Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In previous articles we have attempted to point out the complexity of the problem of so-called euthanasia and see some of the ramifications of it in our present-day society. In the next two articles, we have to try to come to some conclusions on the matter and offer some guidelines for our thinking.
We live in a very strange world, made strange by the presence of sin. Indeed, as the night of sin grows darker and iniquity abounds, the strange inconsistencies of life in this wicked world are magnified. It will require only a few allusions to some common-day practices to show how true this is.
On the one hand, there is a great deal of talk in the world today about the sanctity of life, the worth of the individual, the obligation we all have to make life easier and happier for the down-trodden, the oppressed, those who experience discrimination in any form, etc. The individual is so important and his place in life so sacred that any kinds of racial slurs, discriminatory actions, ethnic jokes, or whatever, directed against him are severely condemned, and become in some instances the stuff of expensive lawsuits.
Coupled with this are the tremendous efforts which are being expended and the enormous sums of money which are being spent in research and development to extend man’s life. Every effort is being made to combat disease, to invent ever new and ever costlier machines which will increase man’s life span. And as the average age of people increases, science boasts with a loud voice about its accomplishments. One need only think, e.g., of the mechanical heart which has recently been used in several instances—of the tremendous cost involved in developing it, of the unprecedented medical bills which are being accumulated as it is actually being tried in some people, of the untold amount of suffering which some are willing to endure to live a little while longer in this world.
If I may insert a parenthetical remark or two at this point: this whole matter of prolonging life seems sometimes to be ironic in the extreme. Prolonging life is hailed by some as the ultimate triumph of medical science. But I have made too many trips to too many rest homes and nursing homes, and seen too many tragedies of prolonging life to join in the hosannas. The longer life is prolonged, the greater becomes the problems which men create with thousands of nursing homes filled with thousands of people who have little else to do but wait to die. This is progress? and cause for jubilation? But this by way of parenthesis.
On the other hand, life is cheap. Criminals roam the streets ready to shoot a person for 50 cents, not hesitant to commit the most atrocious crimes to gain money for a drug habit. But the same liberal frame of mind which is so determined to respect life is the force behind an utter callousness towards the victims of crime and a wooly-headed concern for the criminal. The one who gets shot doesn’t count; the suffering and anguish of his family and loved ones is unimportant; the murderer must have his rights protected and must not, under any circumstances, be put to death. Alcohol can figure in 60% or better of accidents which leave the highways running with blood, but drunk drivers go scot-free, beer and whiskey commercials continue to dominate TV screens, and no one gives a snap of the fingers for the innocent victims of these accidents who must bear their sorrow alone. Thousands, tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of babies are killed in cold blood, before they see the light of day, in hospitals and abortion clinics; the future generations of this country are sacrificed to the god pleasure—as Judah under Manasseh sacrificed her children in the fiery arms of the idol Moloch, and those who have the biggest word about the sanctity of life are those who scream the loudest about the rights, to abort a child.
The only explanation for this strange phenomenon is man’s determined opposition to God, man’s insatiable desire to rule sovereignly in this world, man’s fixed purpose to cast God from His throne, and man’s total disregard for life, regardless of what he may say. His disregard for life is everywhere evident. And when he apparently succeeds in prolonging life, he does so not because life is so sacred to him and not because he loves his fellow man so dearly; but rather because he hates God, is determined to overcome sickness and death which God has sent as punishment for sin, and thus is desperate to show that he can escape God’s anger, do as he pleases, and finally make God’s punishment of sin ineffective.
Euthanasia belongs to this whole picture. As we noticed in earlier articles, it is a growing movement, an idea which is, to use a word of our Surgeon-General, snowballing to alarming proportions. The idea behind it all is something called rather euphemistically, “the quality of life.” We must, we are told, be concerned about and interested in the quality of life. Now, I am not prepared to say what exactly this rather vague, but catchy word means. But it refers to the fact that life has got to be pleasant, has got to be enjoyable, has got to be “normal” in some vague sense, or else life is not worth living. The phrase turns up a lot in connection with the treatment of cancer patients. The doctor, in discussing with the patient what treatment he ought to have, talks about prolonging life, but also about the quality of that life when it is prolonged. “I can,” the doctor says, give you, through treatment, another ten years. But you have to know that ‘the quality of your life’ will be reduced, that this ‘quality of life’ will deteriorate with the passing of the years, and that you must make a choice of dying within five years without treatment, or in ten years with treatment. The determining factor is the ‘quality of life.'”
While I suppose, from a certain point of view, there may be a bit of truth to this whole business of quality of life, I have come to despise the notion, for all that. I think of the family with a child with severe Down’s syndrome. Doctors are of the opinion that the “quality of life” is so poor for such a child that, if they discover this condition before the child is born, the child ought to be aborted. But what of the happiness of such a child, a happiness that is so great that he or she is like a light around the house? What about the parents who learn to love that child with such a love that it is almost greater (if that were possible) than the love they have for their “normal” children? What do any doctors know about the quality of life in such situations? My grandmother, a dear, pious and Godly saint, never lived a day of the last thirty or forty years of her life without excruciating pain. But the quality of her life was something else. She bore children, raised a family, gave them Godly instruction, and was an unending source of wisdom, strength, guidance, and advice to the entire neighborhood in which she lived.
Euthanasia speaks much of the quality of life. And the proponents of euthanasia are determined to open the way of the killing of those whose quality of life is low. The old, the sick, the mentally incapacitated, the babies, children and older people, whose life is one of suffering or abnormality—these have to go. More and more the notion is being spread abroad in the land that it is perfectly all right to terminate the life of anyone who has lost this elusive quality of life. Organizations flourish which even give instructions on how to commit suicide when you are convinced that your quality of life has so deteriorated that you want to bring it to an end.
Man has come to think that he life. He may do with it as he I has the complete say-so about his pleases—so he thinks. It is his to live as he pleases; it is his to end as he pleases. And not only may he do with his own life what he pleases, but he has come to think of himself as so powerful that he may do to others who cannot make their own decisions what he thinks ought to be done.
Euthanasia is plain and simple murder. No one, under any circumstances, may take the life of another person: No one may himself determine when and how another’s life shall end. To do so is to play God, to take or attempt to take into one’s own hand the prerogatives which belong to God alone. No one may, under any circumstances, be instrumental in another’s death. We must get that straight and we must proceed from that principle.
This does not mean that many other problems do not remain. They do. And we shall try to speak of them in another article.