In late 2017 I often sat at my frail Mum’s bedside, chatting about the latest news. At 93 she was very concerned about what was happening in the wider world that her great-grandchildren had entered.
People would visit her in the care home and join in on one side or other of the conversation. Passionate arguments rose and fell with heat unseen since the Azaria Chamberlain inquest.
I’d come away confused. Why was the Christian view so misunderstood? I asked friends if they could explain what the Bible said about marriage. Some could. Others, no. I asked one, who confessed a foggy grasp of the issue, “How do you explain what you believe if you don’t know what the Bible says?” He replied candidly, “I don’t say anything.”
"I don't say anything"
Surely, after all the sermons, and all the Bible studies, we should be able to point out what the Bible says on such important issues. After all, more issues are heading our way.
Looking into euthanasia
For instance, law makers are looking into euthanasia.
Advocates for euthanasia, such as Andrew Denton, receive expensive air time to promote euthanasia. He addressed the National Press Club in 2016 complaining that “good people are dying bad deaths in Australia” to rally support, and not long after this Victoria prepared legislation to legalise “assisted dying”.
This year Victorians will have the right to request lethal drugs to end their lives. Premier Daniel Andrews said, “I'm proud… that we have put compassion right at the centre of our parliamentary and our political process”. Is a lethal dose of drugs compassionate?
Is a lethal dose of drugs compassionate?
The NSW parliament has also considered this issue. In late 2017, sitting with mum, a euthanasia bill failed in the Upper House by one vote. I suppose that’s why Trevor Khan, the Nationals MLC who introduced the bill, said he would continue to talk with stakeholders to change the laws.
How to explain what you believe on the issue:
What will we say then? Will you explain what you believe on this issue? To be ready, I think we need to be aware of some falsehoods associated with the debate and what the Bible says.
1. Euthanasia allows you to die with dignity
This assumes living with chronic pain, dementia, disease or despair robs you of dignity.
But dignity comes from being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26, 9:6). That’s why people are precious even if they’re suffering. They bear God’s image. Dignity is bestowed by the very one who gives life. God values life so highly he outlaws murder (Ex 20:13) and places the wilful taking of life in direct opposition to love for your neighbour (Rom 13:9).
Dignity comes from being created in the image of God
People should not be terminated because they think they’re a burden, or because they feel useless. I watched Mum become frailer by the day. She couldn’t dress, wash, or feed herself. She often just slept. She thought she was a burden to everyone. Yet she never had less dignity.
It is worth asking those who want to preserve dignity by terminating life how they define dignity. Is it usefulness? Is it happiness or health? If I am depressed, or my job is taken, or I am born with a physiological disorder, do I lack dignity?
The Bible is clear – dignity is bestowed by the God who created us in his image.
2. Euthanasia is the answer to pain for the dying
I want to say clearly I believe palliative care is the answer to pain for the dying.
The person who wrote Hebrews pointed out something that cannot be denied: death wins (Heb 9:27). Death’s defeat will come when the new future comes (1 Cor 15:24-26) but, for now, we will know and grief and pain.
Mum’s decline brought a lot of pain and many tears. We knew the Hebrews passage would come true and we claimed the Corinthians promises as she declined. Palliative care gave us the time we all needed for precious conversations and for us to show her compassion and love.
Palliative care gave us the time we needed
The difference compassion makes
Compassion is the real difference. Euthanasia brings a quick end. Palliative care provides time to be compassionate. The Bible has so many words for compassion: pity (Ex 33:19; Neh 9:19), mercy (Ex 34:6; 2 Ch 30:9), encouragement (Deut 32:36; 2 Cor 1:3). It teaches us that it comes from God (2 Cor 1:3: Phil 2:1), and it is something with which the Lord is filled (James 5:11).
Being compassionate is being like God. When someone is suffering and dying, palliative care is the best way to show them what God is like – compassionate and loving.
The sad fact is palliative care like Mum received is not offered to many dying Australians. In some places, there’s no opportunity to receive it at all.
Palliative care is not offered to many
We need to talk to our friends, family, colleagues and Members of Parliament about the dangers of euthanasia, and put forward the alternative pathway of readily available, compassionate palliative care.
Will you be ready to explain what you believe when this issue comes again? Having watched Mum die with dignity I can assure you I have plenty to say about compassion and love through palliative care.
Chris Edwards is the Bishop of North Sydney.