syringeBy a vote of 104-40, the lower house of the Dutch Parliament has just passed a new law that permits euthanasia under certain circumstances (Economist, December 2nd – 8th, 2000, p. 61).

    • People over the age of 16 who suffer acute and unremitting pain may now arrange for doctors, who must follow precise guidelines, to put them to death.
  • The patient need not actually be dying.
  • Even children may be helped to commit suicide provided that their parents agree.

The debate over euthanasia is hardly a new one. It is a complex subject well documented in Christian ethical literature. As long as Islam retains its dominant position in Malaysia, Malaysian readers of this column need not worry that such laws will be passed in Malaysia any time soon.

But a number of readers of this column live in countries where the rightness of such laws are hotly debated. And with demographics showing that the elderly will soon be a dominant percentage of the global population, the issue of euthanasia must be the concern of all of God’s people.

The pragmatic arguments against ‘voluntary, medically assisted suicide’ are many and telling. They include:

    • The existence of very effective drugs against almost all conditions that cause excessive pain.
  • Very effective hospice programmes.
  • The near impossibility of ensuring that all acts of euthanasia are truly voluntary.
  • The very real danger of the slippery slope phenomena. Official Dutch statistics show that hundreds of cases of euthanasia which were not voluntary have already occurred. And that was before the euthanasia law was passed.

While Christians need to know and use the above pragmatic arguments, our basic resistance to euthanasia must be based on deeper foundations. In an increasingly post modern world, we need to boldly affirm, without apology, that:

    1. All human life is made in the image of God and is sacred (Genesis 1:27).
  • Human life is a gift from God (Genesis 1:26). We are stewards, not owners of our lives.
  • Human life is also life in community. Individual rights are not absolute. In some sense, not only does our life belong to God, it also belongs to the community.

We need to root our thinking in Biblical revelation because if pragmatic arguments are our main if not our only basis for resisting voluntary, medically aided suicide, we are standing on thin ice indeed. Faced with a greying population, and the sky rocketing cost of health care, what could be more pragmatic and reasonable than to help those who want to die, to die. Especially if they were in deep pain. I am fearful because pragmatism appears to be the dominant philosophy in so much of church life these days. It must be absolutely clear that no matter how the pragmatic arguments run, Christians resist euthanasia on deeper grounds.

Of course it is not enough for Christians to be just resisting laws on euthanasia. We also need to be at the front line of pushing for, and helping to provide the care needed by people in real pain.

Sometimes, it seems like evangelicals are much better at fighting for the right than in loving the broken.

(I lost my first wife to lung cancer. I know a little of the pain and anguish of the end stage of terminal illness for both the patient and her loved ones.)

Whether we win the legal fight or not, we need to say, on the authority of God’s Word, that euthanasia is wrong. But we should say it with tears in our eyes.

And with heart and hands ready to do our bit to help those in pain and despair.