A primer on avoiding the murder of our loved ones...

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(Tim) Yesterday, my brother, David, copied me on a letter he'd written responding to an article promoting euthanasia. Sad thing was, the article was written by a conservative Christian physician and published in a conservative--reformed, even--publication. This highlights something similar to my previous post where I called attention to a PCA pastor-friend of mine who wrote an oped piece that ran in his local newspaper in which he called his state legislators to visit homeschoolers' homes to check up on how they are teaching their children.

Both articles--the one by a physician promoting euthanasia and the one by the pastor promoting Child Protective Services extending their work to homeschooling mothers--are examples of the naivete of Reformed Protestant church leaders and officers. And let me say it clearly: we cannot fulfill our calling if we are lacking in discernment about these things. Truth is, we pastors are perfectly placed to head off the murder of aged relatives by ignorant or evil physicians or family members who want to limit expenditures or hurry Mother off to death. We're in the hospital room and we hear the discussions, and either we do or we don't have the Biblical and theological wisdom to oppose our culture of death...

To assist in a very small way with this work, here's a statement I wrote some years ago opposing the medical profession's redefinition of food and water from "basic care" to "treatment." The research and writing of this statement was greatly assisted, and the final product depends to a significant degree on the careful work of moral theologians of the Roman Catholic Church--particularly this document and this later series of clarifications. I hope many of you will give yourselves to studying this critical issue, not being above learning from Roman Catholics, and thus becoming competent to oppose murder in your own homes and church and the hospital rooms you are privileged to visit.

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A STATEMENT ON EUTHANASIA

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1Corinthians 15:25-26)

(Death) has been destroyed in such a way as to be no longer fatal for believers, but not in such a way as to cause them no trouble. …the sword of death used to be able to pierce right to the heart, but now it is blunt. It wounds still, of course, but without any danger; for we die, but, in dying, we pass over into life.  (John Calvin)

Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? …For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:1,35-36)

Christians have, for two-thousand years, recognized Scripture as the final authority in all matters of controversy [1] and have appealed to its authority with the same words their Master frequently used when He taught His disciples: “It is written...” [2] The reformed tradition has confessed through the centuries that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. [3]

Scripture teaches that man is the crown of God’s creation, [4] and that the murder of a man is a great wickedness before our Heavenly Father because each man and woman has been made in His image. [5] The Sixth Commandment condemns not only the directly intended taking of innocent human life, whether our own or another’s, but also “neglecting or withdrawing the lawful or necessary means of preservation of life.” [6]

Today there are mounting pressures upon medical professionals, pastors, families, and individuals to hasten the death of those under their care or authority. Such hastening sometimes takes the form of direct action, such as a lethal injection. More commonly, it takes the passive form of neglect or withdrawal of the necessary means of preservation of life. [7] Such means include medical treatment, both extraordinary and ordinary. But they also include basic provisions historically understood as care: warmth, cleanliness, food, water, and love. Christians must distinguish between “treatment” and “care.”

Where normal medical treatment which is not gravely burdensome is necessary for an individual to continue to live, the withdrawal of such treatment—except in cases where death is imminent and inevitable and to continue such treatment would pose a grave risk or cause more of a burden to the patient than it would alleviate—is a violation of the image of God which all men and women bear.

Loving care for all members of the human community is a fundamental Christian teaching and an obligation of Christian discipleship. [8] Therefore it ought never to be withheld such that its denial accelerates or causes the death of the patient. This includes providing liquids and nutrition through spoon-feeding or tubes where the patient is unable to take them by another manner. Withholding such necessary means for the preservation of life must, therefore, stand under Scripture’s condemnation, [9] even in the case of those who are perpetually comatose or in a persistent vegetative state. Christians should also ensure that members of the human community are upheld with the warmth and love of human contact.

