Throughout human history people have known prolonged illnesses and other sufferings for which the relief of death would seem welcome. The Bible is an accurate record of humanity in general and Israel in particular, and so it is naturally full of examples of suffering and misery, including the misery of prolonged fatal illness. We need to know what if anything it says or implies about euthanasia.

Euthanasia is the practice of mercifully terminating the life of a person who is hopelessly sick or injured, so as to hasten the relief of death. Euthanasia is commonly divided into “active” and “passive” forms. What is called “passive euthanasia,” rarely objectionable to Christians, involves a refusal to use life-sustaining medical equipment to prolong a life when there is no prospect of recovery. There was no opportunity to make this decision in biblical times, since there was no life-prolonging equipment. This does not mean that Christians have no right to take a stand for or against passive euthanasia. It simply means that a purely exegetical analysis cannot dwell upon that topic.

Active euthanasia, on the other hand, involves taking purposeful action to end a person’s life. The difference between the two practices is the difference between refusing to prolong life “artificially” and “artificially” shortening that life. Throughout human history people have known how to shorten life—i.e., to cause death—and so the matter of active euthanasia is very much subject to biblical scrutiny.

Although the word euthanasia comes from Greek roots that may be translated “good death,” it more strictly means either “easy death” or mercy killing. The function of euthanasia is to make an inevitable death easier. It is often argued that there is benefit ...

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