The Biblical Perspective on Assisted Suicide—Part III

October 24, 2014

This blog series is coming slowly, as my readers can tell, because I am developing a bit of ADD over the topic. The sad thing is that there are too many “what ifs” and accounts to pore over, and it has gotten a little depressing to go there. And then, this morning, the high school shooting in Washington State puts another spin on the topic. Such a tragic waste, when a desperate, “bent” young person must shoot others before taking his own life. I’m sure I am not the first person to think, “If his real goal was suicide, why didn’t he just do that instead of take out so many others?”

But I digress.

Every once in awhile, you read about a case of “suicide by cop,” a scenario in which a person—who wishes to die—threatens violence and basically forces police officers to shoot him or her to death. The purpose of this action is to prevent the subject from killing others, an obvious obligation of those charged with public safety.

But it muddles the question of assisted suicide and necessitates more categories for consideration. Brittany Maynard’s case is a specific one: utilizing Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, she has acquired from a physician a lethal dose of medications she can use at will. She has announced that she will cut short her suffering from a fatal brain tumor by taking that dose on November 1. The specific question is whether society should sanction physician-assisted suicide (I say, No). Doctors, particularly, have taken the Hippocratic Oath and promised to “do no harm.” The only way around that one is to somehow reinterpret the situation such that what people find harmful (putting someone to death) is redefined as good (giving the patient an effective means to pursue his or her personal goal). Hence, the incredible discomfort with the whole idea, and one more biblical reason why I am opposed to it (from Isaiah 5:20-24).

So, in search of a biblical perspective on assisted suicide, the question comes up whether Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross, at the direct hands of the Romans but also through the political will of Jerusalem’s Jewish leadership, was a suicide by mob. In the interest of gathering facts, let us consider the information we have been given in Scripture: Jesus was well aware that death lay ahead of him. He “set his face toward Jerusalem” up to six months in advance of his crucifixion (Luke 9:51f). He spoke of “giving his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Could this be interpreted as a plan for suicide? Heavens no, for these reasons:

  1. Jesus’ death was not by his own hand, nor at his request. The fact that he knew what was going to happen didn’t make it happen.

  2. Jesus was God-in-the-flesh, fulfilling his redemptive purpose for all humankind through his birth, life, death, and (ultimately) resurrection and ascension. His crucifixion was death for the sake of others, for everybody but himself.

  3. Jesus chose to obey his heavenly Father, and therefore chose to cooperate with the Plan for our redemption. He proceeded voluntarily, mostly by remaining faithful step-by-step to the will of the Father, teaching and healing against the rules of the Pharisees. Yes, he chose to keep going, motivated completely by love for his Father and grace and truth for us. But that’s not suicide.

  4. Does Jesus’ sacrificial obedience give us permission to choose the time and manner of our death? No, this would be a huge leap of logic. There is not another person on the planet who has the standing (God’s Son, Emmanuel), the perfection (sinlessness), or the purpose (for the salvation of all people) except the One sent by God for the purpose of making sacrifice in atonement for human sin. None of us have the reasons Jesus did for cooperating with the Plan that ultimately led to his death.

What can we infer from Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross? He was truly human, as evidenced by his physical death, and all humans will die. We have no hope of any other outcome than that one, in the flesh. Technically we are not in a position to choose death, because it is already inevitable.

What human beings seem to want is control over the circumstances of death in order to avoid the anguish and suffering that often goes with dying. Jesus actually was out of control of his circumstances, having committed himself first and foremost to run the race God had laid out for him (Hebrews 12:1-3). Yes, he could have stopped preaching and healing and thereby reduce the irritation his ministry had on the synagogue officials. But he, like us, was well aware that one can control what one does but cannot control the reactions of others. Yes, he could have taken the Roman soldier’s spear and done himself in, to avoid the agony of the Cross; but then he would not have been innocent and therefore would have been disqualified from being the perfect sacrifice for humanity.

And finally, if we are really tempted to see Jesus’ death as a model for assisted suicide, keep in mind that his suffering was not lessened by the crown of thorns, the mocking, the burden he carried, or the nails in his hands and feet. He fully lived, embracing the awfulness of that manner of death; he did not run from the suffering or try to cut it short. He was conscious, even, until the end. Why not take that courage as our model and live through the life-threatening illnesses we face? That is what his first disciples did: threatened by persecution, they persisted in preaching the gospel despite the danger, and many if not all of them counted it a privilege to die as martyrs. Peter, it is said, was loathe to experience crucifixion in the same manner as his Lord Jesus and so asked to be nailed to his cross upside down. That is not about choosing death; that is about facing death with courage, as Jesus did, “to share his sufferings becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10; see also Romans 6:5).

Somehow, a therapeutic suicide designed for comfort and ease just doesn’t feel the same.


Next post: a pastoral perspective on assisted suicide.


One Response to “The Biblical Perspective on Assisted Suicide—Part III”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    My prayer is that all of God’s people will shout a resounding “AMEN!” So grateful, Mary, for this series. Choosing truth, Eleanor

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