Paul Huxley, Christian Concern Communications Manager, comments on why Christians should oppose legalising assisted suicide.
This week in parliament, assisted suicide has been raised, once again, with Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine securing a Westminster Hall debate on ‘The law on assisted dying’. Various attempts to liberalise the law on assisted suicide or euthanasia have been rejected by parliament over the past decade, but Thursday’s debate was the first opportunity to test the views of newly elected MPs.
To legalise assisted suicide would be dangerous, unnecessary and wrong. The evidence from other jurisdictions show that no matter the intention, no matter the ‘safeguards’, vulnerable people feel pressured into ending their lives prematurely and the option, initially meant for rare cases, becomes used in many more cases than intended.
If it’s so bad in these jurisdictions, why don’t they reverse the laws? Because their consciences have been dulled – just like ours since the Abortion Act was passed. In Belgium, euthanasia is available for a ‘serious and incurable disorder’ – which in practice has included ‘untreatable depression’ and the stress of a failed relationship. Even children can legally be euthanised with their parents’ consent.
Anyone aware of where legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia leads ought to oppose it. But Christians have even more reason to oppose assisted suicide – it’s totally contradictory to the faith.
Death is an enemy
The most dominant symbol of Christianity is the cross – a man dying. Life and death are put right at the centre of the Christian message (the gospel) as Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification.
The Christian story says that death came into the world through our rebellion against God. Humans weren’t designed to die – it’s unnatural to us. It’s why death hurts so much. The relationships we’ve developed are suddenly cut off and our memories of friends and family are forever coloured by the reality that they are no longer with us.
And yet, there is an end to death, and its sting will one day end.
Pro-assisted suicide campaigners see death as a friend. A way to relieve unproductive suffering. I see death as an enemy (1 Cor 15:25).
Suffering isn’t meaningless
Suffering, too, came from our fall in Eden. Why God allows suffering is one of the hardest and most-talked-about questions in theology and apologetics.
We have answers – incomplete though they may be. We may not always know what our suffering achieves, but God in his wisdom does.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)
However painful the final moments of a person’s life, they are an opportunity for faith in God. For those who have never followed Christ, they may find him (like the criminal crucified next to him in Luke 23:43). And those who have lived as Christians can face death with confidence, giving hope, inspiration and comfort to those around them.
There’s no one for whom assisted suicide is a better option. Even in any rare case where palliative care cannot give adequate pain relief, deliberately hastening death never delivers what it promises.
Dignity and value
Pro-assisted suicide campaigners often speak of ‘dignity’ – a word that appeals to us all, but ought to mean something very different to Christians from how others use it.
Christians believe that God made all humankind in his image (Genesis 1:27). However marred that image may become, or however obscured, every person bears God’s likeness and has inherent dignity and value.
Others feel the need to construct dignity. In their view, we are all no more than atoms, quarks and strings – our value is entirely determined by our thoughts, actions and experiences. So unborn children are afforded no dignity whatsoever, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy. If our dignity isn’t grounded in the objective truth of God’s image in us, we will have nowhere to turn when we face undignified circumstances.
The end of life can undoubtedly feel and genuinely be degrading. Christians should do everything to relive this precisely because this is a human of inherent worth. We cannot draw lines to determine that a life is no longer worth living.
Autonomy or freedom?
Pro-assisted suicide campaigners elevate autonomy as if it is the highest value of all – a person’s right to self-determine how they live – or in this case, how they die.
‘Autonomy’ comes from two Greek words – ‘auto’ (self) and ‘nomos’ (law). To have autonomy is to be a law unto yourself. But what if your ‘self’ isn’t free?
Christianity says that, by default, people are slaves to sin. We don’t necessarily desire what’s best for us and we aren’t necessarily able to carry it out.
The devastating reality that mental health challenges lead people to suicide makes the point. In the middle of depression, anxiety, addiction and grief, people are often not able to make decisions rationally.
True freedom, found in Christ, is where people truly flourish. Christians should value that freedom over notions of autonomy.
The counterfeit gospel of assisted suicide
The evidence is clear that legalising assisted suicide leads to many more deaths than are originally intended. Liberalising the law in this area inevitably jeopardises public safety. So when a person seeking to die suggests that ‘compassion’, ‘dignity’ and ‘autonomy’ should overrule the safety of other vulnerable people, we need to understand the implication of what they’re saying: “others should die to shorten my suffering”.
As heart-breaking as end-of-life scenarios may be, this is a far cry from the message of the gospel – where Jesus died, so that we may live. We mustn’t let our sympathy for those suffering distract us from protecting the vulnerable.