terms, has become legal in Canada, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, parts of Australia, and in parts of the USA. To qualify for medically assisted dying, an individual must be in extreme, untreatable pain, or terminally ill, although MAID for those experiencing mental illness is becoming increasingly available.

The Bible is clear about who is Sovereign over life and death: God alone has the final say. Although some churches have advocated for euthanasia, calling it the compassionate option, the Christian church must obey God. Here is what Scripture has to say about death, dying, and the value of life.

God’s Stance on Taking Life

God’s command about taking another person’s life is straightforward: “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). One might say that, since the patient is asking to die, MAID is not murder, so here is a more general command: “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death” (Leviticus 24:17).

God has made his instructions clear regarding suicide also. “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6). Although many would argue that a Christian would still go to heaven if he or she commits suicide, this is not an invitation to end life now, on one’s own terms. The Lord decides. He has compassion on everyone who is in pain, mentally or physically.

The Holy Spirit “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is present to encourage and support those who suffer. Jesus knows what our suffering feels like. Jesus also understands our desire to go home.

Len Lantz, a psychiatrist and Christian, observed: “No one understands the yearning for heaven more than the severely depressed or ill Christian,” but “God calls us to perseverance, not suicide: Killing yourself is an act of trying to force your will on God.” Lantz quoted 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, where Paul famously wrote that God’s grace was enough for him. Paul wanted God to end some terrible suffering he endured. Instead, Paul realized that it was not for him to decide.

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:23-25).

Is MAID Suicide?

When a person asks for help so they can die on their own terms, this is assisted suicide. While certain countries and medical bodies prefer other terms, these euphemisms do not change the reality that an individual expects others to help him or her to do what he or she cannot achieve alone, which is to commit self-murder.

One of the worst elements of medically assisted dying is that it implicates others in the process. The individual, even if he or she is capable of taking matters into his or her own hands, passes the responsibility to someone else. One might call it an honor to serve a friend or parent in this way. God does not call this honorable. He calls it sin.

Here is an instance where the church might be regarded as detached from reality and lacking compassion. How could a Body that says they love their neighbor permit their neighbor to suffer needlessly? How can a son or daughter fail to put a parent suffering from dementia out of their misery when that parent is wearing diapers and wakes up in terror every day, confused and disoriented? Besides, the world is overcrowded: why not remove those whose quality of life is diminishing rapidly to make more room in hospital beds for people who are going to get better?

Real Help for the Suffering

Joni Eareckson Tada has written and spoken movingly on this subject, as one who would have chosen euthanasia when she was first “hooked up to machines.” She wrote that “society is not a bunch of people way out there who sit around big tables and think up political trends or cultural drifts; society is you. Your actions, your decisions, matter. What you do or don’t do has a ripple effect on everyone around you.”

When someone’s parent or child is confined to a hospital bed or a wheelchair, it takes a lot of work to look after that individual. The toll on the caregiver’s physical and emotional health is enormous. If the patient is sufficiently competent to realize what is happening, the toll on him or her is also terrible – loss of dignity, privacy, and hope.

Eareckson Tada argues that the problem is often an attitude that “someone” should help, but observers often think “someone” should be the government, or a volunteer group, or the hospital. Eareckson Tada says that “someone” includes every person involved closely in the life of the suffering individual. Within the family, that means mom and dad take turns looking after the wheelchair-bound child; siblings support by doing housework and spending time with the brother or sister, just reading or talking, until they are old enough to help with the bigger tasks. Extended family gets involved, plus neighbors and friends. If a church is involved in this family’s life, members of the church see the need and respond to it with prayer and also real, practical help. The help should go on as long as the family needs it, not as a limited-time offer.

The value of this kind of activity has its own kind of ripple effect; everyone is affected by the experience. Everyone involved gains meaning from this person’s life, a life that brings people together for God’s glory. Witnesses and participants will sometimes even see God at work, and they will wonder.

The Value of Life

This kind of support is not a matter of mere rule following, and it shows when hearts are involved. God values all human life; every human being was made in his image. When we see through the eyes of Jesus Christ, we also recognize value in even the most broken individuals. After all, we are all broken in mind or body or both, but there is no person alive who no longer matters to God. He loves and values the patient with cancer, dementia, and debilitating depression. He loves the exhausted caregivers. Even when the patient or the loved one wants to give up or feels resentful, God does not stop loving. He offers hope and compassion.

Len Lantz wrote: “While there is a lot of suffering in the Bible, God promises to be with us through it all. God calls us to continue and persevere through the hardships of life.” The world’s concept of love is to let people do whatever makes them happy, even if that means helping them die. Jesus’ concept of love is to walk with sufferers rather than simply plucking them off the earth and into heaven. During his ministry, Jesus healed, he accompanied, he sat with the sufferer.

Imagine the man in the graveyard, once his demons had been evicted by Christ. He had to rebuild his life, physically, emotionally, and socially. This long road upwards might have appeared insurmountable at times, but Jesus knew the man’s value and the full story of his life. He also knew what it would mean to the Kingdom for onlookers to witness the man’s courageous battle, and to see how it is done – taking time to love this man, to see him, to value him, even though he appeared beyond healing.

Our Savior’s presence is real and can be seen when those who care come around a sufferer to listen, take over some of the work, and bring humor and joy to a day. It is powerful to pray, console, and sit quietly together at a bedside. No one should have to live with pain alone or look after a dying loved one in isolation. And while the “job” of caregiving – or even of living – might seem like drudgery or a duty, consider what Scripture has to say about duty.

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

What if the responsibility of caregiving could be seen as a way of glorifying God rather than a sacrifice for which God’s approval is the reward?

What would you endure if you knew the Lord would draw unbelievers closer by way of your suffering? What if you realized, in hindsight, that the honest but faithful and loving manner of your endurance encouraged a fellow sufferer? How can you know the ways in which God wants to use your situation, or see the future ways in which your faith might affect others?

Final Words from a Sufferer

We want to show compassion towards those who believe their death will resolve a lot of problems and put an end to both their suffering and the suffering of people who love and care for them. But here are some poignant closing thoughts from one of the faithful who chooses life, even though she currently qualifies for MAID: “We believe that human life is sacred from conception to its natural end.” (Joni and Friends)

Every person should have the right to live with dignity, a feat made easier when people who really care help to make life worth living. Jesus has shown us how to “satisfy the desire of the afflicted” (Isaiah 58:10). That desire is for relief, and for something far better than constant agonizing pain. The only person who can provide real hope and reassure a person that death is not the answer to pain is Christ, who points to the Kingdom, to restored bodies, and wholeness with himself for eternity. No more tears. No more suffering. Forever.


Photo credit: Unsplash/Daan Stevens Yguumiqjiru

Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.