Thursday 7 November 2013

Euthanasia - what does the Bible say?

There are two instances of euthanasia in the Bible. In the first, Abimelech, believing himself to be fatally wounded (with a fractured skull after being hit on the head by a millstone), asks his armour-bearer to kill him to spare him the ‘indignity’ of being killed by a woman (Judges 9:52-55). In the second, an Amalekite despatches the mortally injured Saul, still alive after a failed attempt at suicide (2 Samuel 1:6-9).

These two cases demonstrate the two main arguments for euthanasia, autonomy (‘death with dignity’) and compassion (‘release from suffering’).

The Bible tells us that human beings are unique amongst God’s creatures in being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and it is on this basis, after the flood, that God introduces to all humankind the death penalty for murder (Genesis 9:6,7).

The prohibition against killing legally innocent people is later formalised in the sixth commandment, ‘You shall not murder’ (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). The Hebrew word for ‘murder’ is ratsach (Greek phoneuo) and its meaning is further defined in four main passages in the Pentateuch (Exodus 21:12-14; Leviticus 24:17-21; Numbers 35:16-31; Deuteronomy 19:4-13).

These passages resolve any ambiguity for us and give a precise definition of what is prohibited, namely the ‘intentional killing of an innocent human being’ (Exodus 23:7; 2 Kings 21:16; Psalms 106:37,38; Jeremiah 19:4). Euthanasia clearly falls within this biblical definition. There is no provision for compassionate killing, even at the person’s request and there is no recognition of a ‘right to die’ as all human life belongs to God (Psalms 24:1). Our lives are not actually our own. Suicide (and therefore assisted suicide) is therefore equally wrong.

Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that that we should go beyond the mere letter of the sixth commandment  to fulfil the very spirit of love on which it is based (Matthew 5:21,22) . We are called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to be imitators of God, to love as he himself loved (1 John 2:6; Ephesians 5:1,2; John 13:34, 35).

Sadly, however, many Christians today are confused about euthanasia and fall prey to emotive hard cases and false dichotomies.

It is often argued that we have only two equally undesirable alternatives to choose from - either ‘living hell’ or the euthanasia needle – both of which are imperfect and unloving solutions.

But there is a third way - the way of the cross. It calls us to give our whole selves to the love and service of others by expending our time, money and energy in finding compassionate solutions to human suffering (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 8:34; Philippians 2:4-11; Galatians 6:2, 10). It has found practical shape historically in the hospice movement and in good palliative care - pioneered in large part by Christian doctors and nurses. When a person’s physical, social, psychological and spiritual needs are adequately tended to requests for euthanasia are very rare indeed.

But perhaps the most powerful Christian argument against euthanasia is that death is not the end. God’s intervention through Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3) means that through the eyes of faith we can look forward to a new world after death with God where there is ‘no more death or mourning or crying or pain’ (Revelation 21:4). For those, however, who do not know God euthanasia is not a ‘merciful release’ at all. It may rather be propelling them towards a judgement for which they are unprepared.  It may be the worst thing we could ever do for them! (Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:15)

Euthanasia is wrong because God says it is wrong. Instead he points us to a better way, offering hope, love and compassionate care. 


  1. Hi Peter,
    Your points are excellent as always, only the example of Saul is not quite right.
    Saul did request euthanasia from his armour-bearer, but the armour-bearer was afraid, and so Saul fell on his own sword (1 Sam 31 v 4).
    The account in 2 Sam 1 is sometimes cited as contradictory, but I think in fact the Amalekite was spinning a line, hoping for David's favour. The clue is in the fact that he WAS one of that bad-news tribe (nor is his story of "happening by chance" on Mt Gilboa in the middle of the battle too convincing).

    It doesn't alter your thesis, I'm just a nit-picker :-)

    1. Thank you for making the case so clear. I just felt it was wrong but didn't know how. Thank you.

    2. I suspect you are right Jenny about the Amalekite spinning a line to gain David's favour. Two of the three accounts of Saul's death (there is another in 1 Chronicles 10) record a suicide. The case against euthanasia, however, is not based on this quite possibly false narrative account but on the other verses cited.

    3. absolutely Peter, you are right.
      I told you I was only nit-picking :-)
      Thank you for being such a strong and wise voice for truth, in difficult times.

  2. Before coming to this blog, I had just posted an item on the same subject, on my own at Visitors, and comments, welcomed!

  3. Another solid argument against euthanasia is the following verses:

    1 Corinthians 6:19-20
    19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
    20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

    Since our conversion to Christ, the OLD passed away and the NEW was formed after the likeness of God. Our lives no longer actually belong to us but belong to the One who took our place on that cross. Since this is true, it is not a question of "dignity" but of "obedience unto death". It is not our "dignity" we seek but our own will. We did not WILL ourselves into this world and most certainly we shall not WILL ourselves out of this world. God has called us to ENDURE until the end. After this, there remains a crown of life for us if we have remained faithful to the end.
    4 mins · Like

    Since mankind has cast off the yoke of faith and obedience to their Creator, they choose to live according to their own will instead of God's will. This is what is at the heart of this question of euthanasia.


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