How should a Christian view the concept of death with dignity?

It seems like I have been around a lot of death lately. Some people have died far too young. Others have died after lingering on seemingly far too long. While I absolutely know and trust that God is sovereign over death, His timing sometimes seems suspect. I have been asked a few times recently why God doesn’t end people’s suffering sooner. I have heard stories of elderly believers who wonder, “Why am I still here?” This, of course, raises the whole euthanasia / death with dignity discussion.

I am opposed to euthanasia on biblical grounds (see What does the Bible say about euthanasia / assisted suicide? and What is a mercy killing?). At the same time, I can empathize with those who are wanting to end their lives quickly and painlessly rather than go through intense suffering before death.

My father was diagnosed with stomach cancer when I was 16 years old. Over the following six months, I watched my father die a slow and painful death. I witnessed my intelligent, hard-working, fun, and full-of-life father deteriorate into a helpless, emaciated, pain-stricken, and ultimately comatose, shell of what he once was. At one point, when it was absolutely and undeniably clear that he was going to die, he decided that rather than prolonging his life, he was simply going to surrender and refuse any care or treatment that might keep him alive. I remember the conversation clearly. Having my father ask me to not be ashamed of him for giving up the fight was...traumatic and unforgettable.

I remember wishing I could do something. I remember thinking, briefly, about smothering him with a pillow in his sleep...but there was absolutely no way I was going to kill my dad. I remember asking the hospice nurse if anything could be done. "Not legally," she said. I wished there was some way his suffering could be ended, quickly, easily, and painlessly. I loved my dad so much! I didn't want to lose him, but I hated seeing him that way even more!

To make matters even more confusing, my father had come to faith in Christ as a result of his cancer diagnosis. So, I did not have any doubts about his eternal destination. The choice was this: a slow, miserable, and painful last few months/weeks/days here on earth, or a healed and glorified body in the most glorious place imaginable.

All that to say, I completely understand when individuals who are suffering (and their families) struggle with this question. I totally get the desire to escape end-of-life suffering. At the same time, I oppose euthanasia. I do not think it is right. It is suicide. It is self-murder. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that gives us the right to end our own lives.

Nor is there anything in the Bible that says we must go to extraordinary means to preserve and extend our lives. There are unbiblical extremes on this side of the issue as well (see Who is really "playing God" — the doctor who euthanizes a dying patient, or the doctor who extends the life of a terminally ill patient?).

I think my father was well within his "rights," biblically speaking, to refuse further medical care. He was not killing himself. Rather, he was allowing himself to die. That may sound like a minor distinction, but it is not. There is a world of difference.

Who knows what God desires to accomplish through our suffering? Who knows what lives we can impact by maintaining a godly attitude in the midst of severe anguish? Surrendering to God's plan for your death is submitting to the One who is the Alpha and Omega over your earthly life. Intentionally causing your own death is an affront to the One who gives life and declares that, through Him, all life can have meaning and purpose (John 10:10; Romans 14:8).

God is the author of life (Job 33:4; Acts 3:15). We do not have the authority to write the final chapter.

S. Michael Houdmann

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How should a Christian view the concept of death with dignity?