Newbold College

Department of Theological Studies





 Paper Presented in the

 Fulfilment of the Requirements

 of the Course BIST 224 Bible and Ethics.



 Allan Falk

 March 2005

I.    INTRODUCTION  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


II.    MORAL THEORIES  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


III.    MORAL PRINCIPLES  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


IV.  BIBLICAL LITERATURES  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


V.  CONCLUSION  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


VI.   BIBLIOGRAPHY  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



How might various moral theories and principles, and different biblical literatures come together in the lives of people in ONE of the cases on the Personal Ethics list?

Case chosen:

A 60 year-old man, terminally ill and suffering considerable pain, despite palliative care, who asks for his death to be hastened.


Remember that the case descriptions are very brief, and therefore part of your task is to identify the further information you might need in order to respond helpfully to the persons concerned.

Remember that this is not simply a case of finding “right answers” but also a matter of living / implementing responses to difficult situations.


        The possibilities of hastening people’s death, when they are suffering unbearable pain has been discussed widely, and many both intellectuals and common people have an opinion. Both in the U.S.A.[1] and in Denmark[2] approximately 70 % of the population supports the right for any individual to receive euthanasia. Today you can get euthanasia in Holland and Belgium, and you can get assistance for suicide in Switzerland.

        Considering the 60 year old man in this study, whom I will call Tim. The limited information, which is given concerning his situation, is not really enough to make any kind of ethic or moral evaluation. What dos Tim mean, when he asks for his death to be hastened? Is he asking for euthanasia, or is he asking for certain treatment to be withdrawn, so that death can come faster. It would also be helpful to know, who long Tim could possibly live? 

Moral theories:

         Tim’s case has a bearing on  three moral theories. If he is actually asking for the palliative drugs to be increased enough to kill him almost instantly, then he is asking for camouflaged euthanasia, which is more or less often practiced in countries were euthanasia is not yet legalised.[3] A Deontological view on a request for euthanasia would be that it collides with the Ten Commandments in the Bible, and also with the Natural Law, making people fighting for survival. In addition it is against the stand of many Christian denominations, which have the opinion that God is the only one who should give and take life.

        Consequentialism can also shed some light into Tim’s situation. If he some way or another is allowed to die as fast as possible it will relief him from a lot of pain,  but it will also shorten and reduce the period and possibilities his relatives have, for them to get prepared for his death. Which would have the highest priority in Tim’s case, would probably depend on the situation in his particular family.

        Finally we have Virtue Ethic which has a strong bearing in Tim’s case. In some cultures it has been widely accepted that elderly people could decide to die when they could no longer contribute to the uphold of the community. That has for example been practiced among the Eskimos in the Arctic area, where elderly people simply walked out into the wilderness and froze to death. Looking at the development over the last fifty years in the U.S.A.[4], were the support for the right of individuals to decide when they want to end their own lives, have doubled, I suggest that a Virtue saying, that it is alright for a terminally sick person to ask for his life to be ended, is under development. However from a perspective of Virtue, we also have the Christian World View, saying that life should be preserved and protected as much as possible. Some Christian circles are claiming that the inviolability of life should be respected.  In Christianity it is a Virtue to be the good Samaritan, meaning that we should care for other peoples needs and help them when they are in trouble. In Tim’s case it most probably means that a Christian would try to relief him from pain as much as possible, but he would probably not kill him directly.

Moral principles:

         Tim’s case can relate to several of the moral principles, but I finde that there are three of them which has the strongest bearing. First there is the famous one slippery slope. If Tim is asking for mercy killing, all sorts of fears can come in. If he should be helped like that, then there might also be others wanting that service. For Tim the solution might seem useful, because he is terminally ill, but what about others who is just tired of a certain handicap or painful situation? Looking at the Western World at large, it seems to be the reality that the slippery slope is there. Both in Switzerland and in Holland the boundaries for who can end their lives have been moved dramatically. After the 2nd April 2002 everybody down to the age of twelve, has been able to request for euthanasia in Holland.[5]

        The second principle considered in this writing is Sanctity and Quality of life. Tim who is terminally ill and suffering from considerable pain, even if palliative care is administered, might not have a very high quality of life. The real quality of his life will of course depend on his relationship with relatives and friends. However looking at the quality of Tim’s life there might be arguments for some assistance to him, concerning the shortening of his life. If Tim was living in a place where euthanasia was legal, many people would most probably support his wish, but there would also be at least some Christians hesitating, because of the Sanctity of his life, even if it is a life with less quality. However many people resisting euthanasia would most probably support Tim if he requested for withdrawal of treatment or a slight increase of palliative care, hoping that it would speed up the process of dying.

