Religious Studies

Christianity: euthanasia

Euthanasia is not suicide but the assisted ending of someone's life who is suffering. Most religions offer teaching on euthanasia and the end of life.

Types of euthanasia

Euthanasia is illegal in the United Kingdom but it was legalised in certain circumstances in the Netherlands in 2002 and assisted suicide was legalised in the State of Oregon (USA) in 1997.

There are two principal types of euthanasia:

  • voluntary euthanasia - the person concerned asks someone to help them die, perhaps by asking for help to take an overdose of painkillers
  • involuntary euthanasia - euthanasia is carried out without the patient’s consent, for example, if they are in a persistent vegetative state and no longer able to live without a lifesupport machine, which is then switched off

Remember that a person's decision to take their own life is known as 'suicide'.

Christian attitudes towards euthanasia

Christianity teaches that all life comes from God:

Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'

Genesis 1:26-28

The bible also teaches that life is sacred:

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19

For this reason Christians believe that it would be wrong to take life:

You shall not murder.

Exodus 20:13

Elsewhere in the Bible it's clear that human beings are not meant to choose when they die:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Responding to suffering

The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to euthanasia [Euthanasia: Literally, 'good death'. ] as murder. In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II said that to cause death in this way was 'a grave violation of the law of God'.

However, if large doses of painkillers are used to help ease a person’s suffering, and as a result of these the person ultimately dies, this is understood as ‘double effect’. The intention was not to kill the person, but to allieviate suffering. In the same way the Church does not believe that doctors should use any ‘extraordinary treatment’ to keep people alive against the odds.

The Church of England holds similar views saying that "there are very strong arguments that people should not be kept alive at all costs when they are suffering intolerable pain".

One response from Christianity to the question of euthanasia has been the creation of hospices. These are special places where terminally ill people are cared for and allowed to die with dignity without resorting to euthanasia.

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