The issue of “Assisted Suicide” comes up frequently in our society. Including among Christians committed to a Biblical outlook regarding the value of life. I’ve been asked my view on it many times. In four decades of ministry, I’ve seen the issue raised first hand in real life situations. What are we to think? I’m not sure.
Some years ago, a very fine older gentleman in our church asked me to visit him in the hospital. In his mid-eighties, he was severely diabetic and had recently had yet another operation to remove part of his leg.
He was very strong in the Lord and quite weary of operations upon his weakened body from years of diabetes. He simply did not want to continue those treatments. In addition, he relied on daily dialysis procedures without which death would come quickly.
Propped up in bed with a gentle smile, he said this to me: “Ok Pastor. Thanks for coming over. Listen, I’ve decided to check out of the hospital and go to a nursing home. I will instruct that staff there not to do dialysis and, count on it, within a week I will die. So…(long pause) do you think that is suicide?”
I prayed quickly as I pondered a response. After a moment I said “Do YOU think it is suicide? It seems to me that is the issue.” He said “No, I don’t. I’m simply deciding not to go on indefinitely with life extending procedures. I’m ready to go to the Lord.” He went to the nursing home and he died a few days later. I presided at his funeral and we rejoiced at his salvation. It never occurred to me that someone might suggest that I had assisted in this man’s suicide. No one did suggest that. And I did nothing pro-active and he did not do anything either except deny treatment.
The issue is far more complex if a Christian is asked to willfully engage in helping some depart. I would never, ever do that. But such requests do come. I once visited a woman who had a terrible accident leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. When I asked if there was anything I could do for her, he reply was “Yes. Bring me a twenty-two!” At that moment, she wanted to die. I assured her that God would be blessing her in the days ahead and she did live more than a decade longer…with joy and suffering. I think her additional years were meaningful. Honestly, I doubt that her request was serious but rather just an expression of emotional pain. But she was thinking about the life issue.
Many states have made assisted suicide legal. That is troubling. I have counselled people who had been suicidal and pressed on and were now glad they had not ended their lives. That is one great argument against it. And, of course, the other is that we must not “Play God.” That one is more problematic because when we extend life thru extraordinary means, we are arguably delaying what God, thru nature, may have ordained. So, it’s hard to know what “Playing God” means.
Life ending issues are challenging. We just spent time with Donna’s nearly 96-year-old mother who was a most delightful woman. She slipped away but only after her share of pain and suffering. Did we expedite her death? Of course not. But we were relived when it came trusting her to the Lord. So…any great principles to offer from just one Pastor trying to be helpful? Perhaps.
FIRST, we should expect that more and more states will approve of assisted suicide. Our society is so committed to a material view of life that it only makes sense to people who have no expectation of eternal life. In the view of so many, we are machines and there comes a time to “shut it down.” Humans are no different from an old lawn tractor not worth fixing. It is pointless to wrangle with such arguments and we must respect the laws that are passed. We need not embrace them or support them, but they will be in place.
SECOND: our witness for Christ should make us non-judgmental whenever possible. People will be free to make such a choice. Indeed, most suicides that take place are private affairs and not in any way assisted. I do not wish to condemn the person who makes that painful choice. Although if I am asked I will certainly try to dissuade that individual.
THIRD: our desire is for salvation. My own father was considered borderline comatose many years ago. I was told he was totally unresponsive after a stroke and a heart attack. I went to his bedside and read Psalms in his ear and prayed for him. The next morning, he was siting up in bed! He lived five more years and a few weeks before his death, he came to Christ and was saved! Truly, God does save those whom He is calling…even to preserving their lives until they are re-born! Thus, let is be prayerful for those in despair that God might preserve them unto eternal life.
FOURTH: end of life decisions are challenging for families watching their loved-one struggle. It is best for individuals to indicate their desires if extraordinary measures are necessary to keep life going. If a person DOES NOT want such measures, the family should know this. I’ve seen families struggle with their role in making a final decision. They don’t want to assist in the departure of a loved one, but doctors are suggesting that there is no point in continuing.
FIFTH: Suicide, in all cases, is the ultimate expression of hopeless despair. We who have the Gospel should be alert to share the Good News freely. I’ve had the joy of watching older and suffering people bear their struggle with joy because they knew Jesus…who said:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live though he dies. And whoever believes in me will never die!” John 11:25-26
God be praised! Blessings! Pastor Alberta