The Right to Choose Death

Australian firefighter Troy Thornton and his wife spent their last day together on Thursday, February 22. According to The Age, “they took in the sweeping expanse of the Rhine River that snakes through the northwest medieval city of Basel, before heading to the snow-covered peaks of the Alps. In the evening, Troy and his wife Christine sat down for a last supper with a lifelong friend.”

The following day, Thornton received a lethal injection in one of Switzerland’s euthanasia clinics, putting an end to his life of 54 years. He left behind a young widow with two teenage children ages 17 and 14. [1]

What drove Mr. Thornton to end his life? Not long before, he had been diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy, a neurological disease that slowly deteriorates one’s involuntary functions.[2] Eventually, the disease results in death. Not wanting to put himself and his family through years of suffering, Thornton chose a quick, easy death by lethal injection.

This is by no means a new issue. For decades, ethicists have been discussing whether it should be legal for a person to voluntarily choose their own death. It is now legal in eight US states and eight other countries, most of which are in Europe.

So how should we feel about euthanasia and voluntary suicide?

While there are no Scriptural passages that we can point to that say, “Thou shalt not kill yourself,” we find underlying principles.

First, we see that God condemns taking life. We’re all familiar with the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Jesus takes this command to the next level when he calls His followers to a life of love, not hate; a life of forgiveness, not revenge (Matthew 5:43-48). Christians are life givers, not life takers.

Next, we see that God is the rightful owner of every life. As Creator of the universe, He is the only one who has the right to give and to take away life (Deuteronomy 32:39, Job 1:21). Paul takes this a step further when he reminds believers that Christ bought them with a price. God has rightful ownership twice over–both by creation and redemption (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  

Throughout Scripture, we also see examples of individuals who killed themselves. Saul fell on his own sword to avoid being captured by the enemy army. Judas hung himself out of remorse and self-condemnation. There are a few more Old Testament references to evil kings who killed themselves, either after being seriously injured or when they realized they had no way of escape from their enemies.

In every instance, the person who took their own life was a villain, not a hero.

The only Bible hero who inflicted his own death was Samson, but his story is very different from the others. While his own hands pushed out the pillars, his intent was to bring vengeance on the enemies of God, not to kill himself (although he surely knew it would lead to his own death as well).

So how should we respond when our culture counters these Biblical principles?

First of all, we respond with love and understanding. People who want the legal freedom to take their own life are responding to seemingly hopeless situations. Some are dying a slow, painful death. Others are tired of living and no longer see purpose in life.

Christ calls us to extend hope to those who have no reason to live. In a world that is starving for relationship, another well-meaning social program or handout won’t solve hopelessness. We share hope in the form of a listening ear, an extended hand, an open heart, a word of truth. Jesus did ministry by living among needy, hopeless people. And He calls us to do the same.

Yet as followers of Christ, we also stand on the sanctity of life. Just as stealing is taking away property that belongs to someone else, killing (even one’s own life) is taking away something that belongs to God. The choice to destroy life infringes on His rights as the Creator.

Last but not least, we trust that God knows best when our lives are over here on earth. Paul found himself looking forward to death, but not because he had a hopeless outlook on life. Sure, he had every reason to desire death – he had enemies scheming to kill him, some of his closest followers abandoned and betrayed him, and he finally ended up in a Roman jail cell, awaiting trial before Caesar.

Yet Paul was not looking for an easy way out of life. Instead, he longed to be with Jesus – his Savior and hero – for all of eternity. He anticipated death, not because he dreaded a bleak future but because hoped in a joy-filled eternity!

And that’s why he could continue living. Because he knew the worst that could happen to him – death – would actually result in even greater joy – eternal life.

As followers of Jesus, our future hope changes everything. We know all wrongs will be made right; sickness and suffering will be replaced with health; sadness and depression will be replaced with joy; and loneliness and rejection will be replaced with an eternal relationship with Christ Himself!

And that hope gives us reason to continue living.

 

How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this issue.

  • Are there other Biblical reasons we as Christians believe it’s wrong to commit suicide?
  • How can we as the church help those who are grappling with suicide?

 

IMG_0664 Ian Miller lives in Harrisburg, PA with his wife Marci, where they are involved in a Spanish church plant. Ian volunteers for a non-profit organization while working on his BA in English through College Plus. He is passionate about urban, cross-cultural church planting, and verbal, personal evangelism.

 

 

Sources Cited

  1. Ferrier, Tracy. “Austrailian Firefighter Troy Thornton dies after lethal injection in Swiss clinic. Theage, Feb 23, 2019.  https://www.theage.com.au/national/australian-firefighter-troy-thornton-dies-after-lethal-injection-in-swiss-clinic-20190223-p50zr9.html
  2. Mayo clinic staff. “Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)”. Mayoclinic, June 17, 2017.  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-system-atrophy/symptoms-causes/syc-20356153

4 thoughts on “The Right to Choose Death

  1. “Last but not least, we trust that God knows best when our lives are over here on earth.”

    I agree with what you wrote, but when I read the above line in your post, it gave rise to other questions. For instance: When a doctor wants to do a life-prolonging procedure, should we always allow it? How about a pacemaker? Can this ever be fighting against God’s timing for us to die? Do we just allow “nature” to take it’s course – and then die? What about “modern-day penicillin”? (Only used since 1942 or so)
    The assisted suicide story you wrote about made me “shiver”. I don’t know why, but it did. It just does not seem right, or maybe only a natural aversion to death? Thanks though, for writing it.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Abner! You raise a very good question related to this topic, “When a doctor wants to do a life-prolonging procedure, should we always allow it?”

      There is a big difference between killing oneself (or asking someone else to do it) and choosing not to prolong one’s life. In Scripture, we see Paul did not run from potential death when he was warned of danger ahead. Instead, he went forward with his plans to visit Jerusalem, where he was thrown into prison.

      Jesus knew the cross awaited Him, yet He did not use His supernatural power to prevent it. Instead, He went forward with what His heavenly Father had called Him to.

      Question for us: Is it wrong to decide not to receive medical treatment that might prolong our life? In my opinion, a Christian can choose either way without denying their Creator’s rights. Perhaps some situations are stickier than others.

      Would love to hear your thoughts on this question!

      Like

  2. I like this article also… I can resonate with the comment above by Abner R. The flip side of this article and what I think knocks on the door of more conservative christians is the question of what extent do we go to prolong life? to what expense for several more miserable months? I certainly don’t have the answers to that question in entirety. The general answer I have is that each person needs to come before God and in total surrender follow His direction. I don’t think that it is something that another person should decide…

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    1. Great thoughts Duane! I think you’re right…the greater issue we face as conservative Christians is how far should we go to prolong our lives? I don’t think there is a clear line between right and wrong with this question. You’re right on–we are ultimately in the hands of our Creator, and must be surrendered to His will.

      Would love to hear more thoughts on this question! “To what extent do we go to prolong life?”

      Like

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