Is Euthanasia a Euphemism

Exodus 20:13 - You shall not murder.

Exodus 4:11 - And the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?"

Job 2:10b - Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Deuteronomy 32:39 - See now that I, I am He, and there is no god beside Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 - There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven: a time to give birth, and a time to die.

A euphemism is an agreeable or pleasant sounding expression that is substituted for an expression that may be offensive or provoking or unpleasant. "Senior citizen" is a euphemism for old age. "Husky" or "full-figured" are euphemisms for overweight or fat. "Souvenir hunting" is a euphemism for vandalism. Is euthanasia also a euphemism?

The word "euthanasia" literally means "good death" or "easy death". Euthanasia is the act of killing, for reasons of mercy, persons that are hopelessly sick or handicapped or injured. Consequently euthanasia is more commonly known as "mercy killing". But is killing for reasons of mercy somehow less than killing? Isn't mercy killing just a euphemism for murder?

The issue of euthanasia is very contemporary within our culture. Advances in medical technology have enabled us to preserve and prolong human life far longer than in the past, and consequently all kinds of hard questions are being raised. Why, for example, shouldn't an elderly person be allowed (and even persuaded) to die with dignity? What's the point of dragging on the earthly existence of a person who has already enjoyed full, happy, and useful life? And what about hopelessly ill or injured persons of any age? Why not mercifully "pull the plug" and by-pass a great deal of needless pain and suffering? And why prolong the life of an infant who is born with major physical or mental disabilities? Wouldn't a lot of expense and years of anxiety be avoided if such newborns were just permitted (or even "helped") to die a natural death?

These questions are just a sampling of the many formidable and troublesome questions in this uncharted area that need answers today. We can see that euthanasia is not an issue with quick and easy answers for the Christian. In fact, euthanasia is probably one of the most difficult issues facing the Christian community today. What are the biblical answers?

You will not find the word "euthanasia" listed in a Bible concordance, but there are certainly Scriptural principles in God's all-sufficient Word that apply to this complicated matter. The five Scriptures listed above give us some guidelines and also some boundaries for our thinking on this issue.

On the one hand, the Bible obviously teaches that to willfully and deliberately terminate an innocent human life is wrong. To do so would break the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). But what about human life that is "less than normal"? God's response to Moses in Exodus 4:11 is a strong statement showing that the presence of some kind of physical handicap does not in any way lower the value of human life. We read here that God has purposely allowed certain handicapped persons to be born and live. Exodus 4:11 therefore logically condemns the putting to death of handicapped newborns or handicapped individuals of any age. The reason why God has made some "dumb or deaf or seeing or blind" is not the question here. (See John 9:1-3 for one answer.) The point here is that to deliberately end the life of a so-called "less than normal" person is to kill--even if it seems more compassionate or "efficient" in some cases.

But what about the person who is going through extreme suffering or experiencing intense pain due to illness or injury? Isn't euthanasia justified in such a case? The book of Job gives us some guidelines here. Job is well known for his patient endurance through much suffering. Some insight into the extent of Job's horrible and painful physical condition can be seen in Job 2:7-8; 7:5; 13:28; 30:16-18, 30. Wouldn't an easy and merciful death have been better for Job than the continuous, tortuous pain of worms eating away at his body? Even Job's wife suggested that it would be better to curse God and die than to go on living in such a miserable and painful condition.

Job himself certainly wanted to die. He longed for death (Job 3:20-22). But Job chose to endure. His response was, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" Job recognized that his suffering was by divine permission and purpose. The fact that the end of Job 2:10 states that Job did not sin in all of this leaves no doubt that Job's analysis of the situation was correct. His decision to endure the suffering rather than having his life taken before God's time was right.

Again, the reason why God allows suffering is not the question here. (Read the whole book of Job for part of that answer.) Nor is the question of using pain-killing drugs before us here. (Proverbs 31:6 would seem to justify the medicinal use of drugs for relief of pain.) The conclusion here is that to mercifully terminate a life because of suffering or pain is not justified. It is the wrongful taking of human life. It is murder.

Now on the other hand, the Bible just as clearly teaches that God does have the right to terminate life. Whether in judgment or mercy or for some other sovereign purpose, God is never wrong in taking a human life. Deuteronomy 32:39 states that "God puts to death and gives life." (See also Samuel 2:6 and Psalm 90:3.) The giving and taking of human life are the prerogatives of God alone.

It is true that God has delegated the responsibility of capital punishment to human governments (see Genesis 9:6), and there are the legitimate questions concerning just wars and self-defense, etc. These matters certainly have biblical grounds for discussion but are not the issue before us now. The focus of the argument here is that while we do not have the right to take innocent life, God very definitely does have that right. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 goes further and says that there is a "time to die". God not only has the rightto take a life but he has a time appointed when he takes that life.

The whole point of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is that all the events of life are divinely appointed. Human responsibility, moreover, is also in view in the passage, as a matter of our duty in light of these divinely appointed times. When it is time to be silent (v7), for example, we may be silent or make the mistake of opening our big mouths. When it is a divinely appointed time to weep (v4), as commanded in Romans 12:15, we may weep or we may sin by not being concerned. Man has a responsibility in all the areas mentioned (including capital punishment or just war, which seems to be the focus of verse 3) to be sensitive to God's appointed times and act accordingly.

Along this line of reasoning, then, could we not make a mistake and prevent the death of an individual whose divinely appointed "time to die" has arrived? Should we use every new and extraordinary medical technique available to prolong biological life as long as possible? Is there not a line between protecting the act of living and prolonging the act of dying? If taking a life before God's appointed time of death is wrong, is not perpetuating a life beyond God's appointed time of death also wrong?

But how do we know when God's appointed "time to die" has arrived for an individual? This is the basic issue for the Christian. In other words, euthanasia by definition should not be an issue for the growing Christian. We've seen that euthanasia or "mercy-killing" is wrong, according to biblical teaching. It is a euphemism for killing or murder. But preventing death by perpetuating a life that God is taking is really another matter. It is true that there is some overlap here with so-called "passive euthanasia". However, it is probably best to think of not perpetuating life as a separate issue, because in many cases of passive euthanasia something could and should have been done for the dying instead of precipitating death by doing nothing.

Unfortunately, the situation is usually not black and white for decision making. An infant born without a brain or a decapitated accident victim are obvious cases where the "time to die" has arrived, and using life support systems to keep the bodies "alive" (which is possible!) may be wrong. However, most situations are much more complex and many factors must be taken into account. The request of the terminal cancer patient, the living will of the permanently unconscious individual, the reasonable hope of recovery of some rational capability for the infant or for the accident victim with severe brain damage, the possibility of a miracle cure, are just some of the particulars that must be considered and weighed before a decision is reached.

It goes without saying that Christians involved in situations such as these are obligated to pray that God's will would be revealed as well as carried out. And in all cases, Christian love and care should be given to the patient of any age as we seek to stay within biblical boundaries, and follow the biblical guidelines in reference to the dying.
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