The subject of death and suffering is a controversial topic that is viewed differently from medical and religious perspectives. In their efforts to prolong and improve human life, health care professionals have to face many moral dilemmas in their practice. Patients diagnosed with terminal illnesses also have to make difficult choices regarding life-prolonging treatment, euthanasia, and the means they are willing to use to reduce suffering. George’s case provides a demonstrative example of how the Christian worldview offers a different approach to moral dilemmas and end-of-life decisions that contradicts the secular views on the concepts of compassion, dignity, autonomy, and acceptance.
George is a successful attorney in his mid-fifties, diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is a degenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the spinal cord, causing motor neuron deterioration and muscle atrophy to the point of complete muscle control loss. It is incurable, and the median life expectancy is between 3 to 4 years. The available treatment options are only able to slow down the deterioration, but eventually, patients become wheelchair-bound and lose the ability to move, speak, eat, and breathe on their own. George is devastated by the diagnosis and starts to contemplate the possibility of voluntary euthanasia, dreading the prospect of becoming a prisoner in his own body.
Analyzing George’s situation from the Christian worldview, several aspects need to be taken into consideration. The first is the Christian approach to death and suffering as presented in the Old and New Testaments. The second is the Christian views on human dignity and the value of human life in regard to terminally ill patients. The third is the attitude to euthanasia and the issue of choices that George has when dealing with his situation.
Suffering as the Consequence of the Fall of Man
In the Old Testament, death is viewed as humanity’s separation from God as a source of both spiritual and physical life, with sin being the cause of this separation. Physical death means alienation from the realm of the living, and spiritual death is alienation from God. Both of them are seen by Christians as a result of the fall of man, the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience (Hoehner, 2020).
Adam and Eve’s obedience was a condition of their eternal life and happiness in the Garden of Eden. When they ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, disobeying God’s command, their punishment was expulsion from the Garden of Eden and spiritual and physical death. Adam and Eve’s separation from God is regarded in the Bible as the fall of man and the source of the original sin, with death, illness, and suffering being the punishment for it (Hoehner, 2020). All men and women are viewed as sinners by nature, punished not for their individual sins but for the first man’s separation from God.
From the Christian perspective, George’s illness can be viewed as the result of the original sin. His illness is not caused by his own life choices but is sent down upon him by God as a punishment for Adam and Eve’s disobedience. He is a man and, like all men and women, is a sinner by nature and has to share the universal lot of mankind and bear pain and suffering as a consequence of the first man’s separation from God.
Suffering and the Hope of Resurrection
In the New Testament, the concept of death is linked to the figure of Jesus Christ and the idea of resurrection. In the Bible, death is regarded as not a purely biological phenomenon but as a spiritual and physical punishment for the original sin. Pain and suffering were not in God’s original design but were the penalty for Adam and Eve’s disobedience that God could not overlook (Hoehner, 2020). However, with God being not only holy and just but also loving and merciful, he sent his son Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of the world.
In the Christian narrative, Jesus Christ is regarded as a savior, messiah, and a sacrificial lamb who broke the hold that sin had on the world and took on the guilt and punishment of sin that mankind deserved. After being unjustly executed, he resurrected from the dead, which is regarded as a symbol of the sufficiency of his sacrifice, marking the end of the separation that sin brought between God and mankind (Hoehner, 2020). By his death and resurrection, Christ made salvation possible for those who put their faith in him.
According to the Bible, death becomes a conquered enemy for people who believe in Jesus Christ. If they place their hope in his works and not their own good works, they will have an eternal life and communion with God (O’Connor, 2020). Through pain and suffering, believers are united with Jesus in his sufferings, and through death, they abandon a perishable, mortal flesh and receive an imperishable, eternal, and spiritual body at the resurrection.
In George’s case, his suffering can also be seen as a way to achieve eternal life, provided that he believes in Jesus Christ. Influenced by Christian beliefs, he could use the time he has left to strengthen his faith and learn to view death as a way to spiritual resurrection rather than the end of his physical life. According to the Bible, when the body dies, the soul continues to live, and the souls of those who die in Christ are united with God and will be resurrected and given new bodies when Jesus Christ returns. George’s sufferings can be soothed by the belief that he will be granted an eternal life if he dies in Christ.
