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Human Dignity and End of Life Issues

Truth in Love 356

We value life intrinsically because we, as human beings, are made in the image of God.

Mar 28, 2022

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast I have with me Pastor Adam Tyson who’s from the great state of Georgia, and I can appreciate that, being from North Florida which is Georgian culture. I’m so grateful that he’s with us. After attending medical school, he became a physician’s assistant and worked in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery in Savannah for four years. He serves in his local church. He felt an overwhelming desire to pursue the glory of the Lord through theological training. He has had the opportunity to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. Adam had the privilege of attending The Master’s Seminary for both an MDiv and a DMin. He served as Associate Pastor of Student Ministries and Outreach at his church in Texas for seven and a half years. He has a passion for expository preaching, biblical counseling, worldwide missions, and reaching the community of Santa Clarita with the gospel. He sounds like my kind of guy. Adam serves as an adjunct professor in the biblical counseling department at The Master’s University. He and his lovely wife, Lisa, have been blessed with five children.

Pastor Adam, I’m so grateful that you’re here, brother, to talk about these issues. This is sort of a foreshadowing. You’re going to be one of our primary speakers at our conference coming up in October, and I’m so grateful you’re going to be addressing this topic. Thanks for joining me today. 

Adam Tyson: Hey, it’s great to be with you, Dale. 

Dale Johnson: Listen, as we dive into this, it’s a topic that seems morbid at times, I think, but there are a lot of things going on here when we talk about end of life issues. This seems to be amped up in the ethical world in our culture today, talking about the issues that occur at the end of life. These can be anything from euthanasia or talking about some of the ethical issues that families have to deal with as family members get closer to the end of life and they’re on ventilators and things like that. When do we pull the plug? I mean, tons of questions come out here, but let’s talk particularly about the end of life in terms of euthanasia. What is mercy killing? We hear this sort of in the news. We think about this from an ethical perspective. What is mercy killing? How is this related to the topic of euthanasia? 

Adam Tyson: Sure, Dale. You know, at mercy killing, it’s just the act of putting a person, or even an animal, to death painlessly, allowing them to die without holding medical services, usually because of painful diagnoses or some kind of incurable disease. I like how that formal definition talks about, “or an animal,” because a lot of pet owners are probably used to maybe putting their dog down at some point at the end of life issues. So they think, well, maybe a human is no different. It’s the end of their life. They’ve got some kind of terminal diagnosis, maybe they’ve got some chronic pain, so they prefer to use the term mercy killing because it sounds like you’re doing them a favor, but in essence, mercy killing and euthanasia are the exact same thing. That would also encompass that concept of death with dignity. All of these are just titles trying to soften the blow of killing a person or allowing that person to kill themselves through suicide.

Dale Johnson: It’s a conflation of categories. I mean, we’re not in a position as human beings to give or take away mercy when it comes to life and death. That’s not our role. That is God’s role and God’s alone. As we think about this, we always have to set these questions—because again, that appeal to mercy killing is really trying to make some sort of moral explanation that you’re doing them a favor or this is morally right, but as Christians, we have to always set these topics within the Scripture to understand what God says about these things because He’s the one who determines what’s good and what’s evil. So what are some important Bible verses that we really need to keep in mind when this issue of life and death comes to our mind? 

Adam Tyson: Sure, well, the Bible’s certainly replete with the topic of life and death. That’s what it’s all about, right? You can’t go very far in this conversation without examining the ten commandments. The sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 says “thou shalt not murder.” So there’s really no easy way to say that other than to kill a person at any time on purpose, even if it’s labeled mercy killing, euthanasia, or death with dignity. Biblically classified, that would still be murder. So you’ve got to start there. You’ve got to start with the idea that murder is a sin. It is the sixth commandment, and to do that is just wrong.

Some other verses to keep in mind might be like 1 Samuel 2:6 which says, “The Lord kills and brings to life. He brings down to Sheol and raises up.” It’s just kind of a general statement. They are just reminding us that God is sovereign over life and death and it’s Him, in His divine providence and His divine wisdom, who should decide who lives and who dies and the timing of that. Another common verse would certainly be Job 1:21 where Job, at the end of a horrible day, when he had obviously lost all of his cattle and then his children had died, said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” So you can’t help but think that he’s saying God gives life. God takes life. It’s His divine prerogative to do that. Our job is to worship Him and to exalt Him, and to trust Him as those things happen in everyday life experiences with loved ones and friends. It’s just part of life.

