Assisted suicide: Caring for the elderly and infirm

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1 Corinthians 6:19-20

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Hot Button Topics, and we are looking at various issues where the culture around us often speaks a different message to us than God does in his word. As Christians we need to know what God says about these issues so that we may be equipped to make wise decisions for ourselves and also be able to talk with other people about these issues. Last week we looked at the topic of abortion. Today we are looking at a related topic, the topic of assisted suicide.

Once again, as we begin this message, I want to be sensitive to the fact that a number of us have lost loved ones to suicide (I know I have), and a number of you have had to make difficult end-of-life decisions concerning your loved ones. I want to make clear that what we’re talking about today is not the same as removing someone from artificial life support. Those are two different things, and we’ll talk more about that later in the message. I understand this message may stir up some difficult feelings or emotions for you, and yet it is so important that we discuss these things in light of God’s word. I have prayed for you and am praying for you that God will bring healing to your life even as we look at this subject together.

We will be looking at a number of verses in relation to this topic, but we will begin with these verses here in 1 Corinthians. (Read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

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So, our hot button topic today is assisted suicide along with the closely related issue of euthanasia. Technically, assisted suicide refers to helping someone end their life, while euthanasia refers to taking another person’s life with the intent of relieving suffering or pain. (The word euthanasia literally means “good death.”) Even though they have slightly different meanings, for the sake of today’s message I will just use the term “assisted suicide” to refer to both.

Both of these issues are related to yet different from the issue of suicide itself. Suicide is the taking of one’s own life apart from any outside assistance. Most people agree that suicide is wrong and a tragedy, and yet there is a growing movement to make assisted suicide legal in our country.

Internationally, assisted suicide was first made legal in Colombia in 1977, the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002 and Canada in 2016. Here in the U.S. there are a number of states which allow assisted suicide for the terminally ill – including Oregon, Montana, Washington, Vermont, California and Colorado. Hawaii recently passed similar legislation effective January 2019 (http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/04/21277/), and Massachusetts is also considering two bills which would legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2018/01/16/the-mass-legislature-must-say-assisted-suicide/oPzo9UYRWbf7jJMGfC9dxJ/story.html)

In Belgium and the Netherlands, a person is eligible for assisted suicide even if they are not terminally ill. The New Yorker Magazine reports: “Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people have also been euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression.” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/22/the-death-treatment) We have to be careful with slippery slope arguments, but what is happening in Belgium shows us that it is a very dangerous slope indeed when we begin to allow the legalized killing of the elderly and infirm.

Assisted suicide goes by many names, such as assisted dying, the right to die, dying with dignity, mercy killing or even physician-assisted suicide. Groups that promote assisted suicide have recently been shying away from using names that include the terms “suicide” or “killing” because of their negative connotations. For example, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in Great Britain changed its name to “Dignity in Dying” (Vaughan Roberts, Assisted Suicide, Kindle Location 122), while the Massachusetts Medical Society recently voted to refer to physician-assisted suicide as “medical aid-in-dying” instead. These name changes and others like them are expressly designed to gain greater support for the cause by hiding the reality that assisted suicide does in fact involve killing a fellow human being.

Of course, the intentions behind assisted suicide are usually good. We all want to relieve suffering and pain. But however good our intentions may be, and no matter what we may call it, we are still taking the life of another human being. As physician and medical ethicist Dr. Peter Saunders says: “Euthanasia kills the patient twice – once when we say, ‘Yes, your life is not worth living,’ and then when we help him die.” (Vaughan Roberts, Assisted Suicide, Kindle Location 65)

There are many practical reasons why assisted suicide is wrong and should be opposed, but I want to look at three very important reasons from the Scriptures this morning. Together we want to answer the following three questions from Scripture: 1) What is my value? Who has authority over my life? 3) Who directs my path?

I. What is my value?

The first question we must answer is this: What is my value? When we talk about your value as a human being, we are talking about the sanctity or dignity of all human life.

   A. Created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27)

First of all, you are valuable because you are created in the image of God. We read in Genesis 1: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image….’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) All human beings are created in God’s image; therefore, all human life has equal value.

We talked about this last week when discussing the Hot Button Topic of abortion. The child in the womb does not have less value than the child outside of the womb. Now we apply that same truth to assisted suicide, where we can state that human life does not have less value due to age or illness. Neither aging or illness stops you from being created in God’s image. Therefore, you have inherent value simply by virtue of being human. You are created in the image of God.

   B. Bought with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Secondly, you are valuable because you are bought with the blood of Christ. We read in 1 Peter 1: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) Silver and gold are precious metals with high value, but they are nothing compared to the precious blood of Christ. You were bought with the blood of Christ.