Christians follow their Master in humbly serving those who suffer and acting to alleviate their suffering. We recognize, however, that suffering is not to be avoided at any cost, [10] especially if the cost is either our own or the patient’s breaking of the Sixth Commandment. Scripture teaches that affliction often produces spiritual growth and holiness. [11] Such spiritual fruit is far more valuable in God’s eternal economy than those commodities so frequently mentioned by proponents of “quality of life” ethics such as self-determination and autonomy. [12]

People who ask to be killed, to be assisted in suicide, or to have actions taken which will hasten their death, frequently do so out of a misguided desire not to be a burden to others. Regrettably, they are often pressured in this direction by talk of “quality of life” and “death with dignity.” [13] Such individuals, though, are best helped by a simple warm embrace and other visible demonstrations of our love and affection for them. We need to reassure them by expressing our desire that they live here with us until God Himself, in His sovereign will, [14] intervenes to take them. Jesus warned we would be judged on the basis of our ministry to “the least of these my brothers.” [15] Weighty indeed are our responsibilities when “the least of these” are our own family members, [16] especially our mothers and fathers. [17]

Those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ are urged to approach death with the recognition that the only “good death” is the natural death of a man or woman, boy or girl, who is “in Christ.” [18] Although for Christians “to die is gain,” [19] until our Lord returns in power and glory, death itself will not cease being our “last enemy.” [20] And for those who don’t believe, death is the terrible moment “after (which comes) the judgment.” [21]

Yet as followers of Jesus Christ we cling to our hope that the Holy Spirit has given us a living faith in our precious Lord, and that through His blood our sins will be forgiven and we will be welcomed into His glorious presence where there “is fullness of joy [and] …pleasures for evermore.” [22]

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Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy quire of Saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy Music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.

- John Donne

* * *
O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to hide from Thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

- George Matheson

* * *

They, then, who are destined to die, need not be careful to inquire what death they are to die, but in what place death will usher them.

- Augustine

* * *

O Heavenly Father, who didst bless Thine aged servants Simeon and Anna, suffering them to behold with their eyes the Savior of the world and to see Thy salvation; bless, we humbly pray Thee, this Thy servant in his later days. Give him a clear knowledge of his Savior, and a sure faith in that Savior’s merits and sacrifice. Let not his mind be clouded over with doubts or darkness. May his path be as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. May his end be calm and blessed. Suffer him not at the last from any pains of death to fall from Thee. Guide Thou him through the valley of the shadow of death. And may he pass joyfully from the weakness and weariness of this mortal life to a blessed rest; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Scottish Book of Common Order; Prayer for the Aged

* * *

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his off¬spring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, be¬cause he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

- Isaiah 53

* * *

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

- 1Peter 4:1-2


[1] Matthew 22:23-33; Acts 17:11; II Timothy 3:14-17; II Peter 1:19-21; Presbyterian Church in America Book of Church Order, "Preliminary Principles".

[2] Matthew 4:4,6,7,10; Luke 19:46; Mark 7:6.

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1.

[4] Psalm 8:5; Matthew 6:26; 12:12.

[5] Genesis 1:27; 9:6.

[6] Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 135,136.

[7] Ibid.

[8] 1Timothy 5:4-8; James 1:27.

[9] Exodus 20:13; Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:14-17.

[10] James 5:10,11; Isaiah 53:1-12; Matthew 27:34; Romans 8:17,18; Philippians 3:10.

[11] Lamentations 3:1-66; Romans 5:3-5; Colossians 1:24.

[12] Hebrews 5:8; James 5:10; 1Peter 4:1,12-16.

[13] Job 2:9.

[14] Deuteronomy 31:14; Job 14:5; Matthew 24:42-44; Luke 2:26-32; 12:40; James 4:13,14.

[15] Matthew 25:31-46.

[16] 1Timothy 5:8.

[17]  Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2.

[18] Romans 6:23; 8:1,38,39; 1Corinthians 15:22; 1Thessalonians 4:16.

[19] Philippians 1:21.

[20] 1Corinthians 15:25,26.

[21] Romans 14:10; Hebrews 9:27.

[22] Psalm 16:11.