Dale Johnson: Adam, as you think about this, we know these things intellectually. I mean, for anybody who’s been around the church for any number of years, we understand those verses. We understand God is in that particular position of giver of life and the One who knows the number of our days. He’s responsible for our life, but something happens in life, or in situations, that becomes more convincing than the Word where we find ourselves distanced from those truths. It doesn’t change those truths, but now circumstances start to be more convincing than even the Scriptures are. So what kinds of questions are people thinking through when they’re trying to make these end of life decisions that sometimes become confusing? 

Adam Tyson: Sure. Well, I think the main question is, is life continued living worth it? You know, that’s the concept of death with dignity. Somebody’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe they have chronic pain. They feel like they’ve lost quality of life. They’re thinking, maybe it would be better for me just to go on to the afterlife, for a Christian to Heaven, and certainly Christians are tempted with this thought of, would it just be better? I don’t want to be a burden on my family. I don’t want to be a burden on society. So, really you have two extremes.

One is, I’m willing to take my life if I think death is better than life. The problem with that is, again, it’s a moral decision redeeming it as suicide. On the other hand, you have people who want to extend life at all costs. So, they want to use all the technology that’s available. They’ll go to any degree. You know, we talk about this person being a vegetable, their own machines keeping them alive, and the family’s trying to make a decision—What would be best?—like you mentioned earlier. When would it be best to pull the plug? So, you’re trying to help people make decisions with these two extremes. We can’t jump towards suicide, because that’s a sin, but when is it right to continue the life that continues indefinitely?

I would just say those decisions have to be made case by case. You want to get good medical advice and counsel from a neurologist and a pulmonologist and a cardiologist, and all the experts that might be looking at various organ systems and their potential failure. Then you want to talk and pray as a family. You want to get pastoral counsel from your pastor, your elder team. Obviously, biblical counseling weighs into this because sometimes biblical counselors are part of that decision-making team, or are at least giving counsel to families that are going through what they’re going through. So that’s why it’s just so hard. It’s sometimes not clear what to do. One family might decide, hey, let’s pull the plug. Another family may say, let’s give them another day. Let’s give them another week. Let’s give them another month. Those can be very difficult decisions. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, it can cause lots of tension and problems, and emotions are raging high and sometimes really, really difficult. Now sometimes, in the modern sense, we dismiss the Scriptures because we think we have modern problems and this would be one that sometimes we sort of think about in terms of modernity—euthanasia, mercy killing, language like that. Let’s reset this because there’s nothing new under the sun. Are there biblical examples of people in the Scripture who wanted to kill themselves that would be similar to what we see unfolding today in mercy killing? 

Adam Tyson: Sure. Yeah, like you said, there’s nothing new under the sun. There are several examples in the Bible. One would be Elijah. You might remember, after he won a great victory, so to speak, on the top of Mount Carmel, then he was afraid. He ran for his life. In 1 Kings 19:4, it says, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'” Well, that was a low point. You know, he had a high point where he saw a great victory, and then he had a low point where he just became afraid. So he’s asking God to take his life. This is a request for euthanasia. In a sense, that’s what Elijah is asking.

Another time in the Bible where this occurs would be Saul in 1 Chronicles 10:4. This could certainly be considered a form of mercy killing. He had been wounded, remember, and he’s there on the battlefield, and Saul said to his armor-bearer, “‘Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and mistreat me.’ But his armor-bearer would not for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.” Again, when you just kind of read that sometimes you’re like, okay, I can see that. You know, you’re in the battlefield. You know you’ve been mortally wounded. I still just have a problem with that. I don’t think it’s right for a professing believer—And of course, you could question whether Saul was a true believer or not. I would say he was not, but he took his life there because he probably had some type of mortal wound, I should say, and was going to die in a matter of time anyway.

Probably the best-known, I would say, would be Job. We discussed earlier that, in Job 1, he had the right demeanor. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Job 2, he holds his ground even though he faces great physical pain from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. But in Job 3:1, he’s already struggling and he’s almost cursing the day that he was born. Then in Job 6:8 it says, “Oh that I might have my request, and that God will fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose His hand and cut me off!” Well, that’s language for death. He’s praying that it would please God to kill him. So he mentions it again in Job 7:15, “so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days or but a breath.” Again, if you read into what he’s saying, he wants to die. He’s asking God to take him out. You know, I have a lot of sympathy for Job based on what he went through, but it doesn’t mean Job wasn’t without sinful thinking. That’s why, at the end of the book, God circles back around and says, Job, I need to talk to you. Where were you when I created the heavens and the earth? He goes through that whole speech there of reminding Job, you’ve just got to trust me. You’ve got to trust me. I am God and I will do what’s best for my glory and for your good. You’ve got to trust me and walk with me through these difficult times. 

