The Right to Live or Die

Introduction

The valuable lesson I have learned through the process of living is to expect the unexpected.  The bright side of life offers many beautiful moments to cherish and numerous opportunities to fully engage in nature and one’s personal life experiences.  The landscape of the world offers many sites to delight the senses.  God’s creation is perfect and majestic.  Each person’s life experiences are unique but all share moments of bliss and movements of grief.  The human experience can be described as having sunny and rainy days.  At times there are many laughs and during others many tears.  One moment in time has the power to impact someone’s life forever.  In that moment, a wrinkle in time is created and the memory of it never forgotten.  Here is one unexpected moment that taught me how to live the rest of my life with God and without the fear of death.

and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2”15 (NIV)

The Surprise of Time

As I was ready to sit and sip a cup of coffee after the long Christmas day celebration with family and friends, my cell phone rang.  At that moment, I felt my heart stop at the voice of Jack telling me that Kevin was in the hospital.  I wanted to relax for the rest of the evening and instead I found myself in a crisis.  What was once a peaceful evening changed for the worst.  Receiving this phone call changed everything.  In a split second my life changed irrevocably.

Two months ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my dear brother in Christ, Kevin at a local church.  I saw a new Kevin, healthy with clear and bright eyes.  He was full of life ever since he turned over a new leaf.  Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see him.  I was surprised to hear that he got sick and was in the hospital. 

In this instance, I was drawn back in time when I was at my uncle’s bedside thinking, “why is he not getting up?”  “When will he be healed?”  I remember praying for his speedy recovery.  There is nothing that God cannot do.  God spared the life of my father and mother by letting them live after a deadly car crash, me too, I was also in the same crash. 

It has been difficult to forget the horrible images of this crash as all I could see was blood.  My parent’s faces were disfigured and my father lost many of his teeth.  I lost consciousness shortly after, but I remember the numb feeling and the warm blood gushing out.  The news of Kevin brought all of these memories back to mind and the pain I felt then began to stir in my heart.  God has been merciful all my life and I thought Kevin would be spared as well.  

My uncle suffered an unknown and rare disease that over time limited all his bodily movements.  He had to be fed, changed and wheeled around and could no longer speak.  All he did was blink and occasionally make unrecognizable sounds.  I saw the slow process of his decline but never lost hope that one day he would be miraculously healed and return to normal life.  My cousin took it upon himself to look after his father on a full-time basis.  I noticed over time, my cousin Dan was too involved with the daily stress of looking after his dad.  I could see it was taking a toll on him.  When my other cousins returned to the States, they unanimously voted to begin the morphine injections.  Within 6 days of these injections, my uncle died.  During my brief talks with the nurse, she explained to me that once you start the morphine injections, you are assisting in the transition. 

There is a doctrine of double effect with this situation.  One is “How long do you keep your loved ones alive?”  The other side is “When do you allow medical intervention to accelerate the dying process?”  How much faith do you exercise through prayer and wait for God to decide? It is merciful to prolong his suffering and immobile catatonic state by continuing to feed him?

Time has a funny sense of humor.  Linear time has a different effect on people based on the different value system.  In my world, the question of time in terms of life is the same regardless of the age factor.  My uncle was in perfect health before the strange illness took his quality of life and my friend fell into a coma.  In both situations, the quality of life had been altered, but who gets to live and who gets to die according to current medical practices?  The timing of these unfortunate events was tragic and my heart carries the pain of loss.

The Right to Live or Die

            The giver of life has always been the Almighty God.  The living God is the originator of all living organism as well as the terminator.  Since the inception of death in the Garden of Eden, man has and continues to suffer the process of dying.  From the Christian perspective, it is appropriate to say that God is the only one who knows when and how a person will live or die.  What happens when someone is taking a long time to die and is suffering beyond comprehension by another?  Well, the question is at what point is it ethical to assist in the process of dying or not assist with continued living in such a horrible state?  Who is responsible to pull the plug, the water and or the IV feeding in these situations?  A closer look is warranted in a much heated and debated argument.

