Euthanasia is a compound Greek word which means good death, but is often defined as mercy killing. Though we honor those who die performing courageous acts, such as saving lives or preserving the freedom of others, we recognize that death is not good—there is no such thing as a good death. Death, in the Bible, in every novel, and in every story including our own, is the enemy. This animosity and fear toward death is built into the human psyche and is evident in our storytelling, whether it be the Epic of Gilgamesh or Harry Potter. The trouble with the word euthanasia is that it attempts to put a happy face or a positive spin on something we all instinctively know is not good.
However, before we can have a conversation about euthanasia, we must first think deeply about our basic philosophical or religious commitments. These basic beliefs will typically be the deciding factor on how we think about euthanasia (or anything else for that matter). Our basic belief concerning this issue is revealed in how we answer the following question: “If it is morally acceptable to euthanize a suffering animal, why would it not be morally acceptable to euthanize a suffering human being?” Most likely those committed to secular humanism would defend the morality of euthanizing a human being because, from their perspective, a human being is nothing more than an animal, and death is the cessation of existence.
Those with a more traditional Biblical view would likely say that it is morally acceptable to euthanize a suffering animal because humanity has been given the responsibility to take care of animals. However, it would not be morally right to euthanize a human being because humanity is made in the image of God and God alone has authority over human life; no human being has the right to take an innocent human life. This position also affirms that death is not the end of a person’s existence. So, the battle over euthanasia is a battle over worldviews, and it is just one controversy in the broader culture war that often breaks between liberal and conservative lines. With this in mind, I will include a few more thoughts about what euthanasia means from a conservative perspective.
First, there is a distinction that should be made between euthanasia and removing certain technologies that can keep someone alive almost indefinitely. While the issue of life support (and if or when it is acceptable to ‘pull the plug’) is another controversial topic in and of itself, it should be noted that life support and euthanasia are two distinctly different issues. Euthanasia is using certain means to cause someone to die, whereas ‘pulling the plug’ could be argued as allowing nature to take its course.
Second, often a pragmatic argument for euthanasia goes something like this: “Ah, well it’s what they want. They’re in pain. It would be better this way. It would also be less expensive for the family.” Perhaps so, but no human being should attempt to play God. If God alone has the right to decide where, when, and how a human being dies, then causing the death of another innocent human being would be murder—an offense that, according to the Bible, will be judged by God. However, even the pagan Greeks understood that murder was wrong. The Hippocratic Oath (the oath all physicians should respect) states:
I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art.
Doing something wrong, even if one thinks it’s for the right reasons, is still wrong. Using the power and skill of a doctor to cause the death of an innocent person, even if they ask for it, is still murder. Both Christians and the pagan Greeks agree on this point.
Third, the real danger in denying God and the sanctity of human life, and embracing euthanasia is that euthanasia could very well become mandatory. More than one dystopian novel anticipates this occurrence. There are, after all, good indicators that this indeed is the direction that the world is going. Look, for a moment, at Belgium. Belgium passed a law in 2014 which allows for doctors to put a child to death if that child is terminally ill and requests Medical Assisted Suicide. There is no age limit for these children. Any child of any age can be put to death. Now, parents do have the right to veto that request—at least, they do in Belgium. The Netherlands is a different story. There is an age limit in The Netherlands for euthanasia, the age of 12. But in The Netherlands, parental consent is not required. Parental authority can be revoked, and the child can be put to death against their parent’s wishes. Switzerland is not far behind. But how much longer until these children are deemed to be too much of a financial liability, therefore euthanizing them becomes mandatory.
And what about the elderly? How much longer until it is argued that the elderly, at a certain point, should be euthanized because they are too much of a financial burden on the healthcare system? It should be obvious that when we lose the sanctity of human life we will rush down the slippery slope toward a dystopian nightmare. This will most certainly happen when a secular state attempts to take the place of God.
In conclusion, it is important that we keep our heads up in the culture wars. We need to pay attention and not be distracted. The stakes are too high. The cost of ignorance is too great. By not speaking out and allowing evil to take over, we would be no more innocent than the proponents of the culture of death. That is why we must sound the alarm and stay engaged in cultural dialogue—the issue truly is a matter of life or death.