Euthanasia: A Biblical Appraisal -- By: J. Kerby Anderson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 144:574 (Apr 1987)
Article: Euthanasia: A Biblical Appraisal
Author: J. Kerby Anderson


Euthanasia: A Biblical Appraisal

J. Kerby Anderson

Vice-president
Probe Ministries, Richardson, Texas

Pastors and physicians alike agonize over the ethics of euthanasia. Is it moral to withhold medical treatment from a terminally ill patient? Is it ever right to “pull the plug” on a patient? These are only two of the many ethical questions surrounding the practice of euthanasia.

The term “euthanasia” was coined (in its currently prominent sense) by historian W. E. H. Lecky in 1869. Derived from the Greek for “happy death” or “good death,” the term “euthanasia” traditionally conveyed the idea of keeping terminally ill patients free from pain in their last days. Unfortunately in recent years it has come to mean a great deal more.

This change in definition is well illustrated by the standard dictionary definition of euthanasia used in most courts. Webster’s Dictionary provides two definitions: (1) “an easy death or means of inducing one” and (2) “the act or practice of painlessly putting to death persons suffering from incurable conditions or diseases.”1

This definition immediately reflects the problem with a discussion of euthanasia. Euthanasia means different things to different people. Most lay people once assumed the focus was merely

on what can properly be called “palliative care,” which includes attempts by doctors and nurses to ease pain in terminal patients, but does not justify “inducing death.”

But to many people today, euthanasia includes not just a passive management of pain but an active termination of a suffering patient’s life by a second party.

Thus crucial to any discussion of euthanasia is a proper definition of the various forms of euthanasia. Under this broader definition of euthanasia are some practices that can be justified from a biblical perspective while many others are clearly immoral and even criminal in nature.

Forms of Euthanasia

Ethical and medical discussions of euthanasia frequently include various forms of treatment or lack of treatment that fall under the general term “euthanasia.” Four categories of euthanasia are frequently discussed in the medical literature.

1. Voluntary, passive euthanasia. This form of euthanasia assumes that medical personnel, at the patient’s request, will merely allow nature to take its course. In the past, passive euthanasia meant that the physician did nothing to hasten death but did provide care, comfort, and counsel to dying patients.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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