The greatness of Christ’s sacrifice for us primarily shows us the depth of our sin and the greatness of God’s love for us. But it also shows us how valued we are in God’s eyes. Not because we deserved salvation; rather, we are valuable because God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to die on the cross for our sins.

In one sense this verse only applies to those who have actually trusted Christ as their Savior. You are not truly redeemed unless you believe. But the call of the gospel goes out to each person, and the death of Christ is sufficient payment for all sins. The fact that God sent his Son to die for us shows how valuable you are in God’s eyes.

   C. Called to care for each other

How valuable are you? You are created in God’s image. You are bought with the blood of Christ. And thirdly, we are called to care for each other. And according to the Scriptures, this care especially applies to the aging and infirm, the weak and the vulnerable.

      1) Honor the elderly (Leviticus 19:32)

First of all, the Bible specifically tells us to honor the elderly. We read in Leviticus 19:32: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32) Now we don’t literally stand up every time someone older than us walks into the room, but the principle here is clear. We are to show special honor and respect for the elderly. It is part of the way God has instructed us to care for each other.

      2) Comfort the suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

And then secondly, we are to comfort the suffering. We read in 2 Corinthians 1: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

The word “compassion” literally means “to suffer with.” When someone is suffering, God calls us to be with them in their suffering. We are there for them. We spend time with them. We let them know how much we love them. We pray for them. We encourage them. We point them to God. And like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, we tend to their physical needs and alleviate their pain as much as possible.

In one study in the U.S., half of those with terminal illness who had initially considered seeking assisted suicide changed their minds over the next few months. (http://www.cmf.org.uk/resources/publications/content/?context=article&id=26327) What if they had gone through with it before they changed their minds? Many who seek assisted suicide are depressed, and when a person is depressed, they are not thinking clearly. They lose hope. They don’t see or believe that things will eventually get better. Those who are depressed don’t need someone helping them to commit suicide. They need someone to come alongside them, to offer loving care and support, to suffer with them, not dispose of them.

One of the main reasons people choose assisted suicide when it is available to them is because they don’t want to be a burden to their family or friends. And yet we are called to bear each other’s burdens. Assisted suicide cuts short the process of caring, and it is often in illness that we experience the deepest ties of love and family.

We had a gentleman in our church a number of years back who contracted cancer. He was a strong, healthy man in his 50’s. The cancer was aggressive, and he went downhill rapidly. He died within three weeks. I still remember visiting with him and his wife a few days before he died. They were holding hands, and they shared with me that these three weeks had been the most profound weeks of their entire lives. They shared a new depth of love for each other that they had never experienced before. Assisted suicide would have robbed them of the opportunity to know their love and caring for each other at the deepest levels.

Some of the biggest opponents of legalizing assisted suicide include doctors, those who work with palliative care, and those who work with the disabled. They understand that we are called to care for the suffering, and they recognize the threat that legalizing assisted suicide poses to people in vulnerable situations.

John Donne wrote the famous words, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” What is Donne saying? We belong to each other. We are called to care for each other. And this especially applies to the elderly and infirm.

So that’s the answer to the first question: “What is my value?” I am created in God’s image. I am bought with the blood of Christ. We are called to care for each other. All human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to the moment of death.

II. Who has authority over my life?

The second question we must answer is this. Who has authority over my life? And once again, the Bible gives us clear answers to this question as well.

   A. God is the giver and taker of life (Exodus 20:13; Job 1:21; Acts 17:25,28)

The Bible tells us first of all that God is the giver and taker of life. God is the giver of life. We read in Acts 17: “The God who made this world…. he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else…. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:25,28)

Why is there a world? Because God made it. Why are there people? Because God created us. Why are you alive and breathing right now? Because God gives you life and breath and everything else. God is the giver of life. In him we live and move and have our being.

God is also the taker of life. After Job’s sons and daughters were killed in a violent windstorm, Job testified: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

God is the giver of life, and therefore only God has the authority to take life. This is why God prohibits murder. We find the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and the sixth commandment in verse 13: “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) Why is murder wrong? Because you do not have the authority to take another person’s life. You also do not have the authority to take your own life. Suicide is self-murder. And so, the commandment against murder includes the prohibition against suicide and assisted suicide.

   B. My body belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Secondly, my body belongs to God. We read in 1 Corinthians 6: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The slogan that is often used to support assisted suicide is “My life. My death. My choice.” (Assisted Dying slogan) But the Bible says your body, your life, your death belong to God. It is not your choice, but his choice.