Dale Johnson: It’s encouraging. On some level, we see, definitely, the expressions of our human existence post-fall. We find ourselves in sufferings and difficulties where it seems to us, in the way in which we account things, that we think living might not be as good as what God has planned, but we have to balance this. We’re certainly not masochists, where we run to suffering and we think this is the best thing ever, but we’re called in Scripture to posture ourselves in a way that we endure suffering. We persevere in suffering. It has an element, by God’s intention, to wean us off the things of the world to truly put our hope in Him. We have to balance this in some way, so how do we find biblical balance between this whole desire to end suffering, which we should do. We’re longing for it, right? Paul says, in Titus 2:13, he longs for the glorious appearing of Christ. Why? Because he knows that it will be at that moment that all of sin and its effects are done away with. We long for that. We want suffering to end.

So how do we balance this whole idea between a desire to end suffering, but also a desire for our life to be lived for the glory of God? 

Adam Tyson: You know, I think we’ve just got to come back to our theological roots and realize that suffering is good. Suffering is from God. Suffering has been ordained for His glory and our good. We’ve got to come back to understanding if you don’t have a proper theology of suffering, then you’re not going to face end of life issues very well. So you’ve got to come back to passages like Romans 5, that reminds us that we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. I mean, we run to those verses like Romans 8:28-29, that God causes all things to work together for good. I love Romans 8:29, that we would be conformed into the image of His Son. So even at the end of life, there’s an opportunity for you to die well, to suffer well to the very end.

You know, one of the interesting things, when you talk about the euthanasia—everybody assumes that the patient is choosing to kill themselves or to commit suicide because they’re in great pain. If you read different studies and statistics on this, they would say that doesn’t even make it in the top five. The top five reasons why people kill themselves is not physical pain, the reason for that being obviously, we have hospice care. There’s a lot of palliative drugs that can be given to take away the pain. So it’s actually not a pain issue. It’s just a quality of life issue, which is meaning, it’s a suffering issue. They say, well, I’m suffering. I’m depressed. I can’t live life like I would like to, therefore, I’m going to decide to take my life. What we’re trying to do is encourage people who are in that situation, or who are counseling family members and friends who were in that situation, this is a time for you to trust the Lord. This is a time for you to walk hand in hand with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an opportunity for you to not waste this moment here at the end of your life, but that you know that God is sovereign over your days. He’s sovereign over your situation, and He wants to glorify Himself.

Again, that’s easier said than done. I get that. If I was on my deathbed, I’m sure I’ll be like, just let me come home, Jesus. Take me home. I’m ready. There’s something about that that’s admirable, but we don’t decide that. God decides that. So we have to trust Him. I think it’s just trusting Him. Doing the best that we can to honor Him when those decisions need to be made. Maybe they’re going to be made with a group of people that you’re close to, both your medical team and your theological team. I can see it that way. 

Dale Johnson: Well, you see this in Jesus. You see it in Paul. Into your hands, I commit my spirit. There’s a correct posture, right? Paul was the same way. If it’s better for me to be here to serve you, I’m great with that, but I long to be with Christ. There’s a distinction. I think that’s a healthy posture. You’re talking here. You’re speaking into the issue of the spirit of the age, where we value life based on what we get out of it or what we’re contributing to it socially. That’s not the way in which we value life. We value life intrinsically because we, as human beings, are made in the image of God.

Listen, this has wet my appetite. I cannot wait for us to be together in October, in Memphis, Tennessee, for our conference this year, In His Image. We’re going to talk all things anthropology. One of the sessions that you’re going to lead is about this very topic, human dignity when it comes to end of life issues, and I cannot wait for this topic and for us to dive in a little bit further. This touches us in many more ways than we had ever dreamed, and we need to think biblically about this. So thanks for helping us today. 

Adam Tyson: You’re welcome. It’s a joy to be with you.

Helpful Resources

Find more information about the 2022 ACBC Annual Conference, In His Image.