Euthanasia is the act of intentionally ending the life of a person suffering from an incurable illness/disease to prevent them from having to suffer. The word ‘intentionally’ is used here because if the action isn’t intended to kill the patient, but was intended for other purposes, it is not classed as euthanasia. For example, if a large dose of painkillers, such as morphine, is administered to ease the patient’s pain (but without the intention to kill them), but as a result the patient dies of an overdose, then this is not euthanasia. Therefore, this is legal and part of good medical practice. This is called the Doctrine of Double Effect.
Also, if a patient who has given a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, and they are not resuscitated following a cardiac arrest or a respiratory arrest, this in not euthanasia either. However, there is a possibility that this rule may be abused, as a doctor may write a DNR order in a patient’s file without their consent.
Euthanasia is also known as ‘mercy killing’, as it is merciful towards the dying person to allow them to die.
In the United Kingdom, all forms of euthanasia are illegal. However, in some countries and states, such as Belgium and The Netherlands, euthanasia is legal under certain circumstances.
Euthanasia can be voluntary, non-voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary euthanasia is where the patient expresses that they wish to die, non-voluntary euthanasia is where the patient does not express that they wish to die, and involuntary euthanasia is where the patient expresses that they do not wish to die.
Voluntary euthanasia can only occur with the request of a patient of sound mind and who is able to make competent decisions, or a surrogate who is caring for them (for example a patient with motor neurone disease, who is unable to communicate by themselves because they may not be able to speak, may be able to express their wishes through a carer).
Examples of non-voluntary euthanasia include when the patient is not told that they are going to be killed, or if a patient is unable to make decisions/is unconscious.
Involuntary euthanasia is uncommon because it is usually seen as murder. An example of involuntary euthanasia is where the patient (who is able to make rational decisions) is told that they are to be euthanized, the patient disagrees, but is killed regardless.
Also, there are two types of euthanasia. Firstly, there is active euthanasia. This is where action is taken to end the patient’s life, such as administration of lethal drugs, or removal of a life support machine.
Secondly, there is passive euthanasia. This is where action isn’t taken to save somebody’s life, such as not putting someone on a life support machine in the first place, or not giving them life-saving treatment.
As you would expect, euthanasia is a topic that has raised much debate amongst people with different ethical or religious beliefs.
A Case Study of Euthanasia
The Tony Bland Case:
Tony Bland was a Liverpool supporter, who was involved in the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died. In the disaster, many supporters were crushed. Tony was one of the people who got caught up in the crush, but he survived. However, he suffered very serious injuries. Part of his brain was starved of oxygen and as a result, he went into a persistent vegetative state. This means that he had extremely little or no chance of recovering. His body was being kept alive artificially, and his brain was dead.
Under the law at the time, if the doctor had have removed Tony’s life support, he would have been charged with murder. Therefore, the Airedale NHS Trust applied to the court for permission to remove the machines keeping Tony alive. Although many people objected to it, on the grounds that there was a small chance that Tony would make a partial recovery, a ruling was made that the doctors could remove Tony’s feeding tube.
He died 11 days after the tube was removed, 4 years after entering his PVS.
This was an example of non-voluntary euthanasia, as Tony did not give permission to be killed (although he couldn’t, as he was unconscious). It was active euthanasia, as an action was taken to end his life, in this case removing his life support.
What Christian teachings might be used in a discussion about euthanasia?
As there is no direct reference to euthanasia in the Bible, Christians have mixed views over the issue. In the Bible, there are teachings that may be interpreted as supporting euthanasia, but also teachings that may be against euthanasia. The majority of Christians (especially Roman Catholics) are against euthanasia, although there are those Christians who are for it in certain circumstances.
Some Christians may believe in euthanasia under certain circumstances. This would be when it is cruel and unmerciful to force a person to keep on living with the pain that they are suffering. They argue that it is more loving to end their life. They believe that although it is and evil to take someone’s life, it is more evil to make them suffer during the process of dying, and thus the lesser of the two evils must be taken.
Jesus taught all of his followers to “love thy neighbour”, that is, to love and care for all the people around them. This form of love is known as agape. Therefore, some Christians may believe that love and compassion should be shown towards people who are suffering.
