The Falls Church Anglican

Anglicans for Life

Biblical Principles Applied to End of Life Questions

 

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15: 25,26

 

Scripture and the historical teaching of the Christian Church: Loving our neighbors has implications for those at the end of life

Scripture teaches that human beings are the crown of God's creation (1), made in his own image. (2) The Church’s Confessional understanding of the Sixth Commandment affirms the positive duty “to love our neighbor as ourselves…to prevent injury to him as much as we can…”; to “preserve the life of ourselves and others, comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.” (3) God forbids not only the intentional killing of innocent human life, whether our own or another’s, but also the “neglecting or withdrawing the lawful or necessary means of preservation of life.” (4)

 

Providing Loving Care from Family, Medical Community, and the Church

Loving care for all members of the human community is a fundamental Christian teaching and an obligation of Christian discipleship (5). The teaching to love our neighbors has implications for those approaching the end of their lives. Christians should ensure that members of the human community, especially those who are ailing and those who are dying, are upheld with the warmth and love of human contact. Christians follow their Master in humbly serving those who suffer and in acting to alleviate their suffering. This has always meant the judicious application of life-saving and life-enhancing medical care as well as the attention and warmth of human contact. These principles of protection and care, and “to do no harm,” guide Christians as they face end of life decisions.

 

Providing Medical Treatment for the Elderly and Infirm, and the Critically Ill who are in extremis

Therefore, medical treatment which is not gravely physically burdensome and is necessary for an individual to continue to live should be provided. Withholding or withdrawing treatment based on age or infirmity, as sole considerations, is a violation of Christian moral teaching. The exception is when those closest to the person—family members and medical personnel with both knowledge and experience with the person—see that death is imminent and inevitable and that continuing particular treatment poses a grave risk or causes more burden to the patient than the treatment will alleviate. The distinction is to allow a person to die naturally and not to take action that will bring about the death of a person.

 

Assisted Death is Not a Christian Option

The practice of assisted death, whether in the form of Physician-Assisted Suicide (“PAS,” whereby a physician prescribes lethal medication which patients will take on their own) or Euthanasia (whereby a physician or designee personally administers a lethal medication), is in deliberate and flagrant violation of the Sixth Commandment (6). These practices are to be condemned by Christians and by the Church; simultaneously Christians are called to provide compassionate medical and pastoral care for those near life’s end whose suffering may be great.

 

People who ask to be killed, to be assisted in suicide, or to have actions taken which will hasten their deaths, frequently do so out of a misguided desire not to burden others. Regrettably they are often pressured in this direction by talk of "quality of life" and "death with dignity"(7). We need to reassure them by expressing our desire that they live here with us until God himself, in his sovereign will (8), intervenes to take them, those who belong to him, to live in his house forever (9). Jesus warned we would be judged on the basis of our ministry to "the least of these (our) brothers."(10). How much weightier is our responsibility when "the least of these" are our own family members (11), especially our mothers and fathers (12). The church is called to demonstrate its faith in these situations of need with both spiritual and tangible help (13).

 

Alleviate Suffering, But Not at Any Cost

Christians should also ensure that members of the human community are upheld with the warmth and love of human contact. Christians follow their Master in humbly serving those who suffer and acting to alleviate their suffering. Caring physicians use medication in the ministry of merciful relief of pain. We recognize, however, that suffering is not to be avoided at any cost (14), especially if the cost is either our own or the patient's breaking of the Sixth Commandment. Scripture teaches that affliction often produces spiritual growth and holiness (15). Remaining as lucid as possible at the end of life can be a blessing to both the patient and those who care for the patient. Such spiritual fruit is far more valuable in God's eternal economy than those commodities so frequently mentioned by proponents of "quality of life" ethics such as self-determination and autonomy (16).

 

Christians may thankfully receive medicine that is designed to relieve pain and suffering, when such medicine is prescribed lawfully and without the intent to end life. No follower of Christ may accept medicine with the intent of ending life prematurely, and no physician should prescribe any medicine with the express or implied intent of ending the patient’s life.

 

Self determination and autonomy are God-given rights. Christians are free, but only in submission to the ethical and moral teaching of Holy Scripture as delineated above, to forego artificial, technology-driven and futile life support in the setting of terminal or severe critical illness, and be entirely in keeping with the tenets of Holy Scripture. Similarly, the signing of an Advanced Directive and naming of surrogate decision maker may affirm that the patient, even if incapacitated, is able to bring Bible-based decision-making to the very point of care in times of illness. Christians should review any prepared document’s language carefully, possibly with a member of the clergy, to insure that they understand the document and that their wishes for applying biblical principles to the end of life are honored.

 

Good death is natural death in Christ

We urge all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to approach death with the recognition that the only "good death" is the natural death of a man or woman, boy or girl, who is "in Christ" (17). Although for Christians "to die is gain"(18), death itself will never cease being our "last enemy"(19). Furthermore, for those without faith in Christ, death is the terrible moment "after [which comes] the judgment" (20). Yet, as followers of Jesus Christ we cling to our hope that the Holy Spirit has given us a lively faith in our precious Lord, and that through his blood our sins will be forgiven and we will be welcomed into his glorious presence where there "is fullness of joy [and]...pleasures forevermore" (21).

 

Appendix

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.                                                                                          Psalm 71: 17-21

 

O Heavenly Father, who didst bless Thine aged servants Simeon and Anna, suffering them to behold with their eyes the Savior of the world and to see Thy salvation; bless, we humbly pray Thee, this Thy servant in his later days. Give him a clear knowledge of his Savior, and a sure faith in that Savior's merits and sacrifice. Let not his mind be clouded over with doubts or darkness. May his path be as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. May his end be calm and blessed. Suffer him not at the last from any pains of death to fall from Thee. Guide Thou him through the valley of the shadow of death. And may he pass joyfully from the weakness and weariness of this mortal life to a blessed rest; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scottish Book of Common Order; Prayer for the Aged

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Endnotes

 

1. Psalm 8:5; Matthew 6:26; 12:12

2. Genesis 1:27; 9:6

3. Westminster Larger Catechism, 7.246; The Heidelberg Catechism, 4.107. See also To Be A Christian, A New Anglican Catechism, Questions 301-308.

4. The Heidelberg Catechism, 4.105; 4.106; Westminster Shorter Catechism, 7.245

5. I Timothy 5:4-8; James 1:27; Matt. 22:36-40

6. Exodus 20:13; Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:14-17; Westminster Larger Catechism, 7.246

8. Job 14:5; Luke 2:26-32; James 4:13,14

9. Luke 23:43; John 14:1-6; II Corinthians 5:6-8

10. Matthew 25:31-46

11. I Timothy 5:8

12. Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2

13. James 2:14-17

14. James 5:10,11; Isaiah 53; Romans 8:17,18; Philippians 3:10

15. Lamentations 3; Romans 5:3-5; Colossians 1:24

16. Psalm 94:11

17. Romans 6:23; 8:1,38,39; I Corinthians 15:22; I Thessalonians 4:16

18. Philippians 1:21

19. I Corinthians 15:25,27. At this time (2017) there exists considerable social change in a direction favoring the legalization of PAS; indeed this practice enjoys legal status in several states and is before several other state legislatures. At present, Euthanasia is illegal in all the United States, but is practiced legally in some European countries.

20. Romans 14:10; Hebrews 9:27

21. Psalm 16:11

 

* For additional help, see John Kilner, Life on the Line: Ethics, Aging, Ending Patients’ Lives, and Allocating Resources, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992

 

A resource provided by The Falls Church Anglican chapter of Anglicans For Life, October 2017.

Website updated 13 November, 2019