In pastoral work questions about assisted suicide do come up. Assisted suicide is generally defined as “agreeing with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help him or her carry it out.” Assisted suicide is a cultured form of euthanasia. Many people see assisted suicide as a compassionate answer for someone who is terminally ill and is lingering in discomfort and pain. Extended illnesses drain energy and personal savings and other means of support. Catastrophic illnesses can and often do bankrupt persons and families. Many folks see assisted suicide as a viable way to deal with this and help someone “move on.” Many Christians today see assisted suicide as an act of mercy.
Other folks see assisted suicide as a deeply personal choice. They believe each person should have the liberty to choose euthanasia for themselves and also when someone asks for help to die they should be allowed to help them without any legal or moral penalty. In the United States, Oregon passed its Death with Dignity Act in 1994, which allows physician-assisted suicide for patients with less than six months to live. The State of Washington passed similar legislation in 2008, and a 2009 court ruling in Montana also legalized assisted suicide in that state. More states are looking into this as an option for the terminally ill.
So, as a pastor I have sat in many living rooms hearing strong opinions on this topic of assisted suicide. What is not always received well by people is to discover that Christianity has not been silent on this topic at all. Our teaching has always been that euthanasia and “assisted” suicide can never be justified, regardless of the illness or circumstance. Even when it is requested by someone we know and love very much.
Why is this?
- Each human life has inherent and deep value. Christians must help people hold on to this vital truth in spite of illnesses and challenges.
- Assisted suicide is euthanasia. Euthanasia violates God’s law and is gravely wrong.
- A dying person is someone of incomparable worth, created by God in His own image and likeness. Illness does not diminish this in any way. God is the source and sustainer of all life. No person or institution or state or national or international government may usurp God’s dominion over a person’s life by intentionally causing his or her death.
Jesus shows us in His life and death the power of redemptive suffering. Jesus abandons Himself totally to the Father’s will even to the point of enduring the most painful and humiliating kind of death. St. Mark explains that the way of salvation for every person is the way of the Cross. (Mark 10:21). Jesus does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, rather He says, “Come, follow Me.” Those suffering are called to join their suffering to the sufferings of Christ and in that offering the ill help Him save the world. In Christ, the very meaning of suffering of any type is disclosed to be a salvific suffering! The Bible calls us to trust in God’s providence Who is ever present even in the most anguished circumstances of life, and to trust in the power of hope that opens us up to love.