The rhetoric used when discussing euthanasia often focuses on the person suffering and whether the method used is quick and painless or “humane.” However, this misses the point of the opposition. Euthanasia in particular and suicide in general is wrong simply because it is an offense against one’s own person. Murder—the killing of an innocent person—is never justifiable, and this applies to others and one’s self equally. Thus, just as it is wrong to murder other people, it is wrong to take one’s own life, regardless of circumstances.
The third clause of the Hippocratic Oath reveals: “I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan.” In fact, much of the Oath emphasizes the point of using one’s skills for healing and not the opposite. Though it forms the backbone of the Western medical tradition, rejection of the oath has become close to a matter of fact in many medical schools, not least due to this and similar issues.
The Greeks considered medicine to be an art. ‘Art’—in this sense—refers to a set of skills practiced for a purpose. Thus, the purpose of the medical art was to cure disease and foster health. Euthanasia, on the other hand, has the opposite aim as its goal. Any proponent of euthanasia must explain why it is that if a doctor should work to bring about health in the patient, the same should, in this one case, work against the purpose of his art.
For Christians, there is a still-graver reason for why euthanasia is wrong: Christians believe in a God who not only created the Universe, but who actively sustains it in this very moment and who actively guides history. St. Paul says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Further, God spoke through Isaiah, saying, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15). His power and love, then, work concordantly for our benefit, “for assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16).
We can see that euthanasia amounts to the rejection of the belief in His providence and goodwill toward us. Underneath support for euthanasia seems to be the belief that somehow, He did not foresee that anyone could undergo this kind of suffering, that anyone could be in this much pain, and—more importantly—that His grace cannot help one to bear this heavy cross with dignity and honor. Of course, God's plan is often perplexing, but that does not mean it does not exist. Job questions God on precisely this point. God does not give him a rational explanation, perhaps because we cannot understand it. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” He declares in Isaiah (Isa. 55:8). Instead, He declares to Job that He created the heavens and the earth and is Lord over history. The choice before Job and us is whether we trust that He has our best interest in mind, that He will not abandon us, and that He neither makes mistakes nor permits wanton suffering.
I have been honored to see someone who made the choice to trust God: my grandmother, Marieta Evangjeli. She spent most of her life with two broken knees, her husband was killed by the communists, her only son emigrated to the US and, finally, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. In the last few months she was in pain, horrendous pain. I know this from what the doctors said, not because she ever complained. Her smile never died from her face, neither did her zeal for the Lord.
She died calling for my father, who arrived two days later. Her pain was made worse by not being able to see her son for the last years of her life. I do not know why God permitted this woman who suffered so much to pass in such a painful way. I do not know why He did not permit her to see her son one last time. But I trust in Him, not least because she trusted in Him. Taking her own life was not something that even entered my grandmother’s mind. She was thankful for everything in her life, the good and the bad. The good because she found joy in each moment and the bad because it allowed her to grow in virtue. The term “death with dignity” is often thrown around in this discussion. Let the wise judge who has the better claim to that title.