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Is Mercy Killing Biblical?

  • Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
  • 2021 19 Jan
woman praying for man in hospital bed

Dear Roger,
I am terrified watching all of the disease and death statistics I see on the news. I am afraid of suffering or remaining on a ventilator for months just waiting to die. Fearful feelings well up inside of me. I really don’t want to die a lingering death in horrible pain or gasping for breath. Does the Bible advocate mercy killing? Doesn’t God hate to see his children suffer? Is mercy killing suicide?
Sincerely,
Scared

Dear Scared,

I was loitering outside the ICU door in a local Tucson hospital waiting for the door to be opened from the inside. An intensive care nurse walked up and said quietly: “I think that they ought to put a sign above these doors that says, “Man’s Inhumanity to Man.” I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve watched the sufferings of too many patients with no chance for normal lives being kept alive by artificial means. Some are unconscious and unaware (although new studies reveal that most are much more aware than we give them credit for); others are in excruciating pain which pain killers can’t even begin to alleviate.

To be honest with you, in some cases, at the patient’s request, I have prayed for God to take a number of patients on home to Heaven. I used to feel guilty about this, but not anymore. Life and death are in God’s hands anyway. Sometimes the choice is taken out of the patient’s hands by people and laws which prolong their suffering far beyond what I believe God intended.

Don’t misunderstand me; I thank God for intensive care units that have allowed millions of people to spend time in the ICU recovering from all sorts of surgeries, accidents and life-threatening diseases. In these scenarios, the ICU is certainly not, “man’s inhumanity to man.” I’ve spent many days in the ICU myself—and am thankful for every one of them!

Jack Kevorkian, nicknamed "Dr. Death" because of his fascination with death, catapulted into public consciousness in 1990 when he used his homemade "suicide machine" in his rusted Volkswagen van to inject lethal drugs into an Alzheimer's patient who sought his help in dying.

Kevorkian, who said he helped some 130 people end their lives from 1990 to 1999, Charles Colson wrote:

One study found that 60 percent of Kevorkian’s ‘patients’ weren’t terminally ill. In fact, autopsies revealed that some of them weren’t sick at all!”

Ultimately, “physician-assisted suicide” isn’t about compassionate care of the sick and dying, it’s about personal autonomy. The case for it “depends much more on our respect for people’s own desire to die than on our sympathy for their devastating medical conditions.”

Too often they become an excuse to devalue human life if citizens are no longer productive in a society.

Some Eskimo tribes put their elderly on ice floes and push them out into the Arctic waters—never to be seen or heard from again. Many Native American Indian tribes simply left their elderly behind when they moved to another place. I don’t suppose that this was necessarily looked upon by these people as cruel; this was just an accepted way of guaranteeing ongoing survival.

I met a cardiologist on the golf course last week and we got to talking about this subject. My new friend told me that in some countries they now cut off dialysis when a patient reaches the age of sixty. That is scary. Denmark is already enacting laws to legalize assisted suicide. For example, most wars are all about the control of natural resources. Soldiers’ lives are considered less valuable than the resources or real estate for which they are fighting. How sad.

The best-known Bible story of assisted suicide is the death of King Saul. Mortally wounded in battle, he begged his servant to take his life. Saul wanted to avoid certain tortuous pain if he were captured alive. His servant refused lest he be held responsible for the death of the king. So, King Saul took his own sword in hand, wedged it into the ground, and proceeded to impale himself on it. Disappointed that King Saul was already dead, the Philistines proceeded to “torture” the body anyway. Finally, they severed his head and paraded it around on a stick for all to see and ridicule.

What Are Other Scriptures that Deal with This Issue? 

There are many!

The Bible says death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Life is a sacred gift from God (Genesis 2:7). When given the choice between life and death, God told Israel to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Euthanasia spurns the gift and embraces the curse.

The overriding truth that God is sovereign drives us to the conclusion that euthanasia and assisted suicide are wrong. We know that physical death is inevitable for us mortals (Psalm 89:48; Hebrews 9:27). However, God alone is sovereign over when and how a person’s death occurs. Job testifies in Job 30:23, “I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.” Ecclesiastes 8:8 declares, “No man has power over the wind to contain it; so, no one has power over the day of his death.” God has the final say over death (see 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54-56; Hebrews 2:9, 14-15; Revelation 21:4). Euthanasia and assisted suicide are man’s attempts to usurp that authority from God.

Ethics for a Brave New World by John and Paul Feinberg is an exceptional source to study more Bible principles on this issue.

By the way, the idea of entering into God’s presence before my appointed time frightens me. Of course, being late for my appointment because of man-made devices to prolong life doesn’t sit well with me either.

If I am being kept artificially alive, or especially if I am suffering mercilessly and needlessly, I don’t want an artificially prolonged existence; but, I’m not ready to make the decision to have someone assist me in suicide.

I have to be honest when I try to answer your specific questions. I suppose we will all have personal decisions concerning these matters. We will have to really seek to hear from God in our own particular situations. I do believe that “Do Not Resuscitate” orders are permitted because the patient has actually died. Only now do we have the capacity to revive someone. “It is appointed to a man once to die and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

You ask, “Doesn’t God hate to see his children suffer?” the answer is obvious: Of course He does.

Now, for your big question: “Is mercy killing suicide?” I would have to say, “Yes.” A gun is a tool people use to carry out the act of suicide. Some use pills. Others use knives to slit their wrists. In mercy killing the tool for suicide just happens to be another human being. The implements are different, but the results are the same.

My favorite quote on the subject of the value of human life is by Dr. Russell Moore:

“As Christians we need to remind ourselves—and the watching world—that death claimed the cold corpse of an executed Jewish rabbi a couple of thousand years ago. We need to remind those who align themselves with the god of death that this dead rabbi’s heart started beating again one Sunday morning. When his blood-matted eyes opened in the darkness of that tomb, death was swallowed up in victory. He is at the door. And there aren’t enough deadbolts in the cosmos to keep him back.”

Unlike the rest of the culture, believers don’t cower in the face of death—and we don’t take it lightly either. We take refuge in the One who called Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:24).

Well Scared, what tough questions you ask. I am not certain that my musings give you clear-cut definitive answers about every aspect of this issue, but I am not certain that clear-cut answers exist.

However, we can pray for God’s wisdom as we sort out our own answers. We can also pray that our need to consider mercy killing or assisted suicide will never arise.

Sincerely,

Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/gorodenkoff 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.




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