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What is the Church’s stance on Euthanasia?

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September 20, 2017

What is the Church’s stance on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide?

 

Today my beloved we discuss a highly controversial topic that has stirred up much debate. It is one that challenges human moral to a level that makes many very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it is one that is worth discussing because it touches on two extremely important aspects that every human being can relate to life & death. Today we ask the question, what is the Church’s stance on Euthanasia and Physician-assisted suicide (P A S)? Let’s begin with explaining some of the key terms we will be employing. Both Euthanasia and PAS refers to an intentional act that shortens the life of a patient, and typically this act involves a physician. Let’s first clarify that Physician-assisted suicide is when the physician provides medication that the patient self-administers, and that medication then ends the patient’s life. Therefore, it’s the process of enabling the patient to take their own life. Whereas with euthanasia, the medical team intervenes directly and actively to hasten the patient’s death. And here we typically will hear of a few different types of Euthanasia: For instance, Voluntary and Involuntary Euthanasia. Voluntary Euthanasia is when the patient has given the consent for the physician to intervene and end the patient’s life. Involuntary Euthanasia however, is while patients are not in a state to make decisions themselves, the physician’s medical opinion to end the life prevails. In these cases, it is assumed that if the patient had the capacity to agree, they would have adopted the same medical opinion as the physician. Now our purpose today is not to dissect each of these forms, but rather to discuss the common goal between them all, which is to prematurely end a human life.

First let us begin by stating that death has been and always will be a great enemy to humankind. It is for this very reason that St Paul, in the book 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 26 speaks of death as “the last enemy”. However, let’s be clear, although death is an enemy, as Christians we do not fear death, and we NEVER bring it upon ourselves without a divine purpose. Now in the case of Euthanasia, what people often fear is not death itself, but the process leading to death – the pain, the suffering, the estrangement from all that makes life worth living. Therefore, people often will hurry the process of a “quick and easy” death and somehow consider this to be the more honorable way to end one’s life. We will speak to this point of honor in just a minute. For now, let us focus on this idea of death being something that we fight against, we do not welcome it although it is inevitable. Ironically the word Euthanasia comes from two Greek words – the Prefix “EU” meaning good or happy and “Thanatos” meaning death. A good-death for the Christian is therefore not one where his/her last decision as human being, created in the image of God, actively accelerates the process of death. Rather a good death is one where we can say with St Paul “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. And this, until the very last breath that God has granted me. To better understand what death represents to the Christian, let’s read together from the book of Wisdom chapter 1 verses 12 to 16: “12 Do not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands;13 because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.14 For he created all things that they might exist, and the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.” (Wisdom 1: 12-14). This passage reveals to us that the purpose of our lives in God is to live! Christ Himself says “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The resurrection Hymn chanted in all Orthodox Churches boldly proclaims, “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death, by death.” Now although our physical death is inevitable, through the Incarnation and the life-giving Sacrifice of our Lord, death itself has lost its sting. Physical death, rather than being a gateway to an eternal death, can now become a gateway to eternal glory. Again, my beloved, we do not ever hasten death as it is totally foreign to what God has created us to be.

It is equally important to note that all life belongs to God. In the prayer of reconciliation written by St Severus of Antioch, found in the Liturgy of Cyril, we call God “the author of life”. Now as He is the author of life, we as Christians leave it to Him to will both the beginning and the end of every life. No other being has the right or authority to take on God’s role – even if they erroneously believe that their life belongs to them alone! After all, scripture testifies that the Lord Himself says in Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are mine”.

 

We spoke previously of how some will argue that a quick and easy death on one’s own terms is more honorable than a death where one is not in control. This however is not the mindset of the Church. In fact, to the Christian, what is honorable is life itself! Nothing about death, not even when its quick and easy, can be considered honorable. What the Christian believer ought to always seek is a life that honors God. And we know, that even a person’s suffering can be used by God to bring about repentance and glory. Take for instance the circumstances that surrounded the ailment that St Paul himself suffered. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 we read that St Paul entreated the Lord three times to remove “his thorn” – and what was the Lord’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” We are therefore called to seek what is truly honorable; God’s strength and power. Therefore, as Christians, we all say with St Paul “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”. You see my beloved, the only real death that the Christian dreads, is not the one in the flesh, but the death of sin which leads to eternal alienation from God. Among the mysteries of the Church, the Church liturgically celebrates a sacrament called the Unction of the Sick. In the Coptic rite, there are seven prayers that are prayed that all call upon God’s mercy to first and foremost save us from the effects of sinfulness, and secondly, if it is God’s will, to also grant the healing of our physical illnesses. Let me share with you a passage from the first prayer of the Unction of the Sick: “[Lord] raise up this your servant from the death of sin, and if you bid him/her to rise again, give unto him help and assistance that he may please you in his living all the days of his life. And if you bid his soul be taken, grant that by the hands of angels of light he may have power that will save him from the demons of darkness. Translate him into the paradise of joy, that he may be with all the saints; through your blood which was shed for our salvation, and with which you purchased us; for you are the hope of your servants.”

 

Again, my beloved, the Christian ought to not fear death or its process. As humans created in God’s image and likeness, we do not inflict upon ourselves death for it is truly against what God created us to be. The only true “Good Death” for the Christian, is one where we spend our last moments in prayer, confession, repentance, reconciliation, and being at peace with God, ourselves and Others. That, is what is honorable, that is what we ought to hasten to achieve.

 

Remember my beloved, know your faith, live your faith, and teach your faith.

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