Also, in Matthew 7:12, Jesus himself says: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”, i.e. treat others how you would wish to be treated. If one was in the position where you wanted to die, but other Christians wouldn’t let you, this would go against this quote because they might find themselves in this position at some point.
Christians have to respect all human beings, and their decisions. If a person decides that they want to die, then they should respect this.
Christianity teaches that humans were given by God the free will to do as they think is best and most loving. This can include deciding when it is right to end somebody’s life, some might argue.
However, the main consensus within Christianity is that euthanasia should not occur under any circumstances. The main argument against euthanasia is the Christian teachings on the Sanctity of Life. All Christians believe that life is holy and sacred; that it has a purpose; and that it is a gift from God. They believe that birth and death are part of the life process and may not be interfered with. Therefore, they believe that it is very special, and that it should not be ended.
In the Ten Commandments, which are the direct word of God and therefore the ultimate thing that Christians believe, it states that “”Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). All Christians believe this, and euthanasia is killing; therefore euthanasia is unacceptable.
Christians also believe that all life is created by God and that their life is planned out for them by God. In Psalm 139:16, it says “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Therefore, because life is planned by God, no-one has the right to end it because it would interfere with His plan. The suffering endured during dying may be interpreted as a test from God, because Christians believe that everything has a purpose, and therefore there must be a reason that the person is suffering. Many churches also believe that the process of dying is a very spiritually important time for the dying person. If the person’s life is ended artificially quickly, then the moving of the person’s spirit closer to God is interrupted, and the dying process is interrupted too.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says that “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.” This means that you belong to God, and you have no right to control whether you live or die, and you should respect your body. God has given you your life as the ultimate gift.
Also, Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in his own image.” This does not mean that people were created to look like God; rather it means that they were created to share in God’s life, to be able to do good deeds and love one another. Therefore life should be preserved so people can carry on doing so.
Christians believe that all humans were created equally, are equal, and should be treated equally, regardless of the quality of life. Everyone, including people in persistent vegetative states, old people, and handicapped people all have the same intrinsic value and value of their life. Saying that any individual’s life is not worth anything because it is of such a poor quality is not acceptable, as all people are valuable because they are made in the Image of God. The same goes for an individual wishing for euthanasia themselves, because they cannot regard themselves as worthless. Nobody whatsoever is better off dead.
Life has value in itself, regardless of how enjoyable it is.
Specific Churches within Christianity also have their own specific teachings on the issue of euthanasia. The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching is that under no circumstances whatsoever should euthanasia occur.
Pope John Paul II said that “Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.” Roman Catholics regard all euthanasia, and all laws permitting it, as completely immoral and unjust. They follow the commandment “thou shalt not kill” as strongly as possible, as it is one of the Ten Commandments which must be obeyed at all times.
Catholics believe that life is very valuable, regardless of its quality. Suffering is not a reason for ending a life as the life is valuable no matter how it is lived. They believe that God should be trusted during the dying process.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the USA said “As Catholic leaders and moral teachers, we believe that life is the most basic gift of a loving God–a gift over which we have stewardship but not absolute dominion.” This means that we do have some control over how life is lived, but do not have the complete power to end it.
Roman Catholics do not believe that humans have the right to die. Euthanasia contradicts the fact that God has complete power over the life and death of people.
The Roman Catholic Church does believe that people have the right to refuse extraordinary medical treatment. However it does not regard this as euthanasia because refusing this treatment is accepting the near-death condition that the person is in, and also does not fit the definition of euthanasia..
Finally, Roman Catholics believe that it is not right to assist suicide in the same way as it isn’t right to commit it yourself. Pope John Paul IV said “True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.” This means that people should help to ease the person’s suffering not by killing them. I also believe that this means that you shouldn’t assist suicide because you cannot stand to see a loved one die, for this is selfish.
The Anglican Church has a similar viewpoint. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, said “For a believer to say: ‘The time could come when I find myself in a situation that has no meaning, and I reserve the right to end my life in such a situation,’ would be to say that there is some aspect of human life where God cannot break through. It would be to say that when I as an individual can no longer give meaning to my life, it has no value, and human dignity is best served by ending it.”
This implies that there no matter how bad life is, it is still meaningful and you will always be able to find happiness in God.
He then says “That would be in the eyes of most traditional believers, Christian or otherwise, an admission that faith had failed.” This means that if you do not believe in this teaching, you no longer have faith in God and therefore you are going against your religion.
