Brittany Maynard is a beautiful young lady whose life came to end Saturday, November 1, 2014. She suffered from a form of brain cancer and was told by doctors she had six months to live in January of 2014. The cancer that attacked her body was glioblastoma multiforme. This is the most aggressive and lethal form of brain cancer. It attacks other parts of the body and few patients survive past three years.(1) She died at the age of 29. However, it was not the cancer that took Brittany’s life. She took her own life so in her own words she could die with dignity. Her husband Dan and his family, her mother, step dad and her best friend were by her side as she took the lethal potion that ended her life. I want to express my condolences to Dan and the rest of Brittany’s family. From my reading about her she seemed to be an incredibly impressive person and it had to be a joy to share time with her. For her life to end so young is heartbreaking. I pray for God’s comfort for her loved ones today.
A person’s right to die is a complex issue. As Christians our belief system is governed by the Bible, God’s Holy Word. This often puts us on opposite sides of certain issues with nonbelievers and theologically liberal Christians. Because we do not agree on certain issues does not mean we have to be adversarial. As I have read Brittany’s story all I feel is pain for her family and sorrow that this special person to so many has passed. With Brittany’s story as my backdrop I want to share a few thoughts on a person’s right to die from a Biblical point of view.
I. The Key thought on this matter is humans are created in the image of God.
On the opening pages of the Bible we read humans are created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26, 27 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth and the creatures that crawl on the earth. So God created man in His own image…'” In Christian ethics human dignity is found in the fact that we are made in the image of God. If someone is severely deformed or in constant pain because of terminal illness they still bear the image of God and maintain that dignity.
II. Life is sacred because God gives life to humans.
As a Southern Baptist pastor, I note my denomination has continually sounded the bell for the sanctity of human life. God gives life to us as a gift and then sustains our life. Colossians 1:16 states that Jesus created everything and verse 17 says He holds all things together. God has given us our lives as a gift. To treat life with little regard for any reason is an act of ingratitude. The Christian perspective is not that we own life but God owns life and has given it to us and we are accountable to Him with what we do with that gift of life. Because life is sacred Christians believe we should cherish the gift of life. Exodus 20:13 says, “Thou shalt not kill.” This is speaking of course of murder. The Bible offers a few reasons when killing is justified. Historically Christians have embraced the exceptions for killing as: a just war, self-defense and capital punishment. A very interesting study is Genesis 9:6 which reads, “Whosoever sheds man’s blood his blood will be shed by man for God made man in His image.” God in His system of justice demands the life of one who takes another’s life because the murderer did not respect God’s image in the person he murdered. Regardless of the physical condition of a person they are still made in the image of God and their life is sacred.
III. The argument that euthanasia is not suicide because the person who takes their life is dying is flawed.
In one article I read Ms. Maynard said she was not committing suicide because she wanted to live but was dying. Her position was she would not take her life if she were not dying from brain cancer so dying with dignity is not equivalent to suicide. In no way am I being trite, but, the Bible is clear we are all dying. While we may not all have a terminal disease we are all in deed terminal. If her argument is logical then any person may end their life at any time for all are surely dying. As Christians we do not view the death of an unbeliever(I have read nothing concerning Brittany Maynard’s faith) as relief from pain and suffering. Christians do not view death as an enemy to be avoided. Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” However, the death of an unbeliever is not the end of pain and suffering but is met with weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28).
IV. Suicide does not condemn a person to hell.
Some have viewed suicide as a mortal sin that condemns a person’s soul to hell. The Catholic Church used to deny a Catholic Mass funeral service for a person who commits suicide. I understand that practice has been changed. Consider for a moment how we are saved. Read Ephesians 2:8, 9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works so no one can boast.” Salvation is not a matter of doing; it is a matter of grace and faith. We are saved by grace through faith. Then in Romans 8 Paul declares nothing can separate the believer from the love of God. He gives a list of things that cannot separate us. In verse 38 he says death is one thing that cannot separate us. While suicide is not an unforgivable sin it still is a sin. Taking the totality of Scripture suicide/euthanasia has to be seen as self-murder. I must share that many who commit suicide do so because of the effects of disease or depression has had on their minds. There are some who cannot be held responsible for these actions because they have lost their faculties.
V. There is a huge difference between euthanasia and denying heroic medical treatment to keep a person alive.
Some argue Christian ethics demand life support, feeding tubes and such must be continued because of the sacredness of human life. I argue the refusal of treatment is not equivalent with euthanasia. In euthanasia a foreign subject is introduced into the body for the purpose of ending life. In heroic medical treatment a foreign subject is introduced for the purpose of keeping a body alive even though the life may be artificial life. If neither foreign subject is introduced nature would take its course and both would die at the appointed time.
VI. Christians are to reject the teaching that God’s children will not suffer.
Romans 5:3-5 actually teaches there is value in our suffering. Our suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope. It is not easy to hurt or to suffer. Yet the Bible says in the midst of this suffering there is value. Many believers today have accepted a false teaching that God’s children will be blessed and favored to the point that they will not suffer. The Bible teaches we will indeed suffer in our lives and at the end of our lives.
I have mentioned only a handful of issues for the Christian to consider in euthanasia. There are hundreds more to consider. The issue of “dying with dignity” will only become a larger issue in the years ahead. In the Feinbergs’ book on ethics, “Ethics for a Brave New World” they point out that in America soon there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 5.
If you have read this article please pause to pray for Brittany Maynard’s husband Dan and the rest of her family.