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Christian and religious perspectives

‘God gives and he takes away’

Some Christians and Muslims argue that God gives us our life and hence we have no right to authorise anyone to hasten our death. This concept needs to be considered in the context of our normal lives where we have the autonomy to make many health decisions which causes our life to be either lengthened or shortened e.g. we may refuse medical treatment, or we may choose to undergo many treatments in the hope of prolonging our life. In general, Christians believe that God has given us free will which is part of being in His image. So we have extensive autonomy for life’s decisions, but when we wish to hasten our dying to limit our suffering, some tell us we are not allowed to do that – ‘God would prefer you to suffer rather than get help to end your life. God would prefer you to lose all your dignity rather than being able to say farewell to your loved ones while still conscious’. We are dying anyway, but to enable a peaceful death is against God’s will? Is it? This does not seem compatible with our loving God, and sorrows will be no more when we depart this life to be with God. 

Sacrifice may be good for you

Some Christians may argue that pain and suffering are good for your character and this is quite a pervasive concept in Christian thought. There is no doubt that the Bible supports suffering for the sake of the spreading of the gospel, and the suffering of Jesus is seen as necessary for our salvation. Suffering can also bring out good qualities in people. However, it is difficult to find a place where God or biblical writers say that futile suffering and pain is to be desired as one approaches death. Furthermore some argue that those caring for the suffering grow spiritually –but again it is difficult to accept that my suffering should happen to ennoble those watching me suffer.

Transition from life to death

It can be argued that Christians who regard death as a transition from life to another better state should be less worried about ‘hanging on to life at all costs’ than others.

Do religious people support Physician-Assisted Dying (PAD)?

It is important to realise that those Christians who argue so strongly against PAD are in a minority. They do not represent most Christians. Polls of the general population in NZ have repeatedly supported PAD with majorities of 60-70%. A 2014 survey showed that 82% of New Zealanders supported legalisation of PAD. In this survey, 41% of the extremely/very religious, and 81% of the slightly/moderately religious, supported legalisation of PAD [1]. Both Australia and Britain have done polls to assess the views of religious groups. The Guardian [2] reported a poll in 2013 in Britain which showed that large majorities of believers are in favour of voluntary euthanasia (VE). The only groups who had majorities against VE were Muslims and Baptists! In Australia the Australia Institute [3] surveyed attitudes to VE with the question: “thinking about VE, if a hopelessly ill patient, experiencing unrelievable suffering, with absolutely no chance of recovery asks for a lethal dose, should a doctor be allowed to provide a lethal dose”. Nearly nine out of ten Anglicans, three out of four Catholics supported the above. In all other Christian groups combined, the majority supporting the proposition was lower but still 70%. Christians are active in supporting the legalisation of PAD in NZ and other countries.


1 New Zealander’s Attitudes toward Physician-Assisted Dying. Journal of Palliative Medicine v18,no2, 2015

2 Andrew Brown The Guardian, Tuesday 30 April 2013

3 The Australia Institute. Poll conducted by Newspoll 2012

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a controversial bill on Monday 5 October that allows for physicians to aid patients in ending their lives under certain circumstances.

The new law, called the End of Life Option Act, allows adults to receive an aid-in-dying drug from his or her physician if the physician determines said patient is suffering from a terminal disease.

Brown, who in his youth studied to become a Jesuit priest, wrote in a rare signing message for the bill that he considered the theological and religious perspectives that define any form of suicide as a sin.

In his signing message, Brown said he discussed the matter with a Catholic bishop, two of his own doctors and others "who take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions."

"In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death," the governor wrote. "I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn't deny that right to others."

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