‘I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give a woman an abortive remedy.’ The Hippocratic Oath.1
These words, penned approximately four centuries before Christ, still hold immense relevance today. Their writer was Hippocrates, a philosopher and physician of Ancient Greece who is often considered to be ‘the father of medicine’. Hippocrates’ ‘Oath’ encapsulated the idea prevalent in Greek philosophy that suicide was a social evil akin to killing another human person, but for the first time placed it in a code of practice for doctors.
Medical students in many western countries are still required to take the above ‘Hippocratic oath’. The anti-abortion clause, however, at least in my country of Australia, has been conveniently (and tragically) removed, a reflection of the secularization of our evolutionized culture. Modern medicine has all but abandoned the principle of the sanctity of human life that Hippocrates enunciated, and which is also found in the Genesis account of man being made in God’s image. For example, today abortion is considered by many to be a ‘pregnancy choice’ rather than the destruction of another human being. Medical treatments are withdrawn from patients on the basis that they lack ‘quality of life’, rather than considering whether the treatment will help the person get better or preserve their life until the natural end.
The belief that we have evolved from simpler creatures is often used to justify the rejection of God as Creator and hence the rejection of His authority through His Law. Without God, life becomes purposeless. Disability, suffering and the terminal stages of life are viewed as meaningless. This is a contributing cause to the ‘culture of death’ that is affecting the Western world in areas such as medicine and healthcare, where people’s lives are dependent on others.
The increasing acceptance of euthanasia is part of this shift in mentality towards the ‘culture of death’. Not long ago, the world watched a court of the United States rule that a disabled person, Terri Schiavo, should die by starvation and dehydration. How could an innocent person be deliberately killed in this way? (Remember that it is not like turning off complex machinery—anyone would die if prevented from taking in water or food, so we are talking about an overt act of killing the innocent—murder, by definition.)
The truth is that people have lost their sense of what it means to be human. Life, instead of being a precious gift, becomes evaluated according to its ‘quality’. A person whilst young, active and productive has a high ‘quality of life’, yet once this person becomes old, disabled or dependent, the quality is reduced, and his or her life may no longer be considered to be worth living or protecting. Without the possibility of recovery, disability or dependence on others become grounds for the termination of that person’s life.
Echoes of this sentiment were also found in Clint Eastwood’s popular movie, Million Dollar Baby. The main character, a female boxer, starts out bold and successful, but ends up suffering a high level spinal cord injury leaving her permanently disabled, dependent on a ventilator (breathing machine) and unable to move her limbs. For her, the loss of her previous abilities is too much and she seeks death, and her ventilator is switched off in what is depicted by Hollywood as a profound act of compassion. (It is interesting to note that the Third Reich used similar films to promote acceptance of euthanasia prior to the extermination of the disabled and the mentally handicapped in Nazi Germany.2) Far from being compassionate, the carers have simply taken the easy way out. Rather than supporting her through her illness and allowing her to adjust to life’s circumstances (compare quadriplegic Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada), they assist in killing her. Such an act rejects the essential aspect that her life is not her own to take. Made in God’s image, she has no right to destroy her own life, or permit others to do so, whatever her situation.
The story of Job in the Bible recounts how he refused to ‘curse God and die’ (Job 2:9) despite this counsel being given to him by his wife. This was because Job feared God and understood that only He has the authority to give and to take life. Even if all joy is taken out of life, as was the case with Job, that still would not justify the taking of life. Even in the depths of suffering, God’s image remains, and life remains an intrinsic good, worthy of protection and support. Not to mention the fact that in rare instances, people have unexpectedly recovered from what were deemed as ‘hopeless’ medical situations.
When courts or individuals become the arbiters of life or death, such power in the hands of mankind (which has a poor track record on handling it wisely) is open to abuse, misjudgment, and bias.
The Christian church, and indeed society in general, should never accept the lie that euthanasia represents ‘a good death’ (as the word’s etymology3 implies). Euthanasia, in its real sense, represents a profound rejection of the gift of life, and hence of the Giver Himself. Instead, there should be a recognition that man, being made in the image of God, has intrinsic value and dignity from conception to natural death.
The decline of respect for life in western culture is one more symptom of the tragic foundational shift away from a biblical worldview to one based on evolutionary humanism.
References and notes
- As translated by Ludwig Edelstein. Return to text.
- Burleigh, M., Death and Deliverance, Cambridge University Press, New York, USA, p. 210, 1994. Return to text.
- From the Greek eu = good or easy, and thanatos = death. Return to text.