Christians are generally opposed to euthanasia, because they regard life as belonging to God, and therefore his to give and take.

Christians regard life as belonging to God, and so an individual does not have the right to decide to end his or her life. But the question is not as simple as that for the following reasons. 1) Preserving life is not always the highest absolute: the Old Testament allows for killing in war and for capital punishment, and commands Christians to do good even if means certain death. 2) The term “euthanasia” covers a variety of situations, which are not all morally the same. 3) There are two distinct questions: is Euthanasia morally justifiable, and should it be legalised. (To see the distinction, consider adultery. Christians regard it as immoral, but not all would want to jail people for it.) I will discuss the moral question first.

God’s ownership of life is most relevant in relation to voluntary euthanasia, that is, assisted suicide. Proponents of assisted suicide argue that if we have the right to end our lives, then it should be legal to get help where we are unable safely to do it ourselves. Christians reject that we have that right. What about where pain is involved? Isn’t it compassionate to end suffering? This is of course the hardest aspect of the debate, because the Christian view will mean some people have to endure terrible suffering. Nevertheless, a Christian who is undergoing suffering is called to endure it rather than pre-empt God’s right to their life. Note that I am talking here about the moral decision a Christian makes for himself / herself, not necessarily what the law should be.

Non-voluntary euthanasia refers to killing someone who is incapacitated and unable to decide they want to die. Such incapacity includes severe retardation, dementia, and permanent coma. The moral argument in favour of non-voluntary euthanasia is that such life has less intrinsic value than functional human life, and may not have enough value to justify the cost or inconvenience of keeping them alive. Christians are not opposed to aspects of this argument. Letting someone die naturally by withdrawing life support may well be justified. Medical resources are limited, and beyond a certain point intervention for one person means that needed medical care is not available to others. Relatives of someone who is brain dead need to be able to grieve. However, Christians reject the idea that dementia or retardation lessens the intrinsic value of human life.

Christians not only rule out euthanasia as a moral option for Christians, but oppose its legalisation. This is clearest in the case of non-voluntary euthanasia of the physically and intellectually handicapped. To allow such euthanasia opens up a slippery slope where the value of human life is based on function not being. How much function is needed before human life has value? How retarded or demented does a person have to be before they are a candidate? What about the insane, habitual criminals, trouble-makers?

Legalising voluntary euthanasia doesn’t have the same problem of outsiders deciding who is fit to live. This issue has a different slippery slope. Once voluntary euthanasia is accepted, people will come under pressure to decide to die. This need not be coercion: many old people feel like a burden and think others would be better off without them, without anyone saying anything to them. Of course, some who are experiencing severe pain do genuinely want to die. But the cases where palliative care cannot relieve pain are increasingly rare.

What the two slippery slopes have in common is that it is cheaper and easier for a society to kill people who are retarded or in severe pain than to provide the proper care for them. Legalising euthanasia promotes a culture where killing people is a viable option.

In summary, since life belongs to God euthanasia is not a moral option for a Christian, though I would be slow to pass judgment on someone who avoided severe pain by taking their life. Christians in Australia are also opposed to society legalising euthanasia because it makes taking life too easy an option when society faces “difficult” people and situations.

This is part of a statement put out by the National Council of Churches in Australia in 1995 and endorsed by the heads of its members, ie most Christian churches in Australia : http://www.ucaqld.com.au/mission/sr/bioethics/resolutions/euthanasia.html.

The churches affirm the following principles as they apply to euthanasia:

* Euthanasia - understood as deliberately causing the death of a terminally ill person in order to bring that person’s suffering to an end - we reject as contrary to God’s law and the values of a civilised society.

* Life is a gift from God and as such is to be cherished; it should be the primary intent of law to sustain and enhance life, not to destroy it.

* Dying is an integral part of the cycle of life and death; while we naturally cling to life, at some point death must be accepted as inevitable.

* The withdrawal of excessively burdensome or futile medical interventions does not constitute euthanasia; to describe it as “passive euthanasia” causes confusion in the public debate.

* Optimal palliative care should be available to all people regardless of their age, or economic or social circumstances. Economic expediency, must not become the occasion for the introduction of euthanasia.

* People should never be made to feel they are a burden, that they have a “duty to die” and that they need to take measures to cause their own death. To condone the deliberate killing of the most vulnerable is potentially to risk the status of all human life in our community. We therefore urge the parliaments of Australia to show commitment to their people by opting for care, not killing, and to resist any moves to substitute euthanasia for effective palliative care.

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