Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in California. The recent story of Brittany Maynard, a young newlywed diagnosed with brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon so she could use that state’s system of legal suicide, prompted the California legislature to pass and Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill making it lawful in the Golden State.
This news brings to mind Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the controversy that surrounded his ideology and methods in the late 1990s. He was a man so adamant about the “right to die” that he claimed having helped assist more than 130 patients meet their death.
In these cases, both Maynard and Kevorkian were concerned about the pain and suffering of people who are dying. Opponents of the practice say there are adequate medications and programs available under hospice to treat the pain and suffering of patients, but for some, that’s not enough.
For Christians, what does the Bible say about physician-assisted suicide? To consider that, we must look at three issues:
- What does the Bible say about life?
- What does the Bible say about suffering?
- What does the Bible say about God’s Sovereignty?
Life and Death
Scripture tells us repeatedly that God has given us life, that He created us, blessed us and gave us sacred life through His own breath, giving us “the breath of life” (Gen 1:27, Gen 2:7, Gen 5:2). And after that creation, He gave Adam the choice to choose life or death (Gen 2:9, 16-17). God also directly told Israel to choose life as He set before the people the same two choices as Adam: “I have set before you life and death … choose life” (Deut 30:19) and He continues to encourage us to take life and to make it meaningful while it lasts (Ecc. 12).
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said that when we consider the practice of medicine, we must realize it “cannot be both our healer and our killer.” He recognized that medicine could only be one or the other, but not both.
It seems that the real issue when we discuss physician-assisted suicide is suffering. Supporters of the practice argue no person should suffer if he or she would rather die.
An interesting side note is that we don’t seem to be concerned about suffering at the time of our birth! Women are encouraged to not use medications to ease their suffering and pain, as it might harm the baby. And babies even come out crying, struggling to adjust to their changing environment. So why so much concern over the suffering at the point of death?
Scripture is again very clear and straightforward: There will be suffering in this life (John 16:33). We are warned that we will face trials, trouble, tribulations and temptations. But Scripture also offers us encouragement regarding these troubles — that there is a purpose in our struggles. James reminds us that our trials and the testing of our faith brings perseverance and maturity (James 1:2-4). Peter tells us that our grief in trials only lasts “a little while” (1 Peter 1:6). He further asserts that trials have existed so that our faith in the Sovereign God would be proven genuine (1 Peter 1:7-9).
Sovereignty of God
As Christians, we serve a Sovereign God. That means that He is in control of everything that is happening to us. He knew us before we were born (Pr 8:23, Ps 139:13), He knows everything that will happen in our lives and He knows how we will die. He is in control of it all. The Bible reminds us that we still can choose whether to obey Him, but should we be so bold as to say to God, “My way is better?” It’s a proud and arrogant statement, yet we seem to do it a lot.
Scripture tells us that God’s ways are high above our ways (Is 55:8-9) and that “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Pr 14:12, Pr. 16:25). Why do we trust God in life, but not in death?
We will inevitably face suffering in our lives and witness suffering in the lives of those around us. As God’s people, we are to bear this suffering with one another. Suffering and death teach and cause us to focus on what is truly meaningful in life. It is a reminder of our need for a Sovereign Lord. We are called to suffering because of its benefit to us. When people say, “what is the point of this needless suffering?” we need to respond with a strong clear voice!
Our perseverance in the midst of suffering, whether death or persecution, leads to: character, hope, the evidence of God (2 Th 1:5, Rom 5:3-4), discipline, holiness (Heb 12:6, 10), righteousness, peace (Heb 12:11) and maturity (Jam 1:4). Suffering gives us an opportunity to seek His wisdom instead of our own.
Life is precious, no matter what stage, and it should be respected and preserved. I prayed every day for Brittany during her very public journey until her final breath, and it weighed heavy on my heart.
In the end her story drew me closer to my Savior, and it made me search His Word for meaning and understanding. It made me weep at His feet and cry out in my prayer. It made me more passionate in my work and prompted me to be more intentional about sharing Jesus and salvation with others. So in the end, death and suffering had great benefit. My heart and prayers continue to go out to the family of Brittany Maynard and to all those suffering with the end of life.