Euthanasia And Christian Ethics -- By: Millard J. Erickson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 19:1 (Winter 1976)
Article: Euthanasia And Christian Ethics
Author: Millard J. Erickson

Euthanasia And Christian Ethics

Millard J. Erickson

Ines E. Bowers*

Among many ethical problems the bio-medical revolution is forcing upon us as Christians today is the question of euthanasia. While the peak of the issue has certainly not yet been reached, a crescendo is definitely building. Christians must carefully, prayerfully, and thoroughly think through their position on this matter. There is always a danger that the Church will formulate rather early a stance on an ethical issue and then allow that stance to become an unexamined tradition. It is the thesis of this article that some of the bases for positions commonly taken on the issue ofeuthanasia are really not adequate and that a new beginning and mode of approach needs to be made.

The immense progress in the bio-medical fields in the past quarter century or so has brought great benefit to many people. These same achievements, however, have also produced concomitant ethical problems. We are now able to keep people physically alive long beyond the time when disease would formerly have taken their lives. This means that for many of them pain becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. Often, in cases where the individual has become economically unproductive, his family will for years to come bear the burden imposed by astronomical medical expenses. The question of how long life should continue under such circumstances is a very real issue. Euthanasia means, literally, “good death.” It may assume several different forms, depending on at least two factors.

Euthanasia may be either active or passive. Passive euthanasia is simply allowing the person to die, either by withholding treatment or by discontinuing such treatment, once begun.1 Active euthanasia, on the other hand, is taking some positive step to terminate life, such as the administration of a toxic substance or the injection of an air bubble into the blood stream. Euthanasia may also be classified as either voluntary, where the subject himself expresses his desire for his life to end, or involuntary, in cases where he has not indicated such a choice.

In this article we will not be discussing either form of passive euthanasia. This has received rather extensive discussion and is fairly commonly practiced at present. A large number of Christians have no ethical objections to it, at least in principle.

Nor are we here treating involuntary active euthanasia. There

*Millard J. Erickson is a professor of theology and Mrs. Ines E. Bowers a student at Bethel Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.

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