Euthanasia comes from the Greek words eu (“good”) and thanatos (“death”). If the abortion debate deals with the value of life in its earliest stages, then euthanasia deals with it in its final stages. This issue was popularized in the American mind through the work of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was infamous for his suicide machine. Euthanasia asks the questions: Are there cases where it is morally right to relieve a person’s pain and suffering through death? What is the difference between killing someone and letting them die? Or are these the same? Is it ever right to “put someone out of their misery”?
Types of euthanasia
Euthanasia is a broad term. Two specific categories are important to consider:
Voluntary versus involuntary: Voluntary euthanasia refers to a person’s personal choice to die, whereas involuntary euthanasia refers to a circumstance where a doctor or family decides for the patient whether they live or die.
Passive versus active: Passive euthanasia means that we let the person die, whereas active euthanasia means we expedite their death by killing them or giving them the means to kill themselves.
This subject is more and more important because people are living longer and longer. Feinberg and Feinberg write, “Since 1900, average life expectancy has increased more than 50 percent, from forty-nine to almost seventy today.”
Passive euthanasia versus active
Murder can be defined as taking the life of an innocent person. Under this definition, the Bible teaches that murder is morally wrong (Ex. 20:13; Mt. 5:21; 19:18; Mk. 10:19; Lk. 18:20; Rom. 13:9).
The Bible also teaches that human life has incommensurable value, because humans were made in the image of God. Thus stamping out life is a serious offense to the person, and to God himself. While taking life is not an inviolable absolute rule, it is in the case of an innocent person.
Since murder is wrong, active euthanasia is wrong. Even if a person desires to die, active euthanasia is still wrong because our lives ultimately belong to God. Feinberg and Feinberg argue that both voluntary and involuntary euthanasia are wrong, but involuntary euthanasia is worse. In the case of involuntary euthanasia, they are breaking two moral principles: (1) taking someone’s life who desires to keep it and (2) taking someone’s life. Likewise, voluntary euthanasia is still wrong, because an individual is still taking a life: their own.
Questions to consider before allowing for passive euthanasia
Remember, passive euthanasia refers to allowing someone to die, rather than causing them to die through assistance. A number of questions should be considered when moving toward passive euthanasia:
Are we fighting the inevitable? If the person is terminal, passive euthanasia (letting them die) is permissible. Geisler writes, “Only in cases of irreversible disease should a person be allowed to die naturally by withholding unnatural life-sustaining equipment.” He notes that this is really prolonging death, rather than prolonging life. We need to remember the words of Job, who said, “Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You; and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). By artificially keeping someone alive who is doomed to die, we are really prolonging the inevitability of certain death. This situation also leaves the surviving family in a financial crisis after their loved one dies. Feinberg and Feinberg note that we have two moral obligations in the case of a person who is terminally ill and in tremendous pain: (1) preserving life and (2) relieving pain. Thus they argue, “Do whatever is possible to relieve pain, and do not force the patient to undergo procedures or take medicines already proven ineffective or that have no foreseeable benefit. However, because of the commandment not to take life, do not kill or aid the patient in committing suicide. If painkillers hasten death, but the intent is to relieve pain, giving pain medicine is morally acceptable.”
What if the medical diagnosis is being exaggerated or is in error? Doctors are fallible like anyone else. What if a disease can later be cured if we merely wait for one? This was the case (at some point) in the history of every currently curable disease. It’s important to check for multiple medical opinions before allowing someone to die.
What if passive euthanasia could be stopping someone from coming to Christ in their final moments? Erickson and Bowers write, “Euthanasia also cuts short the opportunity for a non-Christian to accept the Lord’s offer of salvation. Death cuts him off permanently from fellowship with God. If we believe that there is a personal heaven and a personal hell beyond this life, then perhaps euthanasia is not mercy-killing at all. It is sending a person from a bad situation to a worse one.”
Are pain killers an option? Pain killers are good, but not killing those in pain. Proverbs states, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. 7 Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more” (Prov. 31:6-7). Geisler writes, “In brief, the Bible recommends that the dying be given a shot but not that they be shot. The dying should be shot with sedative but not a bullet.” This seems to be the most humane response to those in pain during the final stages of life.
Can God use this suffering to glorify himself? We also need to remember that the Bible teaches that suffering has a purpose—not always for us—but for others. For the believer, there is no such thing as meaningless suffering (Rom. 8:28).
Erickson, Millard. Ines Bowers. “Euthanasia and Christian Ethics.” JETS. 19/1. 1976.
Feinberg, John. Feinberg, Paul. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 1993.
Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989.
 Feinberg, John. Feinberg, Paul. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 1993. 100.
 Erickson and Bowers write, “Life is a good in itself—but is it an absolute good, never to be terminated?” Erickson, Millard. Ines Bowers. “Euthanasia and Christian Ethics.” They show that there are reasonable exceptions to this moral value (e.g. self-defense, just war, etc.). However, the norm is that murder is wrong—especially murdering an innocent person. JETS. 19/1. 1976. 20.
 Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989. 163.
 Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989. 168.
 Feinberg, John. Feinberg, Paul. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 1993. 124.
 Erickson, Millard. Ines Bowers. “Euthanasia and Christian Ethics.” JETS. 19/1. 1976. 23.
 Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989. 170.