Euthanasia – An Affinity Statement
It is God who gives and sustains life (Genesis 1:21; Psalm 54:4). And because human beings are uniquely made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), all human life has intrinsic dignity and value. Therefore we seek to uphold and promote the utmost respect for human life, from fertilisation until natural death. Consequently, we are opposed to the deliberate taking of innocent human life, at any of its stages.
Hence, we are opposed to all forms of euthanasia, whether carried out on the newborn because of some genetic disorder, or whether the patient is elderly and judged to have a ‘life not worthy to be lived’. We oppose euthanasia whether it is caused by deliberate acts or deliberate omissions. We reject the muddled classification of euthanasia into ‘active’ (such as, injecting a lethal drug) and ‘passive’ (such as, withholding food and water). If the intention is to kill the patient, it is always wrong. Such actions are callous and unworthy of any decent society.
We are especially concerned by the current pressures to legalise voluntary euthanasia in the form of ‘medically-assisted suicide’. We regard this as a dangerous slippery slope – acceptance of voluntary euthanasia will undoubtedly lead to involuntary euthanasia, as has already happened in Holland and elsewhere.
Several incidences of suicide are recorded in the Bible – they are never approved of. The suicide challenges the sovereignty of God – it is His exclusive prerogative to announce life and pronounce death (Deuteronomy 32:39; Job 1:21). Assisted suicide is similar, except that it relies upon another person, often a doctor, to help with the killing.
While we have pastoral sympathy for those with suicidal feelings, we can never commend such action. Hence, we oppose the notion that suicide, assisted or otherwise, is a person’s right to self-determination and the true expression of personal autonomy. The despair that precipitates suicide is a sin – the grace of God insists that no human life need be intolerable (Psalm 144:2; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Legalisation of euthanasia would be a disaster for the medical profession. All euthanasia abrogates both the Bible’s injunction not to take the life of another (Exodus 20:13), and the historic role of the medical profession to ‘do the patient no harm’. Its members have been trained to preserve human life, therefore any type of euthanasia represents the antithesis of their calling. The breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship would rapidly follow. Furthermore, any proposed legislation would be impossible to define and monitor – the area would be wide-open to abuse.
We are also concerned about other issues associated with euthanasia, such as, the use of ‘quality of life’ assessments and ‘living wills’. The former tend to be too subjective and hedonistic, while the latter are inappropriate and only serve to encourage a climate of medically-assisted suicide.
We recognise that the ‘greying’ of the population has increased the financial and personal costs of caring for the elderly. Nevertheless, medical treatment should always be provided when it will be beneficial, and palliative care when it will not. Euthanasia must never be regarded as proper medical treatment. Killing the patient can never be the right answer.
The Christian gospel is the message of hope. We believe that human beings have the opportunity and duty to be reconciled to their God and so live and die in hope. Furthermore, the people of God are entrusted with this gospel to demonstrate before a watching world how to live well and how to die well. Christians must therefore be in the vanguard of demonstrating compassion towards all those who suffer, including the disabled and the dying.
Public policy positions:
1. The Suicide Act (1961), with its severe penalties for anyone who ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another’, should remain on the statute book.
2. We call upon all those in authority to oppose and resist every form of euthanasia and to encourage legislation, resources and action that will support and cherish human physical, mental and spiritual life, at all it stages.
3. Palliative care, not euthanasia, is the answer to those who are suffering and dying. We urge authorities to ensure that adequate funding is provided for the research and improvement of symptom control, especially pain relief, for the terminally ill so that the best practice, already available in specialised hospices, is available to all.
4. We believe that the withholding of food and water from a patient should be regarded as unlawful and shown for what it is, namely, death by deliberate starvation and dehydration.
5. We urge all those in education to recognise the
dangers of attempting to teach a value-free curriculum. In particular, the
training of healthcare professionals requires a more robust foundation of ethics
and practice. The overly-eager ditching of Hippocratic-Christian medicine
has had lamentable consequences.
13 February, 2007.