Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Euthanasia: The Move from Terminal Illness to a Hard Life

The Netherlands, a leader in legalized euthanasia, has seen a sharp increase in the number of people choosing to end their own lives due to mental health problems.

In 2010, just two people ended their lives due to an “insufferable” mental illness. In 2015? It leaped to 56.

In one case, universally labeled “controversial” even by Netherlands standards, a sexual abuse victim in her 20s was allowed to go ahead with the procedure on the grounds she was suffering from “incurable” PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Even so, a Dutch psychiatrist said that his colleagues are “too hesitant” about agreeing to euthanize such patients. He argues that even children as young as 12 who ask to end their lives should be taken seriously. 

To quote: “Euthanasia is a good death by the wish of the person who dies and no one else. It is an execution of the wish of a patient.” Even if the reason is that they are “tired of life.”

Translation: autonomous individual freedom is the final word, regardless of the situation and regardless of the age. 

Even if it means assisted suicide.

Most Christians are not sure what to think about this. Yes, there is a knee-jerk response to a 12 year old being assisted in taking their life because they are depressed. But do we know why there is that knee-jerk response?

And when culture increasingly normalizes it, will we even have that?

The Bible is very clear about the taking of a human life. In Exodus 20:13, in the sixth of the Ten Commandments, God says, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13, NIV).

The key word there is "murder."

Murder is the deliberate, willful, pre-meditated taking of a human life out of hatred, anger, greed or self-centered convenience. The sixth commandment is not talking about the killing that takes place in war, in self-defense or even in capital punishment. Those are important discussions, but they're not the focus of the sixth commandment.

And the sixth commandment doesn't speak to the killing of other creatures – such as animals –

… but of human beings.

The reason is simple: it's because life is sacred. Not just some lives, but every life. The fact that each and every one of us are created in the image of God gives each and every one of us infinite worth and value. Taking it upon ourselves to end a life is the ultimate act of defiance against God, for life is His and His alone to give and take.           

It doesn't matter what the quality of life is for that person. It doesn't matter what the cost of their life will be to society. It doesn't matter how productive they are, smart they are, beautiful they are. It doesn't matter whether we like them or not. 

All human beings have infinite worth because they are made in the image of God. And the taking of a life – any life – is showing contempt for God and His image. Life is sacred. It is not ours to do with as we please. 

Only God can end it or direct its ending. 

Euthanasia is the practice of assisting or enabling death, usually because the person is old, in pain or terminally ill. The word "euthanasia" is from two Greek words – "eu", which means good, and "thanatos," which means death. 

So the word literally means "good death."

And those who support euthanasia use terms carrying that sentiment, such as "mercy killing" and "death with dignity." The rationale is that individuals or family members have the right to end their own (or someone else's) life if they feel it seems unbearable.

There are two kinds of euthanasia – passive and active.

Passive euthanasia is when the individual or family members decide not to use extraordinary means to extend the process of dying when there is no hope for extending life.

Very few Christian ethicists would challenge that choice. They would add, however, that food and water are not extraordinary efforts. Those are basic needs for anyone living.

The real issue is active euthanasia, which is the direct killing of a patient because a disease may be terminal, or the choice to withhold basic assistance that would prolong life in a substantive way,

... simply to avoid pain or difficulty.

The more direct term is assisted suicide.

And it is every bit as much the taking of a human life as any other form, because it's not our life to take or our decision to make.

Compassion can be poured out on people who are suffering, and we can and should stand with them, pray for them, and encourage them to take advantage of everything that is available in terms of pain management and hospice care...

... but the taking of a life, for the sake of the quality of life, is against the sanctity of life.

So while ending our life on “our” terms sounds like a statement of personal rights that should be embraced, it’s not.

It’s playing God with our own lives.

And we’re not God.

James Emery White



Senay Boztas, “Netherlands sees sharp increase in people choosing euthanasia due to ‘mental health problems,’” May 11, 2016, The Telegraph, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.


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