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  Is Euthanasia Biblically Acceptable?

"Euthanasia:  It's in all the news while the Supreme Court reviews the constitutionality of physician assisted suicides and whether the 'right to death' is a Constitutional right. But I haven't heard much from the church yet. What does Christianity have to say about euthanasia?"

Actually, the church has been far from silent on this issue. It's just that the voice of the Church hasn't been listened to by many folk­-especially those of the media. Following Roe Vs. Wade and the aftermath of the pro-life/pro-choice wars, the media and the public have felt little need to ask the Church where it stood on the issue of euthanasia. After all, ending lives is a sin-­right?

Ending life equals sin. That seems to be the attitude of mob-Christianity. However, when pressed individually, even this black-and-white issue seems to engender some grey. Like the grey of capital punishment, or killing a foe in a "just" war, or abortion when it endangers the life of the mother, or after a rape. Those on the conservative right of the church often allow for some or all of these to be excused from the equation.

But where does the scriptures come down on euthanasia? I know of only one case that can be cited directly. In Judges 9.53-54 we read of Abimelech's death during a battle. "And a certain woman threw an upper millstone upon Abimelech's head, and crushed his skull. Then he called hastily to the young man his armor-bearer, and said to him, 'Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, "A woman killed him."' And his young man thrust him through, and he died." In this case Abimelech was mortally wounded and his ego was at stake as to the cause of his death. And what of the young man who killed him? He is never mentioned again and there are certainly no words of condemnation regarding his act.

On the other hand, 1st Samuel 31 records Saul's death by suicide. However, in 2nd Samuel an Amalekite takes credit for the slaying (1.10) and David has him put to death for killing Israel's king (literally the Lord's messiah) even though it was reported Saul had requested his own death. David's subsequent punishment of the Amalekite could be cited as grounds against euthanasia, but when read in the context of Saul's demise David's motivation is unclear.  Was the Amalekite punished for killing an Israelite, or for killing a king, or just for killing period?

To really decide how scripture might view euthanasia, we have to look at what the Bible says about suicide, since physician-assisted suicide is the issue under question. On February 1st, 1995 the Walton Tribune published a column on Judas' suicide that discussed in some detail scripture's understanding of suicide (see suicide). The column essentially asserts that suicide, as recorded in scripture, is considered a noble act­or at least an acceptable end to life. However, this view must be held in tension with the sanctity of life as expressed throughout scripture. Suicide would hardly be considered an apt end to most lives.

But when is suicide acceptable? The church hasn't been silent,. Its journals and magazines have been filled with articles, but the church is divided on the issue. There are those who hold suicide is never a viable option, that life isn't over until it's over. Then there are those on the other end of the continuum who maintain life ends, or should be allowed to end, when there is no more life to be lived­-and if suicide is the only solution, then so be it.

Life isn't over until it's over­-or until there is no more life to live? Which is it? These are difficult questions and both stem from a basic question about life: What is the purpose of life? In other words, why do we live? The answer to this question will inform us in trying to answering the pondering, "Is euthanasia a Christian alternative?" To be continued next week (see Assisted Suicide).

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