Killing the human machine

Yet another Assisted Dying Bill is currently in the House of Lords.

While it is unlikely, although not impossible, that it will become the law of the land, one thing is certain: more attempts will come. In fact, in the last decade, there have been at least ten Bills introduced at Westminster alone, not to mention at least three attempts in Scotland.

Yes, assisted suicide is a controversial, emotive and sensitive issue to talk about and debate. But the church must speak into this debate because it touches on so many things. In the Lords, when the Meacher-sponsored Bill was debated last month, much focus was given to so-called ‘safeguards’. There was an almost dispassionate, mechanical way some discussed how you could improve public safety if any such law was passed.

But the debate is really about death, dying, suffering, compassion, and control – all of which Christianity speaks directly to. Take two of the most common arguments put forward by those in favour. The first is the choice argument. In our society, where individualism and autonomy are two of the great idols, it makes sense that you would extend choice to the end of one’s life. Why not give some people the option, if they meet certain criteria?

What is a Christian response to this? Firstly, we must explain that we are not in control and that the idea that we are is an illusion. Recognising this is actually liberating! Especially when allied to the truth that the person who is in control is the living God, the slow to anger, compassionate, faithful, and all-powerful God of the Bible.

Secondly, we must then look deeper and explore the fear of suffering and death. We must point out that such a fear of suffering stems from an unsatisfying worldview that says we are no more than a collection of chemicals. It’s a radically impersonal view of human bodies and one that assumes we are really just machines. So, if the machine breaks, you kill it.

Here, we can talk about a God who entered into suffering and in fact, tasted death and experienced a suffering far greater than anything we will ever have to endure. It’s not an easy truth to accept or believe, but it is vital in our response. Christianity believes in a God who draws near to people. From there, we can also explain how, in partnership with God, suffering, of any kind, is never, ever wasted. There is a purpose in all suffering. Even non-believers experience this, as times of suffering can perhaps especially strengthen relationships.

Then, take the argument from compassion. This argument seems to be clear and logical on the surface and so, so appealing. Is it really compassionate to allow someone to suffer so much at the end of their life? What’s so wrong with a carefully drafted law that will compassionately give some people the option of an assisted suicide?

How do you respond? I think firstly we have to be upfront and say that the Bible never commends killing as a compassionate response to anything! God has put eternity into the heart of human beings, so we have something to work with. To prematurely end someone’s life is to usher them into eternity where they will meet their Maker. On this basis alone, it is utterly wicked to support laws that will do this more quickly. Moreover, it is not compassionate to pass a law that opens the door to the possibility of people being coerced or exploited.

At the end of the day, from a Christian standpoint, the Bible says very clearly: ‘You shall not kill’. Therefore, at the most foundational level, assisted suicide and euthanasia are and always will be wrong.

James Mildred

James Mildred is the Communications Manager for CARE (Christian Action Research and Education)