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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

15 July 2005

Euthanasia: The Only Good Death is Jesus’ Death

Q: I am a non-traditional student. In my English class I am working on an argument paper on euthanasia. I am having a very difficult time trying to view this highly controversial subject objectively.

My husband, a liver transplant patient, was thirty-nine years old when he died four years ago. He lived for eighteen months, by the grace of God, because of a donor liver. After his surgery, he contracted hepatitis C and needed another transplant. Before this could happen, he had a massive, internal hemorrhage. He was put on a ventilator; his kidneys shut down, his heart showed signs of damage, he was in a coma, and the only way his blood pressure stayed viable was through transfusions and almost lethal doses of blood pressure medications. The doctors told us there was no hope. Even with a donor liver, his other organs were damaged beyond repair. They advised my children and me to stop the blood pressure medications and let him die. To resuscitate him, if his heart stopped, would just prolong death. After a day of thinking about it and seeing how horrible my husband looked, we withdrew the medication and he died twenty minutes later.

Pastor Snyder, I am a nurse. I no longer practice because I broke my back. I never considered what we did euthanasia. Now that I am researching for my paper, I find that what we did is considered passive euthanasia.

What have I done? Did I kill my husband? I do need to know. I had come to terms with Wayne’s death up until I started working on this paper. It's like he died yesterday, all over again. He was my best friend. I truly loved the man. He had put up a courageous fight. He was so worn out. It was as if Jesus was in the room waiting to take him by the hand and take him away.

A: What have you done? In my opinion, you did the right thing. Did you kill your husband? No. Blame hepatitis, hemorrhage, or the effects of a fallen Creation, but do not blame yourself. Logic even will say that you did all that you could, and that you didn’t kill him, but our fallen natures coupled with Satan’s assaults twist and mangle logic even as they do the Scriptures, and you may not be able to listen to this logic.

He was dying. All the medications, the ventilator, and the other efforts of the hospital and doctors were an ultimately futile rebellion against our enemy death. Nothing you’ve said makes me think that you acted selfishly or irresponsibly, let alone evilly. You recognized reality: Death was going to take your husband and there was nothing you or anyone else could do to stop it. You didn’t end his breathing, his eating, or his drinking. You ended a medicine that was bringing harm even as it tried to heal.

As for calling what happened “passive euthanasia,” I say that’s a crock. Such a definition isn’t far removed from calling a miscarriage a “spontaneous abortion.” It clouds the issue and heaps guilt on those involved.

Those who advocate actively working to end “poor quality” lives advocate euthanasia, a truly misnamed word. While euthanasia means “good death,” death is never, of itself, good. It is the cessation of life, God’s first gift to mankind. Even death viewed as a release from earthly suffering is a shallow, empty hope. The Christian sees it in starker terms, for the Bible speaks of being dead in our trespasses even as we live and breathe. Indeed, we are born spiritually dead, destined not only for the grave, but for the eternal death of hell.

Yet one death overthrew death. Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice on the cross appeased the Father’s wrath. As a Christian, you and your husband had the certainty that while death would come, it would come for him as the portal to life eternal. Regarding His presence in the room, there is no “as if” for us — Jesus is there with and for each of His saints who die in the faith. Therefore, we don’t celebrate the cessation of your husband’s pain, rather the culmination of his life in Christ. Even in his final distress, your believing husband had a good quality of life, for his life was Christ living in him (see Galatians 2:20).

That same Jesus will continue to be your support. He went through agonizing death, as fluid filled his lungs and pain wracked his body. He took all of our evil upon Himself — “knowing no sin, he became sin.(2 Cor 5:21)” Thus, God’s divine Law demanded his death. His “life support” was withdrawn by His own Father and He cried out in his abandonment, “My God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:46)” Yet “by his stripes we are healed. (Is 53:5)” In your baptism, you — and your husband — died to sin and eternal death and were raised to life in Christ.

If guilt still plagues you, trust not only in knowing that you did the best you could with the information available. Trust even more that if you erred — even in love — there is full forgiveness in the blood of the Lamb of God. Perhaps you might also benefit from private confession and Holy Absolution, speaking your feelings of guilt to a pastor, then hearing him speak Christ’s forgiveness. This is a medicine too precious to ignore.

God bless you during this time in the valley of the shadow of death. May He soon lift you to the heights on eagle’s wings.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Blogger Jim said...

I shall return to finish reading your blog but what I've seen so far is so well written, and well thought out. Good job! :)

15 July, 2005 23:11  

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