My body belongs to God whether I am a believer or not. God is the giver of life, and he already has authority over my body by rights of creation. But if I am a believer, God has double rights of ownership over my body, not simply by creation but also by redemption. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

   C. We belong to God in life and in death (Romans 14:7-8)

God is the giver and taker of life. My body belongs to God. And thirdly, we belong to God in life and in death. We read in Romans 14: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:7-8)

You don’t live to yourself alone, and you don’t die to yourself alone. You belong to God in life and in death. Death is not your choice, but his.

Who has authority over my life? God does. Not my doctor, not my family, not even myself. God is the giver and taker of life. My body belongs to God. We belong to God in life and in death. God has authority over my life.

III. Who directs my path?

So far, we’ve looked at two questions related to assisted suicide. 1) What is my value? 2) Who has authority over my life? Now we come to the third question. 3) Who directs my path?

   A. God directs my path (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The Scriptures make clear that it is God who directs my path. We read in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Nothing catches God by surprise. Nothing overrides God’s plan. Nothing happens in my life without God’s permission. God has a purpose for my life, and I can trust him even when I do not understand. God directs my path.

   B. God has good purposes for me (Romans 8:28)

But the Bible not only tells me that God has a purpose for my life. The Bible tells me that God has good purposes for me. We read in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God has good purposes for me. God will take everything in my life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and he promises to turn it for good.

And so, if I am experiencing the effects of aging, I can trust that God is working for good in my life. If am in pain or suffering, I can trust that God is working for good in my life. Even if I am ill or dying, I can trust that God is working for good in my life.

   C. Only God knows the future (Psalm 139:16)

God directs my path. God has good purposes for me. And thirdly, only God knows the future. Psalm 139:16 says: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16) Only God knows the future.

You don’t know the future. If you’re depressed, you don’t know what good things God still has in store for you. If you’re ill, you don’t know whether or not you will be healed. If you’re dying, you don’t know the precise day or hour of your death. There are plenty of people whose doctors gave them six months to live, and they are still living today years after the fact.

Only God knows the future, and so we should not take the future into our own hands. All the days ordained for you were written in God’s book before one of them came to be. God knows the future, and so you can trust your future to him.

   D. Eternal life awaits the believer in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

And then finally, we must never forget that eternal life awaits the believer in Christ. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) When we die, we pass into eternity. This should be a cause of great concern for the unbeliever. But for the believer in Christ, it is a great comfort for us in life and in death knowing that we belong to Christ and that we will go to be with him when we die.

CONCLUSION: Those who promote assisted suicide mean well by seeking to relieve suffering. However, we must understand that suicide is self-murder and prohibited by God. When assisted suicide becomes a legal option, it creates all sorts of problems. Assisted suicide puts undue pressure on the elderly and infirm to remove the pressures of time, caring and money from their family. It corrodes the relationship of trust that should exist between doctor and patient. It is the opposite of compassion which literally means to suffer with someone.

In cases of extreme suffering, we should pursue palliative care which relieves the patient’s pain without actually terminating the patient’s life. At times we may need to make difficult end-of-life decisions concerning the removal of artificial life support. These are difficult decisions, but they are not the same as assisted suicide. Removing life support or forgoing extreme measures is not the same as actively killing a person.

Assisted suicide is wrong because of my value as a human being, because God has authority over my life, and because it is God who directs my path. Those who advocate for assisted suicide mean well, but ultimately, we must recognize that assisted suicide is killing, not caring, and there are far better ways to help the elderly and infirm.

My prayer is that as a result of this sermon you will grow in compassion for the elderly and infirm. I pray that you will understand why we must stand against laws permitting and promoting assisted suicide. Laws promoting assisted suicide are just getting started in our country. I pray that you will seek to protect the elderly and infirm from laws that would take their life prematurely.

© Ray Fowler

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Click here for more messages from the Hot Button Topics series.
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Recommended Resources on Assisted Suicide

Books (* = highly recommended)
*Assisted Suicide by Vaughan Roberts
Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie
Surprised by Suffering: Pain and Death in the Christian Life by R. C. Sproul
Right to Die? Euthanasia, Assisted suicide and End-of-life Care by John Wyatt
*Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller
*When Is It Right to Die?: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying by Joni Eareckson Tada

Articles
https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/how-would-you-counsel-someone-interested-in-assisted-suicide
http://www.cmf.org.uk/resources/publications/content/?context=article&id=26327
https://religionnews.com/2014/10/15/brittany-maynards-choice-die-personal-private/

Messages
For audio of the messages in this series: pccflorida.org/sermons/
For full text manuscripts of the messages in this series: rayfowler.org/sermons/hot-button-topics/