An Appeal to the Church to Resist 'Death With Dignity'

After church a friend and I were lamenting the condition of our ailing parents.  Her mom and my dad both reside in nursing homes, both have terminal diseases, and both sometimes seem very depressed.  My friend’s eyes filled with tears and she said that maybe physician-assisted suicide wasn’t such a bad idea. 

Her sentiments are not unique in the church today.  According to Lifeway Research,  38 percent of Evangelicals polled agree that “When a person is facing a painful terminal disease, it is morally acceptable to ask for a physician’s aid in taking his or her own life.”   

Circulating soundbites such as, “We treat our pets more compassionately than our sick,” have been effective in building support for death-with-dignity legislation.  Colorado voted 2-1 in favor of Proposition 106 in November.  In fact, after the election I received a phone call from a nurse telling me that while no doctors within my dad’s nursing home would be participating in the new medical-aid-in-dying law, they have connections to doctors to whom we can be referred, should we desire that option.  Numerous times over the past six months, I’ve been told by well-meaning souls to compassionately consider whether or not my dad would want to live this way.   

My friend and I actually have the option of helping our parents end their lives now.  And 40% of our Christian brothers and sisters think this is an acceptable option.  Though I am heart broken by his condition, though I know his once sharp attorney mind would be horrified to see himself now, though I realize that his once strong rancher body would feel forsaken by his wheelchair, assisting him in ending his life is not an option for me for three reasons. 

First, the Imago Dei present in my father and in all humans makes us special and set apart from all other creatures on Earth.  In the creation account we read that all animals were created “according to their kind.”  But when man was created, he was made after God’s kind (Genesis 1:26-27).  Theologian Mark Ross, Ligonier, explains that “what is most important about human persons is their likeness to God. This likeness is so very special that it sets them apart from all the other creatures God made. Man is not made according to their kinds; he is made according to God’s “kind.” In other words, man is made as the image and likeness of God.”  

The Imago Dei is present in all humans.  Tiny, big, young, old, healthy, sick, white, brown, rich, poor, Western, Eastern, believer, atheist—we all image God.  To deem one population as unworthy of life is to dismiss the image of God in that population.  God’s image is present in each human and cannot be denied, even in the pursuit of comfort.  We image God when we create, govern, love, seek justice, alleviate suffering, and exercise mercy.  We image God when we create and protect life. 

Second, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) and for His glory.  We know from personal experiences and from watching others that God grows us in our trials.  He brings clarity and intimacy between us and Himself.  When my husband’s mom was suffering from ALS, she drew near to the Lord like never before.  She brought God glory and honor as her focus narrowed onto Him alone.  She treasured Him in ways she could not when she was healthy.  When we suffer, “His glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).  

Our terminal illnesses are not without reason.  God tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  When we pursue ending life early, we dismiss God’s purposes.  In our actions we say to the Lord that our perspective of comfort is more important than His will for growing us in our trial.  If we had chosen to encourage my mother-in-law to end her life early, she would have missed out on some of the most intimate moments with her Savior.  She would not have had the opportunity to reflect Him to her friends, neighbors, caregivers, and family.  And my prayer is that my own father’s sickness will be used of God to draw him to Himself.  That in this, my dad will glorify God and draw near to Him. 

Lastly, and perhaps most precious to me personally—we can trust God’s goodness and sovereignty because Jesus Himself suffered (far beyond what we can imagine) on our behalf, died in our place, and rose again, giving us ultimate victory.  He told us, “In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

We can trust the Father because He sent His Son to die for us.  We can trust the Son because He endured holy wrath on our behalf to make us sons and daughters of the Most High King.  His character is good, kind, and trustworthy.  We must only look to the cross to be reminded that He has our best in mind in all things—even suffering.  “He works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) and we can trust Him.  

My friend and I are indeed permitted by law to seek out comfort for our parents by aiding them in ending their lives early.  Colorado law permits it and 40% of the church condones it.  But doing so would deny the Imago Dei in our mom and dad and all who suffer, it would rob our parents and those they love of the opportunities to grow in our suffering for God’s glory, and it would discount the sovereignty and goodness of our God who endured the ultimate pain on our behalf.  

There is a better way for my friend and me as we seek to comfort our parents.  I will share it in my blog post tomorrow