In a world where the boundaries of life and death are increasingly blurred at best and disregarded at worst, it is essential for Christians to articulate their beliefs and convictions regarding controversial issues. Unfortunately, this now includes legalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS), which are both on the rise in Western countries, including the U.S. and Canada.
As a way of definition, euthanasia is the intentional ending of a human life for the (stated) purpose of eliminating their pain and suffering. Physician-assisted suicide is when a doctor assists an individual in ending their own life upon the person’s request. Both of these practices can — and do — occur even if the individual is not necessarily in extreme suffering or dealing with a terminal illness.
As Christians and medical ethicists have long warned, these actions, which are often justified and sold as “mercy in dying” or “dignity in death,” are a slippery slope.
For example, over the last few years, Canada has aggressively expanded its pro-death regime known as “Medical Assistance In Dying,” or MAID. Statistics Canada reported that “Medically assisted deaths in Canada rose by 35% from 2020 to 2021. The number of medically assisted deaths in Canada has continued to grow since MAID was introduced in 2016. There were 12,689 written requests for MAID in 2021, 31.3% more than the 9,664 written requests in 2020.”
Beginning in March 2024, Canada will extend the MAID program to include those whose sole medical condition is mental illness, such as depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and schizophrenia, and it is even considering allowing “mature minors” to be eligible for the program. Already, healthcare employees have been caught promoting MAID as a possible “solution” to those with disabilities, those facing homelessness, pensioners, and the suicidal.
Even the liberal news outlet the New York Times is asking, “Is Choosing Death Too Easy in Canada?”
A biblical worldview of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide provides an irreplaceable foundation for Christians as they strive to understand these issues, with an emphasis on the sanctity of life and the importance of respecting God as the author of human life.
The sanctity of life
Central to the Christian perspective on these issues is the belief in the sanctity of life. From the moment of conception to natural death, life is considered a precious gift from God. The Bible explicitly conveys this idea in several passages, including Psalm 139:13-16:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
This passage underscores the belief that God is intimately involved in the creation and development of every human life. It affirms that life begins in the womb and is a part of God’s divine plan.
Let’s consider verse 16 more closely: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
What the psalmist is communicating here, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is that the Sovereign God of all creation has fixed for each man and woman a number of days that they are allotted to live on this earth, before dying and facing the final judgment. When you combine this biblical insight with the clear command not to murder (which we will consider in more detail shortly), one simple truth becomes crystal clear: As Creator of mankind, only God has the right to determine the moment of life and death.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are sinful “shortcuts” that seek to rob God of this sovereign prerogative over every breath we take. Those who support and engage in these practices devalue and degrade the sanctity of human life in God’s world.
Prideful attempts at playing God
Another reason that Christians historically oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is the concern that these practices involve humans attempting to “play God.” In essence, proponents of these practices may be usurping God’s authority and dominion over His creation. In the Bible, we find numerous passages that affirm God’s sovereignty over life and death. Job 14:5 declares:
“Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass.”
Here, we see a clear acknowledgment that the duration of a person’s life is determined by God and no human should seek to alter that divine plan.
Moreover, Christians believe that suffering and difficult circumstances are opportunities for spiritual growth and reliance on God. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, the apostle Paul writes about his own suffering:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul’s words illustrate that in times of suffering and weakness, Christians are called to rely on God’s strength and grace rather than resorting to hastening death as a means of escape.
God’s clear command: 'You shall not murder'
The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), underscores the biblical prohibition against taking innocent life. Christians understand this commandment as an absolute prohibition against killing another human being intentionally outside of war or in acts of self-defense.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide involve the deliberate taking of human life, even if it is at the request of the individual. The act itself contradicts this fundamental moral principle — and therefore it qualifies as murder.
One of the most high-profile cases of euthanasia in the United States in recent times was that of Terri Schiavo. In response to the doctors who euthanized her, Christian pastor and Bible teacher R.C. Sproul expressed concern that “last week’s state-sanctioned death of Terri Schiavo marks a turning point for America, and it is crucial for the Church in this country to wake up and mobilize against euthanasia and other signs of the times.”
Sproul also raised concerns that this event marked a turning point in American history back towards an age of neo-barbarianism:
“Many years ago, Harold Lindsell described American culture after the revolution of the 60s as a ‘neo-pagan culture.’ I think now what Terri Schiavo’s death marks is the transition to a neo-barbarian culture ... I think that’s where we are. We’ve become barbarians, because what we’ve just witnessed is the willful starving and dehydration of a living human being.”
Again, the Bible gives us a very specific word for the intentional taking of another person’s life — murder.
Francis Schaeffer rightly made the connection between the ethics of abortion and euthanasia, arguing that both were murder:
“I feel that abortion is murder ... I do think that this is what the Bible would set forth. It is interesting that the people who are for abortion tend also to be for euthanasia. I think both spring from the fact that modern man does not feel that man is unique, and sees him only as part of the continuum from the molecule onward. The Bible says, of course, that man is unique because he is made in the image of God.”
Both euthanasia and PAS are ultimately violations of the Sixth Commandment and therefore all Christians should oppose these practices.
The role of compassion
While Christians oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide on the grounds of preserving the sanctity of life and not playing God, they also recognize the importance of showing compassion and care to those who are suffering. It is crucial to distinguish between actively ending a life and providing palliative care and emotional support.
The Bible teaches us to have sympathy for those who are suffering and to comfort those in pain. Galatians 6:2 encourages Christians to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Providing pain relief and emotional comfort to those facing terminal illness or suffering is entirely consistent with the teachings of Christ. But, regardless of how this comfort and relief are provided, it cannot come in the form of killing another human being in the act of playing God.
A historic, classical version of the Hippocratic Oath contained the line, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asks for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”
While the original oath was not Christian in origin, this position is directly derived from a biblical understanding of the purpose of medicine — which is to heal, not harm. And certainly not to kill.
In conclusion, a biblical worldview provides a robust foundation for understanding why Christians historically oppose euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The sanctity of life, the belief that we should not attempt to play God, the commandment against murder, and the call to show compassion all contribute to this perspective.
While Christians are deeply sympathetic to those facing suffering and terminal illness, they believe that the answer lies in trusting God and offering support, rather than taking matters of life and death into human hands. Ultimately, it is a worldview rooted in faith, reverence for God, and a profound respect for the gift of life that shapes the Christian stance on these complex ethical issues.
Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center.
William Wolfe is a visiting fellow with the Center for Renewing America. He served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe