Technology continues to progress so that we can keep a human body,
which would otherwise be dead, functioning for a very long time.
It is increasingly important that Christians determine at what point
the spirit leaves the body, and whether euthanasia may be practiced.
Otherwise, the technology used to keep some individuals alive until
recovery will be over run by costs of keeping the physical body
of the dead functioning through mechanical life supports. Do not
get me wrong. I am not suggesting that the cost of a thing dictates
morality. But, because of technological advancement, we face questions
which were of no concern to other generations.
There are two types of euthanasia. For sake of clarity in this
article, I will refer to the two types as positive and negative.
The difference between positive and negative euthanasia is:
- Positive Euthanasia occurs when an individual actively does
something to cause the death of another. This is the case with
assisted suicide wherein the "patient" is given carbon monoxide
or some other drug to bring death.
- Negative Euthanasia occurs when doing nothing, other than removing
the "tubes of technology" or ceasing to administer care and treatment,
brings death to the patient.
In Suicide and Euthanasia many essays appear in support
of positive euthanasia. The following quote serves to define positive
and negative euthanasia from the perspective of one who is pro-euthanasia.
Notice that positive euthanasia is considered suicide. Joseph Fletcher
in his essay In Defense of Suicide, says:
In recent years the ethical issue about human initiatives in
death and dying has been posed most poignantly for the common
run of those in medical care, in the treatment of the terminally
ill. Resuscitative techniques now compel them to decide when to
stop preserving and supporting life; people no longer just die.
What is called negative euthanasia, letting the patient die without
any further struggle against it, is a daily event in hospitals.
About 200,000 legally unenforceable "living wills" have been recorded,
appealing to doctors, families, pastors, and lawyers to stop treatment
at some balance point of pro-life, pro-death assessment. What
is called positive euthanasia - doing something to shorten or
end life deliberately - is the form in which suicide is the question
- as a voluntary, direct choice of death (Suicide And Euthanasia
The question at hand is whether Christians may engage in positive
or negative euthanasia. If we cannot determine, from the word of
God, at what point the spirit leaves the body, then we must maintain
that the safe answer to this question is not to practice any type
One part of our question is whether Christians may practice positive
euthanasia. Mr. Fletcher states correctly that positive euthanasia
is suicide. So, the real question is whether Christians may commit
suicide or assist one to commit suicide. Refer to my previous article
addressing assisted suicide explaining that Christians may not engage
in this act.
In considering negative euthanasia, let me suggest that Scripture
reveals that a man's spirit is in his mind (brain). So, if the brain
dies, a man's mortal spirit dies and his eternal spirit (soul) returns
to God. Technological life supports may keep the physical body functioning
for a time, but the fact remains that the person is dead and the
soul has returned to God. And, by Bible standards which predate
technological life supports, the person would have been declared
dead and the physical body would have not been artificially supported.
For the above statements, I appeal to Biblical authority based
on the following passages:
- James 2:26; Matt. 27:50 A person is dead when his mortal spirit
ceases to life.
- Hebrews 4:12 The spirit (mind) and soul are closely linked,
- Ephesians 4:23 A human's mortal spirit is in his mind. If the
mind dies, the mortal spirit dies. Therefore, the person is dead
(Jam. 2:26; Matt. 27:50).
Second, we live in a time that we, through technology, can keep
a physical body functioning apart from the brain. And, we live in
a time that we, through technology, can determine if a person's
brain is dead or alive. Let me suggest that since we rely upon technology
to keep a body functioning apart from the brain, we must also rely
upon technology to determine whether a brain is dead or alive. For,
without technology, everyone would die a natural death apart from
any mechanical or human resuscitation and life support.
Thirdly, let me suggest that, if through technology, we are able
to determine that a brain is dead; therefore, the spirit has been
yielded up - the soul has returned to God, then we may cease the
use of technology to continue life support of a body which has no
spirit. This would be the exercise of negative euthanasia.
Fourthly, let me suggest that Christians may at no time exercise
positive euthanasia which is suicide (murder). A Christian may not
actively engage in putting another individual to death no matter
the state of the brain.
As for an individual's conscience in this matter, we must only
act in accordance with our conscience. Not that an individual's
conscience may annul God's will, but that our conscience must be
free of guilt in the liberties of God. So, if an individual is not
certain that negative euthanasia as described above is a moral practice,
then he must avoid its practice to avoid sin (Rom. 14:23).
Now, someone may ask how the above position concerning euthanasia
may apply to abortion. Abortion is a separate issue since it concerns
the entering of the fetus' spirit (see article concerning abortion)
unlike euthanasia which is the determination of a spirit's departure
from the body. The removal of a fetus from the womb may only occur
when it has been determined that the fetus (baby) is not living.
In the case that a fetus is alive within the womb of a woman who
is brain dead but on life supports, every effort should be made
to save the baby in the womb. In this case, the life supports for
the baby is the mother. And, as long as the unborn baby shows signs
of life, the mother's body (the baby's life support) must be kept
functioning, if possible, until such time that the baby is able
to live outside of the womb or determined to be dead within the