B) Explain how Christians might put their beliefs about euthanasia into action.
If a Christian has a belief about the issue of euthanasia, there are many things that they may be able to do to support that belief and put it into action.
One of the main movements formed by people against euthanasia is the Hospice movement. The primary aim of a hospice is to care for terminally ill people. However it provides “palliative” care. This means that it treats people not by trying to cure their disease, but trying to slow and ease the symptoms of the illness, thus trying to improve their quality of life before they die.
However, hospices need the service of volunteers to function properly. In the USA, there are over 100,000 hospice volunteers. They can do anything from supporting hospice patients by talking to them; sharing their interests with patients; doing shopping and other errands for patients; providing transport for patients; looking after the patients domestic needs such as cooking and cleaning; and many more.
Also, with training, volunteers can assist with other things such as planning and administration.
This palliative care is ultimately there to improve the quality of life for people who are dying. However, if no support was provided for them in hospices, many more people would want to commit suicide through euthanasia because they feel their quality of life is not worth living for.
Therefore, a Christian who believes that euthanasia is wrong could put their belief into action, either by becoming a hospice volunteer or donating money to a hospice, so that they can provide support for weak patients who may want to end their lives unnaturally.
Another thing that a Christian who is against euthanasia could do is join an anti-euthanasia organisation. Care Not Killing is a UK-based anti-euthanasia group which is an example of one of these. On their website, the organisation cites its three main aims as: promoting more and better palliative care for terminally ill patients; making sure that the current laws preventing assisted suicide and euthanasia are not weakened or removed; and persuading the public not to support euthanasia.
The society appeals to all faiths because it uses reasoning and research to support the argument against euthanasia; but it shares the beliefs of the majority of Christians.
Therefore, if a Christian wanted to put his or her beliefs about euthanasia into action, they could join Care Not Killing so that they can support their campaigns and help with their campaign; or they could donate money to them. This money could then be used to achieve Care Not Killing’s goals by funding a website, speakers and campaigns to raise public awareness of euthanasia and persuade them to oppose it, and also fund research and public opinion polls, helping to reduce euthanasia.
Another way a Christian could put their beliefs against euthanasia into action is by signing or creating a petition, perhaps on the internet. If someone wanted to put their beliefs against euthanasia into action, then they could either sign an existing petition to develop its support, or create their own (which is very easy using the internet nowadays). A petition they create could be backed by thousands of people, and these petitions could influence MPs and politicians to oppose euthanasia.
However, if a Christian held an opposing belief, and thought that euthanasia was acceptable in some circumstances, then there are also ways in which he could put these beliefs into action.
One of the ways a Christian could do this is through an organisation which promotes euthanasia in certain circumstances. One such organisation is Dignity in Dying, an organisation based in the UK which claims to be “the leading campaigning organisation promoting patient choice at the end of life”. It is an organisation which is independent of any religious groups, so any person including a Christian could be involved with it.
There are a few ways in which a Christian could support their beliefs through this organisation. One of these is to donate money to it. As it is entirely supported by public donations and contributions, it needs money to run, and if a Christian donated money to Dignity in Dying this would help with its campaigns to change the law to allow euthanasia in some circumstances. It is easy to donate money to Dignity in Dying through its website.
Another form of donation which Dignity in Dying also encourages is leaving a gift to the organisation in your will. This is another way in which a Christian could help to put their beliefs into action.
Finally, a Christian could help even more by joining the organisation. In this way, they could actively campaign for their beliefs, helping to raise public awareness and pressuring the Government for a change in the law.
Finally, there are also ways in which a Christian with either belief about euthanasia could put their beliefs into action. For example, they could directly e-mail their MP. This is done easily using the website www.upmystreet.com/commons/l/, and could be used as another way to influence politicians’ opinions about euthanasia.
Or, a Christian wanting to act on their beliefs could also write a letter to a local or national newspaper or an internet messageboard either supporting or opposing euthanasia explaining why they hold their beliefs. If the letter was published, then it would receive widespread viewing, and it could change many peoples’ opinions or even start a debate between people opposing and promoting euthanasia. This is a good way for them to put their beliefs into action because it could change the opinions of many people and change public opinion, which could pressure or influence the Government.