I’ve been thinking about death and dying this week for a number of reasons. One reason is I attended a beautiful celebration service for the unexpected loss of a close friend of our law firm. Another is New Jersey recently became the 7thstate to allow terminally ill patients to choose their own end, joining Oregon, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, and Washington State with similar right to die laws. Governor Phil Murphy, a lifelong Catholic, signed the Terminally Ill Act a week ago today. Governor Murphy admitted his faith would lead him to a different conclusion for himself personally, but stated, “as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion.” While signing the law, he stated, “By signing this bill today, we are providing terminally ill patients and their families with the humanity, dignity, and respect that they so richly deserve at the most difficult times any of us will face.” The law ultimately allows a terminally ill patient to obtain and administer medication to end their lives.
Without speculating about why Governor Murphy stated he would choose differently for himself, his personal Christian informed conviction, which rejects the kind of autonomy the New Jersey law affords individuals, is supported by the Bible. Here are a few passages to consider as you contemplate this complicated and practical ethical issue. In I Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 14:7-9, the apostle Paul unequivocally says that our life is not our own. Therefore, our life is not ours to end as we want, and doing so puts us in God’s place. With little exception, giving and taking life belongs to God, not man. Second, in II Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul states that our suffering, preparesus for eternal glory. Therefore, pain, even end of life terminally ill suffering, is never pointless. God uses pain to prepare the dying and those serving the dying both for heaven. However, nowhere in the Bible do we find God requiring us to suffer as much as possible, and one way we serve those experiencing indescribable pain in the end of life may be through palliative and comfort care. Whatever else this means, it seems clear that Christians should assist the dying, but not participate in assisting people to die. Assisting the dying comforts and consoles and prepares the dying. Assisting to die produces death. The former is biblical. The latter is not.