Friday, February 22, 2019

Assessing Assisted Suicide: Part 2

My previous article began a multi-part consideration of assisted suicide and the Christian approach to those suffering enough to want it. As a reminder, it is vital to keep that suffering in mind when discussing this issue. People are in pain, and we cannot ignore it. However, while it may explain their desire, it does not justify it. At least, it is not justified from a Christian perspective. And if we hope to resist it, we need to understand the mindset that attempts to claim it as a right.

Deadly Philosophy on the Value of Life

While I can empathize with the suffering, and fear of suffering, that comes with ALS, I cannot ignore that it is still a selfish act to commit suicide even under such circumstances. However, a number of people clearly do not see it the same way. That is why a number of European countries and a few US states (including Montana, of all places) have legalized it. Most of them seem to want some limits still, which is why only Switzerland has created a death-tourist industry by allowing foreigners to come in order to be killed. But all of these governments have determined that suicide is a right rather than self-indulgence.

This all comes down to modern philosophies on the value of life. In a certain sense, these thinkers might admit of the selfishness of it all. The issue is that they view that selfishness as a positive thing. Boiled down to the barest essentials, life for them only has value to the extent that it can be enjoyed. Once it is filled with pain, or independence and ability are lost, or it becomes a burden, then it is worthless. And once it is worthless, there is no harm in destroying it. In fact, destroying it becomes an act of mercy. The implications of that worldview are staggering.

The Whaley case again sheds light on this. His request to the British court system had been that the right to assisted suicide be restricted to those diagnosed to have less than six months to live. One need ask a single simple question to lay bare the dangers. Why the limits?

Why six months? Why not one? Obviously, because one is too short. The enjoyment of life would have mostly ended by then, making it a moot point. Six months is a bigger window to get a few items ticked off the bucket list, then end things before they get too tough. The time limit has nothing to do with medicine, it is just an arbitrary way to give suicides time to manage their own destinies.

And what about the other direction? Why six months instead of a year? Two years? Ten? Why put a time limit on it at all? There are any number of conditions that come with chronic suffering, but that are not as life-threatening as ALS. Why should those people not be able to end it all? For that matter, why restrict it to medical conditions? Why not allow the psychologically tormented to seek a more permanent answer to their ongoing suffering?

Maybe the answer seems obvious. If people aren’t dying, then they shouldn’t kill themselves. But why is that correct? First off, we are all always dying. More importantly, though, why should it matter if the cause of suffering is not going to be the direct cause of death? The argument for assisted suicide is in how it prevents the loss of quality of life. It cannot offer any distinctions on the cause of the loss of quality. If you extend it in one case, then logical consistency demands you extend it to all. That is the door you open when life’s value is tied to its usefulness rather than to its being.

Christian Philosophy on the Value of Life

Being. That is such an important concept, one at the root of the Christian philosophy on the value of life, and it is a concept few people understand any longer. The reason this review of assisted suicide was suggested by the previous one on abortion is because the concepts are so clearly related. In God’s eyes as revealed in Scripture, the value of human life is intrinsic. That means it belongs to its very nature, having nothing to do with what it is capable of. The issue is not life as a doctor, or life as a coal miner, or as a king, an ALS victim, or an unborn child. The issue is life as life.

This point is made over and again in the Bible, starting with its very first chapter. Mankind was created in God’s image and He breathed His life into us (Gen. 1:26–27; 2:7). This mark of the divine is something we all carry, which is why we ought not murder (Gen. 9:5–6; Ex. 20:13) or show any partiality (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:16–17; Job 31:13–15; James 2:1–9; 3:9). To assault that value or deny justice is to attack God Himself.

But that is not the end of it. Life does not have value simply because of its creation. It also has value as a result of what God has done for it. Not judging on the basis of our worth, but purely from the love He has for us, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be the sacrifice enabling our redemption to Him. And because Christ did this for all of us, we are all made equal (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:15; Col. 3:9–111 Pet. 3:18). Life is not measured in its moments, but in the blood the Lord Jesus shed for it.

Christianity values life as life because it comes from and belongs to God. That is why abortion and suicide are never options for those who actually attempt to live from the teachings of Scripture. It is not because we do not care as much as the secular world does, but because we care so much more deeply. Our very different philosophies on life also, of course, have very different implications. We will begin considering them in the third part of this series.

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