            In ancient times and historical evidence indicates the practice of euthanasia.  The Greeks came up with the name “euthanasia” which means “a good death” and the poison used was provided by the city magistrate.  Regardless of the common practice, there was opposition.  According to history, Aristotle considered this practice “a cowardly death and an offense against the state.”[1]  In addition, Hippocrates a prominent physician was opposed to this practice.  In the Hippocratic Oath which physicians use today, it states “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.” 

            The Romans also practiced euthanasia and it was widely accepted.  Equal rights were not afforded to everyone at that time.  The educated and political figures received more respect, merit and privileges that were missing in the poor and uneducated.  Therefore, the weak and sick were eliminated through this avenue.  The right to life was unequal among this civilization. 

            The spread of Christianity lead to view life as a gift from God.  The influence of Christians helped change the acceptance of euthanasia.   It was no longer morally accepted.  Over time, the methods of euthanasia changed due to medical and technological advances, but the beliefs, sentiments and viewpoints remain the same.   

            Here is a scenario.  My brother in Christ, Dennis had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.  I had walked into the hospital to visit him to which he began to tremble with fear stating how he didn’t want to die.  I replied to Dennis by saying, “Brother, you have nothing to be concerned about if you are born again, you are going to heaven and getting out of this terrible place.  However, if you aren’t sure, we can do this right here, right now!”  Dennis said the sinner’s prayer with me on his hospital bed and another brother in Christ entered the room who baptized Dennis in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Dennis was released from the hospital but confined to a wheel chair.  Dennis came to have Thanksgiving dinner with a few of his brothers and sisters in Christ in a church setting.  A few people noticed a radical transformation in Dennis’ appearance, demeaner, speed and posture.  That was not the Dennis we once know, that was a repentant Dennis.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, “the new is here!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) Dennis became terribly sick the days following thanksgiving dinner and he had to be hospitalized again.  It was my four-year clean and sober anniversary from drug and alcohol addiction and I was sharing my testimony at a Christian halfway house.  The Holy Spirit moved upon me and I think he said, “go to the hospital and tell your brother to get his affairs in order because I’m taking him home.”  I did not want to give Dennis a message of doom and gloom regarding the soon to be outcome of his fate.  I think I heard the Holy Spirit say, “tell your bother the Lord has already been merciful to him, because he was so sick that he would have died much sooner in his sins.  But I extended his life because I foreknew that when Dennis was faced with death, he would repent of his sins.  I kept Dennis alive for this sole purpose, now I’m taking him home.”  So, I reluctantly obeyed the Holy Spirit riddled with fear of rejection issues, and fearful of brining my recently converted brother a message of death.  After I shared what I believe the Lord had told me, Dennis reluctantly got his affairs in order.  Christmas day Dennis had an oxygen mask on and shortly after midnight, he was fighting with one of his mentors, ripping his oxygen mask off and desperately gasping for air and ripping his heart monitor off.  Dennis’ mentor tried putting everything back on Dennis’ face and body.  I left the room in a hurry searching for the head nurse.  I told her the flesh is weak but the spirit is strong, please give some medication to comfort Dennis’ flesh.  Shortly after many of us prayed for the Lord to be merciful and take our brother home, the nurse came in and gave Dennis pain medication intravenously.  Dennis became calm.  A few minutes later, Dennis opened his eyes and said in a surprised voice “mom!”  Then, Dennis flatlined and died.

            Did the merciful injection of a powerful narcotic that is 10 times stronger than morphine kill Dennis or did it comfort him, until the Lord took him home?  Was it an act of mercy or an act of euthanasia?  In my opinion, it was a kind act of mercy.  The drug may not have been an overdose, it kept his flesh calm until the Lord was ready to take him home.  Even if the powerful narcotic did kill Dennis, wasn’t it better than watching him experience extreme anxiety or panic attack?  Are we to leave someone in that state until he dies from the torment or at least in a tormented state?  In the end, Dennis died in peace.

