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Intersection of Life and Faith

A Living Will – Is it Scriptural?

  • 2005 27 Jun
A Living Will – Is it Scriptural?

Is it Biblically wrong to state in your Living Will that you do NOT want to be kept alive by artificial means? Also, then was it Biblically wrong for the state to pull the feeding tube on Terri Schiavo?

This is not an easy "no-brainer" question. I am always reluctant to comment on controversial issues without clear direction from the Word. There is no provision in the Bible for a Living Will - either for or against. Scripture is silent on this issue. Medical science is a gift from God. That is the meaning of common grace. So also, life is a gift from God and we should always err on the side of life. Since I have no directive from Scripture on a Living Will I have to resort to what God has chosen to reveal to us beyond His Word, that being the truthful elements of medical science, the wisdom of a multitude of counselors, the sanctity of life issues, the role of the church, etc. This is how I have historically helped families in the critical moments of death to make the decision as to whether or not to "pull the plug."

1. There is a difference between prolonging life and prolonging death. If an act of medical intervention merely prolongs death it has to be critically assessed against the other points below.

2. When one's brain waves are nonexistent (no EEG activity) that person is dead.

3. Quality of life is but one variable and should be considered along with the other data but not as the sole issue. Many people live productive and Godly lives with little quality of life as defined by our culture.

4. Families should discuss what measures they want to be taken. One point person (usually the spouse) should have final authority to say when the last measures are to be taken in consultation with the rest of the family. Usually (but not always) the final decision must rest with the spouse.

5. Christians should consult their church leadership, the pastor and elders, before making the final decision. But these counselors, though critical, are but one piece of the puzzle.

6. A Living Will is, in my opinion, a dangerous yet necessary evil given our day and age of incredible medical advances and scientific technology. The Living Will should state the above and below mentioned points to insure this decision cannot be misinterpreted.

7. Christian doctors, unrelated to the case, should be consulted since an unbelieving attending physician may not share the Judeo-Christian worldview.

8. Pray for wisdom while these points are followed. After seeking the input of a multitude of counselors it will all boil down to a faith-sized decision. Once that decision is made, live with it confidently and boldly in the light of God's grace.

9. The wishes of the afflicted should be a factor in the decision-making process. But keep in mind, it is easy to say what you would want when you are healthy and in no physical danger. But things may change when it happens to you. The unknown of the comatose or prolonged vegetative condition is a dark tunnel into which we can barely see, let alone understand.

10. The final decision maker would be very foolish to make this decision alone without considering the above. But it is their decision and should be honored and respected by all.

Given the above, I cannot comment on the Schiavo case with Biblical clarity, only personal conclusions. I recognize that some within the pro-life movement are more “black and white” in their response. I, too, am unapologetically pro-life, but it is a dangerous place for our culture to remove the rights of a spouse unless there is proven danger/abuse, especially if she agreed her husband was the final arbiter. To set a precedent that any extended family member can intercede and overrule the designated decision-maker is counterproductive. It seems to me there were significant medical contradictions on the condition of Terry Schiavo. But common sense dictates it was inhumane to starve her to death. That is on her husband's conscience and the judges who delivered her to that point. However, this very public tragedy can be redeemed in a small way by generating discussion among family members as to their own wishes if faced with similar conditions.

Dr. Chuck Betters regularly answers questions like these from radio listeners. For more questions like these or to ask Dr. Betters a question, visit www.markinc.org.

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