The Times reports today that a couple from Bath have become the latest Britains to commit suicide at the Swiss centre Dignitas. Both Peter and Penelope Duff were suffering from severe cancer and were well past retirement age. I will not pretend to understand what it must have felt like to realise that their closing years would be characterised by suffering. I’ve been close to those who’ve suffered terrible physical pain but I’ve not yet known it myself. Conceptually I can understand why they thought that an early exit was a preferable option. But I still think they made a mistake.
What are we to make of this? The Christian Institute has a page of related information here. The ethical issues will be discussed on many of their links. My intention has a narrower focus. I want to argue that there are three reasons why a Christian should not seek Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS).
1.It’s not our life to take
The life that we terminate when we commit suicide is not ours to take. We belong to God. We’re His. He made us and He preserves us. We’re answerable to Him for the way we use the life that He’s given us. We’re not free to do with it whatever we want. Proponents for PAS and Euthanasia want to argue that we’re self determining individuals. But we’re not. And so, if we’re Christians then suicide isn’t an option. The Bible teaches that it’s God’s prerogative to take life and that we are not to take the life of another except in specific circumstances. Every human being bears the image of God and on that basis we are not to murder anyone (Genesis 9:1-6). The biblical prohibition against murder is repeated in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 32:39, Psalm 104:29, 1 Samuel 2:6 & 2 Kings 5:7) and by Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 5:21). PAS is effectively self-murder. And so it would be a shameful thing if the final defining event of our life and the lasting testimony of our death is rebellion against our Lord.
2. It’s a denial of God’s goodness
We can know the Lord’s sustaining hand in suffering, even dreadful suffering. But we find that hard to believe. In Psalm 23:4 David speaks of fearing no evil, even in the valley of the shadow of death. In other words, even under the threat of death the Lord’s comfort can keep us going. If a Christian chooses PAS they’re denying in practice that the Lord can help and provide in suffering. Do we really want to witness to that? Instead we can look to the Lord and trust him with everything, even with the circumstances of our death (Psalm 104:27-30). Therefore especially at this time we must not do something that the Lord forbids. Through correctly administered palliative care there’s no reason why we should die in great pain and suffering. Care rather than killing is the appropriate Christian response. I’ve not been there yet but I’m praying that I’ll hold up when that test comes.
3. It’s a failure to love others
When anyone commits PAS there’s every likelihood that it’ll hit the press. If it’s a Christian then you can bet the mortgage that they’ll have a field day. Here’s one of our own not buying the party line. Therefore we need to be clear that our actions have consequences not only for our own life but also for the lives of others. If a Christian commits PAS he fails to love his friends, his fellow Christians, non-Christians and his nation. He won’t love his friends who don’t want him to do it and would prefer him to remain alive. He won’t love fellow Christians who are politically contending to oppose Euthanasia. They need the encouragement of fellow Christians standing up for the truth even when there are painful personal consequences. He won’t love non-Christians who won’t see the power of faith to transform our attitude to death. All they’ll see is a Christian who’s just like them and faces suffering and death in the same way that they do. He won’t love our nation because our actions will strengthen the case to introduce legislation for PAS and Euthanasia. There’s every indication that this will prey on the vulnerable and further undermine Christian truth in society. But this can be expressed positively as well. We can live for Christ and contend for the truth even in our death. We should be encouraged that our actions as we approach death will have huge ramifications for others. We must remember and take great delight from the fact that even in an increasing state of debilitation we can obey God, encourage Christians and evangelise non-Christians.