A Biblical Response To Active Euthanasia

By Brannon S. Howse

Although they may sound different, euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide are actually two forms of the same issue. Some people even argue that euthanasia is consistent with a Biblical worldview, and it actually can be. It all depends on how you define the terms. 

In Moral Dilemmas, Kerby Anderson explains the various forms of euthanasia:

[quote] • Voluntary, passive euthanasia: This form of euthanasia assumes that medical personnel, at the patient’s request, will merely allow nature to take its course.…the physician did nothing to hasten death….

• Voluntary, active euthanasia: This means that the physician, by request, hastens death by taking some active means (e.g., lethal injection).

• Involuntary, passive euthanasia: This assumes that the patient has not expressed a willingness to die or cannot do so. The medical personnel do not go to any extraordinary measures to save the patient and often withhold food (by removing nasogastric tubes), antibiotics, or life-support systems (respirators).

• Involuntary, active euthanasia: …In this case the physician does something active to hasten death, regardless of the patient’s wishes, for humanitarian reasons, economic considerations, or genetic justifications. [end quote]


Passive forms of euthanasia are not problematic in most cases because nothing is done to hasten the end of a person’s life. Medical personnel keep a terminal patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible while allowing nature to take its course. It is the active forms of euthanasia that are of serious concern. 

Active, involuntary euthanasia includes what is called “mercy killing” in which a family member or doctor takes the life of a terminally ill patient or a patient that has no “quality of life.” In the past few years there have been several cases in which a wife or husband has shot and killed a sleeping spouse that was terminally ill or severely disabled by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease. These spouses rightly have been prosecuted for murder.

In other forms of active involuntary euthanasia, family members convince a doctor to use drugs to terminate a patient, much as a veterinarian would put an ailing dog to sleep. Or at times a doctor simply does so without the family’s knowledge or consent. Either situation is unacceptable.

Allowing even slight flexibility in favor of active forms of euthanasia has chilling results, as evidenced by what has happened in the euthanasia-friendly country of Holland: 

The Dutch experience is instructive. A survey of Dutch physicians was made in 1990 by the Remmelink Committee. They found that 1,030 patients were killed without their consent. Of these, 140 were fully mentally competent and 110 were only slightly mentally impaired. The report also found that another 14,175 (1,701 of them were mentally competent) were denied medical treatment without their consent and died. [R. Finigsen, "The Report of the Dutch Committee on Euthananais, Issues in Law and Medicine.]


The consequences of legalizing active euthanasia would impact every American—whether you agree with it or not—because of the inconceivable danger of doctor-assisted suicide being forced on those who do not want to be killed. Kerby Anderson describes the consequences as follows:


[quote] First, physician-assisted suicide would change the nature of the medical profession itself. Physicians would be cast in the role of killers rather than healers. The Hippocratic Oath was written to place the medical profession on the foundation of healing, not killing. For twenty-four hundred years patients have had the assurance that doctors have taken an oath to heal them, not kill them. This would change with legalized euthanasia.

Second, medical care would be affected. Physicians would begin to ration healthcare so that elderly and severely disabled patients would not be receiving the same quality of care as everyone else.

Legalizing euthanasia would result in less care for the dying, rather than better care. Legalizing physician-assisted suicide would open the door to anyone wanting the “right” to kill themselves. Soon this would apply not only to voluntary euthanasia but also to involuntary euthanasia as various court precedents began to broaden the application of the right to die to other groups in society, like the disabled or the clinically depressed. [end quote] 


While you will not find the word “euthanasia” in Scripture, the Biblical position on the issue is absolute. While many scriptures that address abortion also can be applied to euthanasia, there are scriptures that focus specifically on taking the life an adult. The death of King Saul in 2 Samuel 1:1-16 is an important example:


[quote] Now it came to pass after the death of Saul,…behold, it happened that a man came from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head.…Then David said to him, “How did the matter go? Please tell me.” And he answered, “The people have fled from the battle, many of the people are fallen and dead and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.” So David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and Jonathan his son are dead?” The young man who told him said, “As I happened by chance to be on Mount Gilboa, there was Saul, leaning on his spear; and indeed the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. “Now when he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. …And he said to me…‘Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.’ So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen.”…So David said to him, “How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go near, and execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. So David said to him, “Your blood is on your own head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the Lord’s anointed.’” [end quote]

The reallity is the young man had not actually killed Saul but made up the story to apparently make himself look good. However, it did not make him look good in the eyes of King David. The reality is that Saul actually killed himself as revealed in 1 Samuel 31:3-6:

"The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers.Then Saul said to his armorbearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.” But his armorbearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it. 5 And when his armorbearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword, and died with him.So Saul, his three sons, his armorbearer, and all his men died together that same day."

Yet King David did not know the man was not telling the truth and had the young man executed for committing what King David thought was the captial crime of murder or active euthansia. 

In fact, here we see the issues of euthanasia and capital punishment in the same verses. Saul was injured on the battlefield and requested that the young man kill him. Instead of a doctor doing the killing, it was a soldier involved in active euthanasia. When the young man tells the new King David what he had done, David announces that the “mercy” killing was an act of murder and orders a death sentence. David’s judgment makes clear that even voluntary active euthanasia is not to be tolerated.

As the king, David was the head of government, and he exercised his Biblical authority to wield capital punishment on one who had committed a capital crime. He adjudged that Saul had been murdered, not innocently “euthanized.” Active euthanasia is the deliberate taking of innocent life, and the Bible declares that morally unacceptable and a sin. (see also Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21; 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9).


Copyright 2006 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative. 


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