            The simple solution to this dilemma for many families is to follow scripture and trust in the Lord.  “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 ESV).  The bible even spells out the time allocated to man.  “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”  (Psalm 90:10 ESV).  In addition to bible verses, a well-respected and popular evangelistic by the name of Billy Graham stated:

“God wasn’t promising that every person would live to be seventy or eighty, however; the psalmist was simply describing our normal human experience. Our times are in God’s hands, and for some their journey on earth is much shorter. Jesus was crucified when He was still in His 30s; the first martyr, Stephen, likewise was probably still a young man when he was put to death for his faith (see Acts 7).

The real point the psalmist was making is that no matter who we are, our time on earth is limited, and someday death will overtake us. Death is a reality, and no one evades it—no matter how strong they are or how many years they live: “You sweep men away in the sleep of death” (Psalm 90:5).

But this leads us to two very important questions. First, how should we prepare for death? People may spend years preparing for a career or advancing in their job—and yet never take five minutes to think about eternity and what will happen to them when they die. But when we know Christ, we know this life is not all, and ahead of us is heaven. Have you put your faith in Him?  The other question is this: How should we spend the days God does give us? Will we live for ourselves—or will we live for God? Put Christ first, and make your days count for Him.”  [2] 

            The word of God provides much needed comfort and hope when addressing the difficult issue of death of a loved one.  Even though it is a painful experience the loss of our loved ones, Jesus teaches mankind to have faith and security in his word of truth.  The core of Christianity is believing in the resurrection and coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Biblical Citations

The prolife position is supported throughout the Bible.  In the following biblical text, God is the giver of life.  “The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV).  “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV)

The practice of loving each other would provide an easier choice to allow the natural course of death to occur easily.  As mandated in the bible in many occasions to love one another. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 ESV).  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

Another important component of believing in God is having faith in God’s decision to heal the sick.  There are numerous examples of Jesus healing in the bible.  “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2 -3 ESV).  “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.”  (Matt 8:16 ESV).  “The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.” (Psalm 41:3 ESV).  Our modern society has come to rely on human wisdom and steered away from the promise of God’s words.  “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.” (Jeremiah 33:6 ESV).

Conclusion

In summary, what is ethical in the choice of life and death is based on God’s word found in the bible.  Our sovereign God has the power to dictate the right course for any person in a life and death situation.  The right to live or die is best expressed by Mrs. Victoria Reggie Kennedy. 

 “When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, he was told he had only two to four months to live, that he’d never get back to the United States Senate, that he should get his affairs in order, kiss his wife, love his family and get ready to die,” she wrote in the Cape Cod Times. “But that prognosis was wrong, Teddy lived 15 more productive months.”  She added: “When the end finally did come – natural death with dignity – my husband was home, attended by his doctor, surrounded by family and our priest.”  Vicky Kennedy argues that the alternative to physician-assisted suicide is to “expand palliative care, pain management, nursing care and hospice.”  I think that is the right choice.[3] 

Society is too often motivated by economic conditions that overlook the grand design of our Creator, the living God.  The right to live or die belong in God’s hands, and therefore should not be given to man.  There are no biblical examples that demonstrate a person taking the life of another or his own with God’s approval in an act of euthanasia or suicide.  There is also no mention of given our loved one drugs or any use of machines to force them, against nature, to live as long as possible.  Life has been given to us by God and it is not ours to take.  God is the only one who knows the time of death for each person. 

Bibliography

Dyck, Arthur J. “Life’s Worth: The Case against Assisted Suicide.” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2002.
Graham, Billy. Evangelistic Association. billygraham.org
Haerens, Margaret. “Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints Series.”  Greenhaven Press, Farmington Hills, Michigan, 2015. ESV: study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007.


[1] Haerens, Margaret. “Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints Series.”  Greenhaven Press, Farmington Hills, Michigan, 2015.

[2] Billygraham.org

[3] Haerens, Margaret. “Euthanasia: Opposing Viewpoints Series.”  Greenhaven Press, Farmington Hills, Michigan, 2015. P. 65-66.

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