Euthanasia

Positonal Statements

Euthanasia consists of any act or deliberate omission taken by oneself and/or others with the specific intention of causing the death of a person and actually causing that death. It is believed by proponents of euthanasia that the death being caused is for the good of the person who is being killed.

"Active euthanasia" consists of the effort of a person to cause his own death or the death of another. With active euthanasia, the medical cause of death is not disease or injury, but rather the act taken to cause death.

"Passive euthanasia" is the withholding, withdrawal or refusal of medical treatment that could clearly enable a person to live significantly longer. The intent of passive euthanasia is to cause a person's death at a time when death is not imminent.

"Letting die" (which is distinct from euthanasia) consists of the withholding or withdrawing of all life-prolonging and life-sustaining medications and technologies from a terminally or irreversibly ill patient with whom death is imminent even with treatment. The intention of "letting die" is not to choose or intend death but to enhance the well-being of the patient by avoiding useless prolonging of the dying process.

The difference between "letting die" and "passive euthanasia," then, is this: With "passive euthanasia," death is not imminent and medical treatment could clearly enable a person to live significantly longer, but with 'letting die" the patient's death is imminent even with treatment (i.e., medical technologies can no longer prevent death." Whereas the former seeks to cause a person's death, the latter seeks to enhance the well-being of the patient by avoiding the prolongation of the dying process.

(Note: These definitions are from Keith H. Essex, "Euthanasia," The Master's Seminary Journal 11/2 (2000): 191-212.)

Biblical Response

Death is inevitable and its timing ultimately rests in the hand of God (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Hebrews 9:27). Life is a gift from God, and everyone has an obligation to value his own life and the life of others regardless of the circumstances.

Because Scripture prohibits murder and suicide (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), euthanasia is never an acceptable option for the believer. In addition to violating the prohibition of suicide, the act of killing oneself is the ultimate expression of selfishness.

In the case that the patient is irreversibly terminal and death is imminent regardless of the treatment provided, it is acceptable for the patient or - if the patient is unconscious - a legally authorized third party (e.g., a spouse of family member) to choose to withhold any of the following forms of treatment:

In other words, although Scripture forbids all forms of euthanasia, we believe that "letting die" is an acceptable option in the circumstances described above.

You and your loved ones may want to consider creating a living will that indicates your wishes regarding medical treatment in order to guide medical personnel in a situation when you are unable to make decisions to choose treatment options.

Randall Runions, Pastor