An eighty-year-old woman who has suffered many years from degeneracy of the mind and an assortment of chronic ills suddenly has a heart attack. She is rushed to a hospital, placed in an oxygen tent, fed intravenously, given heart stimulants, and subjected to numerous tests. Within forty-eight hours she dies, however, and her family receives a staggering medical bill.

This kind of situation (Reader’s Digest, Dec., 1960) occurs many times over. In fact, some doctors and laymen are now asking, “How long are we morally bound to sustain the life of a dying man?” The issue isn’t one of euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” but rather of dysthanasia, or “difficult, painful and undignified death.” Are doctors morally bound to perpetuate life without regard to the kind of existence they are perpetuating? Have they the right to prolong life unreasonably?

The Apostle Paul could never have imagined what extraordinary methods would someday be available for preserving life. Yet in his letter to the Philippians he enlightens us concerning this problem of life versus death. At the age of sixty, and from a background of thirty years of Christian service, he writes the brethren from a Roman cell, where the threat of a death sentence hangs over him. Under these circumstances he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

In this brief statement, the aged apostle formulates a distinctively Christian philosophy of life and death. He is saying, as it were: “So far as I am concerned, the only purpose for living is to act as Christ’s ambassador to men. Because the Philippian church still needs my help, it is better for me to remain ‘in the flesh’ even though I am old and would be happy to go to my eternal reward.”

In facing the problem ...

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