        Looking at Adventists and Ethics, I have studied our Statement of Consensus on Care for the Dying.[6] In brief our advice is, that we are opposed to euthanasia, but we do accept withdrawal of treatment prolonging live, when the treatment seems meaningless and we also support palliative care even if we know that it has a life shortening effect.

Biblical literatures:

         In the Pentateuch written by Moses referred to as the Law by Jews, we find that the Ten Commandments says. You shall not murder.[7] This piece of commandment is the guiding factor for many people when they conclude, that they can not give Tim euthanasia.

        In the Bible we find a few narratives about people in pain or extreme problems wanting to end their own lives, or asking others to do it, but the Bible does not really comment on the thought or act. The only instance where God seems to give a response is when Samson asks for strength enough to kill himself together with the Philistines.[8] It is however difficult to judge about the reason for God’s approval, was it because of Samson’s personal sufferings as a blind man in prison, or was it because of God’s wish to punish all the sinful Philistines, the enemy of his chosen people. It is probably risky to build any conclusion on this narrative concerning Tim’s situation.

        In the Gospel of Matthew we find The Judgement of the Nations, where Jesus tells his people frankly that only the ones showing mercy will arrive in heaven.[9] In the light of this story told by Jesus himself, there is not only some support for mercy and care towards Tim’s suffering, but there is actually a strong encouragement to do well against any needy people, they are all God’s children.  

        In the Wisdom literature we find these interesting verses Ecc 3, 2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. This wisdom words from the Bible, can support the fairness of being allowed to die, when it is time for it. There for it can be argued that it is okay to stop meaningless treatment, if it is only prolonging the life for a suffering patient, who will have to die anyway within the near future.


         My and probably also som other Christian peoples response to Tim’s request is as I have tried to show in this paper very much depending on what he actually want, when he asks for his death to be hastened. If he wants the doctor to give him an injection to sleep into death straight away, euthanasia as it is called, then I would not be able to support it. The reason for my opinion in this matter is build on the Ten Commandments only. If I knew Tim personally I would suffer together with him, and it is most likely that I would wish for him, that God would allow him to die as soon as possible. If he wants withdrawal of life prolonging treatment, I would support him in his request, because of the fact that he is terminally ill. Ecclesiastes is as already mentioned talking about a time to be born and a time to die. If Tim’s request is in the gray area, and he is simply asking the doctor for an overdose of palliative treatment enough to end his life quickly, then I would be in trouble. As a Christian I would support all the palliative care required to relive Tim of his pain, even if it would shorten his life, but to give him more than that, only with the intention of ending his life, would be against my understanding of good Christian Ethic.

        When sin entered this Universe, pain also entered as a result of sin. Is it then possible, that God has allowed sin to remain for a period of time, because his creation needs to see the true picture of sin, and therefore even suffering has a meaning?


Alsner Tom, Aktiv dødshjælp kan kun være et personligt valg,


Bruinsma Reinder, Matters of Life and Death, (USA: Pacific Press, 2000).

Dworkin Gerald, Frey R. G. and Bok Sissela, Euthanasia and Physician – Assisted Suicide,

        (Cambridge: 1998).

Grund Jens, Thye-Pedersen Chr., Fagfolk advarer mod dødshjælp,


Hamil-Luker Jenifer and Smith Christian, Religious Authority and Public Opinion on the Right to Die, in Sociology of Religion 1998, pp. 373 – 391.

Hinshaw Daniel B. and Hinshaw Jane Carnahan, A CHRISTIAN ENDING TO OUR LIFE,

        In St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 44.01 Pp. 61 – 82.

Kargaard Hans, Tillad aktiv dødshjælp,


Eftertanken, Nyhedsbrev fra landsforeningen ”En værdig Død”

        Årgang 2. No. 1 april 2002.

En god dag at dø, in

Euthanasia and Clinical Practice: trends, principles and alternatives,

       (Wiltshire: The Linacre Centre, 1984).

 Eutanasi – Lovligørelse af drab på begæring?, (Danmark: Det Etiske Råd, 2003).

 Seventh-Day Adventist Church, A statement of Concensus on Caring for the Dying,




[1] Hamil-Luker Jenifer and Smith Christian, Religious Authority and Public Opinion on the Right to  Die, in Sociology of Religion 1998, p. 374.

[2] Kargaard Hans, Tillad aktiv dødshjælp,


[3] Kargaard Hans, Tillad aktiv dødshjælp,


[4] Hamil-Luker Jenifer and Smith Christian, Religious Authority and Public Opinion on the Right to Die, p. 374.

[5] Eftertanken, Nyhedsbrev fra landsforeningen ”En værdig Død”

        Årgang 2. No. 1 april 2002.

[6] Seventh-Day Adventist Church, A statement of Concensus on Caring for the Dying,

[7] Exodus 20, 13.

[8] Judges 16, 30.

[9] Matt. 25, 34 – 40.

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