For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help~ Psalm 22:24
From time to time I get a message or phone call asking me to share my opinion about a particular issue. Because the issue in question is inevitably thorny, contentious, and well above my pay grade, I generally dread these requests.
Such was the case this week.
A sweet, mature Christian friend who is deep into the grieving process asked me to consider sharing my views on one of the most controversial issues of our time. She had some very well thought out, heart wrenching questions. The emotion behind them broke my heart.
Following is a summary:
Why does God allow people to feel pain at death?
Why is it okay to blunt the pain of death with medication but not to use the same medication to hurry up the process of death?
If death is inevitable, why is it wrong to end life and reduce the length of time a person suffers?
Death and pain in childbirth are both a result of the Fall. Why is it okay to eliminate the pain of childbirth and not end a life that is destined to death a little early?
Death and suffering are deeply emotional issues. No decent human enjoys seeing another human suffer. Suffering becomes even more personal when the person suffering is someone we love. All of this is made thornier by the fact that most of us are isolated from the only two events in this life that are common to all people: birth and death.
Few of us have witnessed a child being born. Fewer have seen a person die. Most of us obtain our “education” on these subjects from television programs. Anyone who has actually witnessed a birth or death knows that the TV version of these events bears little similarity to the real-life version. The deaths we see on TV are typically swift and painless; the person quietly draws their last breath, closes their eyes peacefully, and goes serenely into the great beyond. This is NOT how death happens. Death is normally a long, messy, painful process that is excruciating to witness. Our reflex is to shorten or avoid any process we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with.
End-of-life issues are further complicated by the gift of medical knowledge. Our society has been blessed with medical expertise that makes it possible to save people from what would have been inevitable deaths just a few years ago. As wonderful as technology is, it creates some unintended consequences. Doctors possess the knowledge to prolong life but sometimes lack wisdom as to how and when that knowledge should be applied. Prolonging life often means prolonging and even intensifying suffering.
I am not stupid or arrogant enough to pretend I know everything there is to know about this issue. I do not. That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that it’s not wrong or sinful to use medication to ease the suffering of a dying person. Proverbs 31:6 is clear on the issue of pain relief at death.
Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!
The use of alcohol is a contentious issue amongst Christians but one fact is clear from this verse: a legitimate use of alcohol is for pain relief at the end of life. If it is acceptable to give alcohol to a dying person then I cannot see any reason why it would be wrong to use morphine for the same purpose. As for the whole childbirth issue, I honestly don’t know whether or not pain relief during childbirth is a sin.
I certainly hope not.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “assisted suicide is a sin.” However, most Christians believe that assisted suicide falls pretty neatly under the category of “Thou shalt not kill.” This particular commandment is an imperative statement clearly lacking the wiggle room needed to make a well-defined and compelling biblical argument for assisted suicide.
I had my first experience with death and suffering at nineteen when my beloved Grandmother died of lung cancer. I was not there when she died, but I did spend a lot of time with her in the weeks prior to her death. Those visits were some of the toughest things I have done. As an unsaved teenager, her suffering and the dignity she maintained as she suffered impacted me in ways that are difficult to express. Her death caused me to evaluate my own mortality in a way I had never considered before.
It caused me to seek God.
Death sucks. There is nothing good or redeeming about it. Death is the most visible reminder of the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3). It makes a sad sort of sense that the single greatest consequence of mankind’s sin and disobedience would be painful and would linger until the earth is fully liberated from the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4). But God, in His infinite wisdom, sometimes brings good things out of death and the suffering of others, when we are willing to submit to the process.