We live in a culture of death. Some have said that America is the suicide nation. There are two phrases that have become popular jargon in this suicide nation—“death with dignity,” and “quality of life.” Let’s talk about those two phrases. They sound so good, but they are really ominous.
We’ve been following through on some of these concepts. Many people do not really understand them. That is a pity. The phrase “death with dignity” is used to imply that death by suicide is inherently preferable to death by natural causes for those who are living with certain crippling and painful conditions. “Death with dignity” means that assisted suicide is the merciful and compassionate thing to do. It means that the person will be spared from the suffering associated with a terminal illness. Death with dignity allows the patient the freedom to die and escape the indignity of being dehumanized, and experiencing pain brought about by the application of extraordinary medical efforts at preserving life.
The confusion generated by saying that living your life with cancer, or quadriplegia, or some other crippling health issue, is somehow undignified is an indictment of all of those multiplied thousands of brave people who are living successfully in those situations. It is an indictment, even a condemnation, of someone like Joni Eareckson Tada who has been an inspiration to millions. Despite her quadriplegia, she has been a faithful servant of the Lord and a blessing to millions for the last fifty years. Likewise, Nick Vujicic, the Australian Christian evangelist and motivational speaker born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs, proves that life with dignity can be a reality, and an inspiration, despite a serious handicap.
We certainly don’t want to ignore, or vilify, the courageous examples of these heroines and heroes whose lives remind us that overcoming tragedy and difficulty is one of the greatest examples of being made in the image of God. We are living to the glory of the image of God when we can turn darkness into light and misfortune into an opportunity for inspiration and redemption from evil. Secularists, atheists, communists, socialists, and materialists have absolutely no concept of human dignity. That’s why they are pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, and pro-everything that disrespects the image of God in men and women, boys and girls. This is why we are now living in the culture of death.
“Quality of life” is another one of those terms that sounds so good but has the stench of death about it. Within the last twenty or thirty years, medical technology has given us high-tech helps to improve a person’s quality of life, even in situations where the person is seriously incapacitated due to an illness or accident. Kidney machines, pacemakers, insulin injections, and medications manage pain and depression and can improve one’s quality of life. Quality of life, however, is a subjective concept. By quality of life, do we mean the ability to run, jump, and deep-sea dive, or do we mean the ability to sit in a wheelchair, read a book, and perform some useful function that does not require a high degree of physical mobility?
For a Christian, the ability to speak, witness, read Scripture, have an ongoing prayer ministry, and to assist in a number of ways is a good incentive for staying alive. After all, in the perspective of eternity running, jumping, deep-sea diving, and other activities is really not that important. For senior citizens whose physical abilities have been greatly eclipsed by age, they can still have an important role and place in society. If quality of life, as conceived in terms of running, jumping, and deep-sea diving, is the main factor in determining whether or not one should go on living, then everyone after seventy-five to eighty years of age should be euthanized.
While quality of life should enter into the equation, it really needs to be counterbalanced with the sanctity of human life. Because we have been made in the image of God every human being has an inherent value, rather than just a functional value. A person created in the image of God may not be able to function very well, but that person still has an inherent value. It has become increasingly obvious that when we abandon a biblical view of human life for a materialist view, our humanity is cheapened. This curse of departing from the Bible hangs over the human race like a dark cloud. As Dr. C. Everett Koop has said, “Let those who seek death with dignity beware, lest they lose life with dignity in the process.”
Is It Ever Right to Die?
We certainly believe in the sanctity of human life. That phrase is used in reference to unborn children, and it is also used with regard to people who have some physical disability. We certainly do not agree with the suicide craze that is being pushed today. But here’s a question that I know many people have—Is it ever right to die? I can also rephrase that and ask—When is it right to die?
That is certainly a question that some raise when they hear that we are very unhappy with the availability of assisted suicide. So, Is it right to die? Yes, it is. The Bible says, in Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed unto men once to die.” The Bible also says, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength, they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” Those are the words of Psalm 90:10.
Even in the period before the flood of Noah, the Antediluvian period, when lifespans were elongated so that people lived hundreds and hundreds of years because of the water vapor canopy that surrounded the earth, we still read, in Genesis 5, “and he died.” It’s repeated over and over again—“and he died.”
Death is a part of the reality of living in a fallen world. So, yes, it is right to die. I like what Dr. Norma Geisler said in his book Christian Ethics, p. 125: “Keeping a comatose person alive by a machine, one who has an incurable disease and is irreversibly dying, is unnecessary. In fact, it could be viewed as unethical. Extraordinary efforts to fight the divinely-appointed limits of our mortality are really working in opposition to God.
Joni Eareckson Tada also said this, and I quote her: “The Bible teaches that any means to produce or hasten death in order to alleviate suffering is never justified. However, letting someone die is another matter entirely. Allowing a person to die when he or she is, in fact, dying is justified.”