Human Value and Dignity
Considering that George’s disease causes the deterioration of all bodily functions and will lead to him becoming wheelchair-bound and unable to care for himself, the question of human dignity comes to the foreground. In contemporary medical ethics, the concept of dignity is not clearly defined and rarely applied in practice. The Swiss organization Dignitas, founded in 1996 to promote euthanasia and the right of individuals to die voluntarily, defines dignity as the rational autonomy of an individual and views people who are not truly autonomous as deprived of dignity (Hoehner, 2020). In the Christian worldview, human dignity is viewed differently.
The Bible says that all human beings were created in the image of God, and every person’s life has incalculable value (O’Connor, 2020). Dignity is inherent to any human being and does not depend on any arbitrary characteristics, including the ability to control one’s life.
In George’s case, the question of his value as a human being can be seen differently from the medical and Christian points of view. According to Dignitas’s definition, when George loses his abilities to care for himself and make autonomous decisions, he also loses his dignity. From the Christian point of view, his value as a human being remains intact because, regardless of his state, he still remains a person created in the image of God (O’Connor, 2020). As such, he is worthy of honor and respect and destined for eternal communion and glory with God.
Euthanasia and Christian Values
The Christian and secular views on euthanasia differ significantly, with the ethical controversies being primarily centered around the concepts of compassion, autonomy, freedom, dignity, and the idea of a good death. Supporters of euthanasia view it as an act of compassion and a way to help a person avoid the loss of dignity at the end of life (Frey & Blackwell, 2018). To Christians, human dignity is based on being created in the image of God, and suffering can only be relieved to the extent possible within the boundaries reflected in the biblical worldview. Euthanasia is seen as a violation of God’s directives not to kill an innocent person, and the person requesting euthanasia abandons one’s stewardship over God’s gift of life (Hoehner, 2020). For Christians, compassion cannot justify intrinsically immoral acts, such as usurping God’s sovereignty over human life. The intentional hastening of death is also seen as a distortion of the idea of a good death and a refusal to comply with God’s will.
Morally Justified Options
From the Christian perspective, the only possible morally justified option for George is connected with the acceptance of death. The Christian worldview does not welcome the idea that death can be hastened, and believers are encouraged to comply with God’s will, perceiving suffering as the way to be united with Christ in his suffering. However, Christian values do not prevent caregivers from reducing the patient’s physical pain and caring for his mental health (O’Connor, 2020).
George can seek professional help in addressing the feelings of depression and hopelessness and the fear of losing independence. He can also seek spiritual guidance and counseling regarding the acceptance of death. In the Christian worldview, it is believed that good medical and spiritual care can give patients substantial control over their dying without them feeling the need to request the precipitation of their own death.
If I was in George’s situation, however, I would opt for medically assisted suicide and use all available legal options to be allowed to end my life when my bodily functions start to deteriorate. I personally share the secular views on human dignity and believe that the value of human life depends on the state of the person’s health. I think that terminally ill patients should be granted the right to euthanasia, provided that they are capable of making their own decisions.
Terminally ill patients have to face difficult moral dilemmas that are solved differently from the secular and religious points of view. From the Christian perspective, death is regarded not as a physical phenomenon but as a way to spiritual resurrection, and suffering as the punishment for the original seen that has its meaning and purpose. By suffering, Christians are united to Christ in his suffering, resurrection, and eternal life. Every human life is valuable, and dignity is inherent to any human being, regardless of their ability to control their life. The Christian worldview does not support euthanasia, only allowing terminally ill patients to seek medical and spiritual treatment. Regarding George’s case from the Christian perspective, the only possible option for him is to accept the inevitability of death and seek spiritual guidance to strengthen his faith.
Frey, R. J., & Blackwell, A. H. (2018). Euthanasia. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), Gale encyclopedia of nursing and allied health (4th ed.). Gale.
Hoehner, P. J. (2020). Death, dying, and grief. In D. Bogue & M. Hogan (Eds.), Practicing dignity: An introduction to Christian values and decision making in health care.
O’Connor, M. (2020). Reflecting on suffering at the end-of-life. Progress in Palliative Care, 1–3. Web.