This week saw Tony Nicklinson, who suffers from locked-in syndrome, being granted permission by a High Court judge to proceed with his “right-to-die” case to a full hearing. Mr Nicklinson wants the courts to allow a doctor to end his life, effectively murdering him, should he so choose. Because his condition has caused total paralysis he would not be able to finish his own life at a doctor assisted suicide clinic such as Dignitas in Switzerland.
The ministry of justice has opposed the move arguing that making such a ruling would authorise murder and change the law governing it. You can read about the case in more depth at Dr Peter Saunders’ Christian Medical Comment blog.
Following his ruling at the High Court, Mr Justice Charles said the case’s issues “raise questions that have great social, ethical and religious significance and they are questions on which widely differing beliefs and views are held, often strongly”.
He is absolutely right.
It is hard not to sympathise with Mr Nicklinson’s position. To have a fully functioning mind, but be completely trapped inside an almost lifeless body only being able to communicate through blinking is not a situation you would want anyone to be in. But despite the frustration he is going through, can we really make an exception in his case and ask someone to end his life prematurely?
This is yet another case where someone facing an incredibly difficult life because of their failing body has sought to be allowed to choose to die. Each time a call goes out lobbying the government to change the law to give individuals the right to choose when to end their lives. With each case it feels like the pressure is growing and it is a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ this will eventually happen.
Looking at things from a biblical perspective, murder in the form of euthanasia is extremely hard to justify. The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” (NIV) is the most obvious example. The Bible is life affirming, encouraging us to enjoy life fully and make the most of it. Even when Paul in his letter to the Phillipians describes how he longs to die so that he can be released from his earthly suffering and go to be with Christ, he knows that it is better for him to stay alive to do God’s work.
It could be argued that this is a simplistic approach to the complexities of a life such as Tony Nicklinson’s. If God is a God of love and compassion then surely he would want Mr Nicklinson to be released from his suffering. Whilst this approach appears logical at face value, it misses the crucial point of why life is sacred in a Christian context. According to the Bible, humans were created to be in relationship with God. Through a life lived in union with Him, we are made whole and complete and are able to live it in all its fulness, no matter what condition our bodies are in. Life is not just physical, it has a spiritual dimension too.
The problem comes when we deny our spiritual element. If we see ourselves as essentially no different to any other animal, just being cogs in a chaotic and meaningless universe, then we open ourselves up to the belief that life has no inherent value. Does it really matter if someone chooses to end their life prematurely?
As our country continues to head down the road of secularism, this question becomes more and more reasonable to ask. However, in our quest to meet the desire of the individual we end up harming the fabric of the society we live in. Life is cheapened as is our sense of worth and identity. This is not the way to make our lives better.
Removing God from the equation leaves us in a much worse place. We need to pray for those like Mr Nicklinson, that they will be able to deal with their situations. Life can be very cruel at times, but the way to look for a solution is not to end it, but rather acknowledge that through relationship with God restoration can be brought about and life can become worthwhile again.