Roger Crook captures the Christian perspective on euthanasia by posing the question in terms of how we care for the dying. What do we do for the person who is comatose with no hope of recovery How do we care for the terminally ill person whose remaining days are increasingly agonisingly painful? The Human being is not simply a biological entity but a person, in the image of God and Christ. Death marks the end of a personhood in this life.
Biblical teachings prohibit killing; the Sixth Commandment states ‘You shall not kill’ – both in terms of murder and involuntary manslaughter. Life should not be violated, while the prohibition of killing seems to be a moral absolute of Christianity there are exceptions for warfare and self-defence. There are examples in the Bible where the sacrifice of life is considered virtuous ‘Greater love has no man than this: That a man lay down his life for his friends’ The Bible does not prohibit all taking of life in all circumstances, although Christians have traditionally considered taking one’s own life to be wrong
Roman Catholic Perspectives
At the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the Roman Catholic Church condemned crimes again life ‘such as any type of murder, genocide ,abortion, euthanasia or wilful suicide’ Life is sacred and a gift from God, ‘which they are called upon to preserve and make fruitful’ To take a life opposes God’s love for that person, and rejects the duty of a person to live life according to God’s plan. In the same declaration, the Roman Catholic Church made it clear that it was wrong to ask someone for an assisted death, and that an individual cannot consent to such a death: “For it is a question of the violation of the divine law, an offence against the dignity of the human person, a crime against life, and an attack on humanity’ The kind of autonomy that John Stuart Mill argues for is rejected by the Roman Catholic Church. We simply don’t have that freedom, because we are made by God for the purpose of loving God.
A distinct argument is made about suffering and its role in Christian theology. Jesus died in pain on the cross, and human suffering at the end of life connects us to the suffering that Jesus felt. This does not mean that Christians should refuse to take painkillers or should actively seek pain, but it does grant suffering the possibility of having a positive effect on the individual. It provides the change that he or she may grow closer to God. Thomas Wood writes that suffering can seem meaningless, is terrible and is never sought, it is not the worst evil – it can be an occasion for spiritual growth and it can have moral effects on those in attendance. It can have meaning in the context of a life lived in faith.
Joseph Fletcher is an active advocate of the patient’s ‘right to de’ on the basis that Christian faith emphasises love for one’s fellow human being, and that death is not the end for Christians. Acts of kindness may embrace euthanasia, for instance when a human being is dying in agony, as a response to human need. Fletcher’s argument for euthanasia is essentially based around four points: 1. The quality of life is to be valued over biological life 2. Death is a friend to someone with a debilitating illness 3. All medical interventions place human will against nature and extraordinary means 4. Special equipment and unnecessary surgery are not morally required for a person who is terminally ill People are prepared to ‘face death and accept death as preferable to continuous suffering for the patient and the family’ There is no distinction between our response to a suffering animal or human. There is no difference between passive and active euthanasia as the result is the same.
Represented by Arthur Dyck – he thinks an act of kindness can result in withdrawing treatment but not doing something actively to bring about death. Permitting some acts of active euthanasia, such as in the case of severely
disable children, seems to be creating a class of human beings who are treated as less valued. He argues that a mentally retarded child is not dying, is not in pain an cannot choose to die. “Since killing is generally wrong it should be kept to as narrow a range of exceptions as possible’ While mercy is a moral obligation, killing is never as mercy. The term mercy killing is a contradiction and when we use the term to justify the killing of the disabled or the mentally incompetent, we fail to care for the most needy in the community, which is a fundamental moral duty. Dyck’s view is in keeping with traditional Christian thought, and most Christian theologians, which holds that active, direct help in the taking of human life is prohibited.
Whereas voluntary euthanasia, self-willed by a rational, legally competent person, has ben permitted by some theologians, active euthanasia in which the person plays no role, has been condemned by the majority of Christian thinkers. The ethical approaches to the problem taken by Christians sometimes reflect a move from general principles to specific applications (the sanctity of life to the prohibition of euthanasia) and also at times the concern about the sinful nature of human beings and their unreliability at making good decisions through the use of ‘right reason’