Euthanasia and The Economist

November 21, 2014

If the saying is true that America tends to follow the cultural trends of Western Europe, then one heated matter we must look out for in the coming years is an elevated effort to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. Euthanasia, often defined as the intentionally ending of a life for purposes of relieving pain and suffering, was decriminalized in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2002, with Luxembourg following suit in 2009. Added to this is the lawfulness of assisted suicide in five other countries, as well as the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, and Montana.

Advocates of decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide appear to be growing. Britain’s House of Lords recently engaged in a 10-hour debate over whether or not to give physicians the ability to prescribe a lethal dose of certain medications to patients deemed to have less than six months to live. Reporting on this drive for decriminalization in the U.K., a recent issue of The Economist[1], ran a story entitled “Easeful Death” with the byline: “Most people in the Western world favour assisted suicide. The law should reflect their will.” Writing in favor of assisted suicide’s decriminalization, the journalist presents the case of a British man with an incurable condition that results in his inability to move or talk. “Imprisoned in his corporeal cell,” attests the author, “with no chance of escape, he wanted to die. But since Britain does not permit assisted suicide, his “living nightmare” continued.” The correspondent maintains, “In a pluralistic society, the views of one religion should not be imposed on everybody. Those with a genuine moral objection to assisted suicide need not participate.”

Two popular strategies to support euthanasia are employed here by the author. The first is an appeal to emotion and the second is one that we have seen before in the gay marriage debate. It is a commonly employed strategy by those seeing no legitimate space for religious arguments and mores in the public sphere. It parallels the reasoning used by those in the same-sex marriage debate to say, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one.” While we must certainly affirm that we live in pluralistic societies and there is the need for religious plurality and non-discrimination based upon religious preference (or lack thereof), the problem with the rationale that says, “If you don’t like euthanasia, don’t get one” is not as simple as its champions would like to make it appear.

As the article in The Economist article aptly demonstrates, advocates of euthanasia most often appeal to emotion in order to further sell their arguments. Appeals are made on behalf of those supposedly with incurable maladies in excruciating pain with little time left before their body succumbs totally to the disease. To be sure, not all of this concern is ill-placed. A healthy concern for those in suffering and pain is right, and we ought to applaud the sympathy that many advocates of euthanasia have for their fellow man. It must be stated that anyone with an ounce of compassion sympathizes with those who have to endure incessant suffering and pain. Certainly their best interest is what is driving this discussion and is a necessary consideration. However, all too often the primary focus is placed on the supposedly compelling case for assisted suicide without great thought given to the societal consequences of legalization.

It is in the best interest of the government and society at large to uphold the criminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, for, if they were decriminalized, the cost to society would be quite high. There are bound to be victims if euthanasia and assisted suicide is endorsed by the state. Vulnerable people—the sick, elderly, and distraught—would be more apt to see assisted suicide as a viable way out for them. John Arras, a current member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has insisted that

The victims of legalization…will include the clinically depressed eighty-year-old man who could have lived for another year of quality if only he had been adequately treated, and the fifty-year-old woman who asks for death because doctors in her financially stretched HMO cannot, or will not, effectively treat her unrelenting, but mysterious pelvic pain.[2]

Arras correctly surmises the cost to society were euthanasia to gain wide societal acceptance and state approval.

This still invites the question of how a follower of Christ ought to respond to calls for euthanasia’s legalization. Here are four ways:

We must first respond with compassion. We recognize that there is great pain and suffering all around us in this world. We must not callously or flippantly dismiss the heavy emotions and tragic situations that often drive the conversation. Christ was moved with compassion when he encountered the sick and vulnerable (Matt 14:14), and we must respond similarly.

In all this, we must not lose sight of the principle that a merciful motive will never justify an objectively immoral act. The promotion of evil for a supposed good is never a justifiable moral argument (Rom 3:5-8).

We must resist calls to make any form of euthanasia legal. From a Christian perspective, if we are to remain faithful to Scripture’s teaching on the invaluable worth of every man and woman created in the imago Dei, regardless of his or her utility to society, we must squarely reject euthanasia. A view of mankind’s dignity and the value of human life that stems from the belief that all persons are created in the image of their Creator must underpin any discussion because regularly the central arguments favoring euthanasia are emotive—sympathies are aroused by an appeal to suffering and pain. I am not suggesting that suffering and pain should not be alleviated when ethically possible, but pain is not the ultimate tragedy and freedom from suffering is not the paramount to be achieved.

A failure to grasp the implications of humanity’s intrinsic worth plagues arguments for the legalization of voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The moment human life is untethered from its inherent sanctity then the result is a rationale that makes euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion, and other ills acceptable. We must reject the notion, so prevalent in our milieu, that we can in any adequate manner judge the value of human life.

We must promote life and the hope of the gospel. It is not enough to reject death without also promoting life and the only real hope of humanity—the gospel, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). If euthanasia’s only consequence were the cessation of pain and suffering, and if this cessation were the summum bonum for man, then euthanasia would be good. Yet, Scripture shows us that man’s physical comfort is not his primary goal. As creatures made in his image, man’s ultimate goal concerns his relation to his Creator, which is why the promotion of life found in the gospel must accompany any rejection of euthanasia.
Pray fervently. Ultimately, our fight is not with advocates of one position or another, but with that ancient serpent who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (Eph 6:12; John 10:10). As he attempts to spread his culture of death by the spread of deceptive ideologies, we must combat it with the truths of the gospel.

Our culture, with its emphasis on autonomy and individual rights, has produced considerable social pressure to recognize a right to die in order to relieve pain and suffering and attain a ‘death with dignity’. Despite the sympathy that we may feel towards such demands when contemplating the genuine misery that many people experience in their final days, the theological and ethical truths of Christianity highlight the incompatibility of euthanasia with Christian faith and life.

[1] The Economist, Easeful Death, July 19, 2014, 12.

[2] Yale Kamisar, “Physician- Assisted Suicide: The Problems Presented by the Compelling, Heartwrenching Case,” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 88, no. 3 (1998): 1.

Daniel J. Hurst

Daniel J. Hurst is director of Medical Professionalism, Ethics, and Humanities and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey. He was previously on the faculty at UAB where he was involved in the xenotransplantation program performing studies on … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24