What does the Bible teach about euthanasia and physician assisted suicide?

July 27, 2018

For centuries, physicians have adhered to the sentiment as described by the Hippocratic Oath. One of the clauses included in the historic commitment is this: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.” Those who subscribe to the oath promise to refrain from participating in two actions now known as euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

Euthanasia is the intentional act of taking a human life for the purpose of relieving pain and suffering. This can occur actively or passively. Active euthanasia involves an intentional act on the part of the physician toward a patient that causes death. Passive euthanasia involves withholding treatment with the intent to cause death. Physician assisted suicide, “PAS”, is a type of voluntary euthanasia in which a doctor either intentionally provides information to a patient about how to commit suicide, or prescribes the means that allow the patient to commit suicide.

There are three primary arguments in favor of euthanasia and PAS: autonomy, minimizing pain and suffering, and the idea that there is no morally relevant difference between taking steps to hasten death and allowing the dying process to occur. Even though a physician intentionally ending the life of a patient was considered unthinkable for centuries, western sentiment seems to be changing. In fact, both euthanasia and PAS are sometimes referred to as “death with dignity.” But the Bible teaches that euthanasia and PAS are actually enemies of dignity. Let’s consider what the Bible might have to say about these arguments.

Mercy killing

Those who advocate euthanasia and PAS do so for largely understandable reasons. They wish to take away the suffering of terminally ill individuals, and they may even claim that there is a moral obligation to do so. In fact, in Canada, if a physician refuses to participate in euthanasia or PAS, he is legally required to refer patients to a physician who will. But the Bible teaches that suffering is not necessarily something that should be avoided at all costs. Romans 5:3 teaches us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” Similarly, James teaches this: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

For most people, including Christians, rejoicing in our sufferings is not easy. A dying person screaming in pain or weeping in loneliness in a hospital bed does not want to be told to be joyful in his suffering; and indeed, he generally shouldn’t be. But Christian ethicist Gilbert Meilaender said, “We should maximize care rather than minimizing suffering, which might include eliminating the sufferer.” Likewise, the authors of Always to Care, Never to Kill in the journal First Things concluded, “Although it may sometimes appear to be an act of compassion, killing is never a means of caring.” Inspired by Meilaender and the authors of Always to Care, Never to Kill, Stephen Phillips, an Indiana professor and physician once thoughtfully suggested that sometimes, true care is holding someone’s hand and suffering right alongside him. It is not taking his life or suggesting that he take his own.

Freedom of choice

Others in favor of euthanasia and PAS cite personal autonomy and freedom of choice. Everyone, they argue, has a right to die when and how they choose, and in fact, human dignity includes this. But consider the words of Job: “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed” (Job 14:5). Euthanasia and PAS “assert a desire to be infinite” and reject a dependence on God, the author of life and controller of death.

Withholding treatment: A morally relevant distinction

Advocates would insist that there is no relevant difference between euthanasia or PAS and withholding life-saving treatment from a dying individual. They claim that since withholding medical treatment can be permissible, euthanasia or PAS must also be permissible, because  the end result, the death of a person, is the same in either situation. Therefore, there must be no difference between any of these actions. This, however, is simply not the case.

Allowing to die involves withholding treatment without an intent to cause death. This is a form of beneficence, or preventing harm to a person. Examples might include removing a ventilator from a grandmother with no hope of recovery, or choosing to refrain from potentially fruitless chemotherapy. The authors of Always to Care, Never to Kill explain it like this: “It is permitted to refuse or withhold medical treatment in accepting death while we continue to care for the dying. It is never permitted . . . to take any action that is aimed at the death of ourselves or others.”

God commands, “You must not murder” (Ex. 20:13). Jesus also commands us, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Allowing someone to die by withholding treatment may combine these two sentiments, because the intention is to care for a person in the best way possible, rather than to cause death. The morally relevant distinction between euthanasia or PAS and allowing someone to die involves intention and benevolent care.

Enemies of dignity

“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Human beings are created in the Imago Dei—the Image of God. This alone gives us inherent dignity and a value to our lives. At some point, determining that our lives are not worth living fundamentally rejects this dignity.

Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002. Thousands of individuals in this country alone are euthanized each year. Countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and others are perfect examples of how opening the door to voluntary euthanasia leads directly to the practice of non-voluntary euthanasia, which is the killing of sick individuals who are incapable of consent, and even involuntary euthanasia, which is the killing of sick individuals against their will. These practices, although abhorrent, become normalized when a society deems certain lives not worth living.

Euthanasia and PAS reject the inherent dignity that God has given human beings. Participants seek to eliminate suffering, but they instead eliminate the objective value of life. Although the Bible does not speak to either euthanasia or PAS directly, Christian thought demands a critical and biblically-based approach to the subject. The value of human life in all its forms and at all stages is the central theme of the gospel, for it is the very purpose of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. To fail to respect human life at any point mocks the very essence of Christ’s mission to humanity.





Mary Wurster

Mary Wurster grew up in Sylvania, Ohio, and currently attends Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. She will graduate with a degree in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) in May 2019, and she is considering seminary and/or law school in the future.  Read More by this Author

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