Tuesday, September 07, 2010
The Pastor’s Perspective
“On the Sanctity of Life”
First Published: May 9, 2005
A few weeks ago, we began to ponder the issues relating to the Terry Schiavo case. A congregation member posed a series of outstanding questions, including: Is it sinning to withdraw nutrition and hydration (food and water) from a patient when death is not imminent? “To what extent do human beings have autonomy over our bodies in relation to our own death, in light of the sovereignty of God and the sanctity of human life (at least with regard to refusing medical treatment)? At what point does quality of life become so bad that ending life is justified?
A good place to start in this whole area is with the sixth commandment: You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13). Our Larger Catechism gives us some excellent help in understanding how this command applies to medical ethics when it speaks to the duties and violations of the sixth commandment:
Q.135 What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
A. The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic [exercise], sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
Q.136 What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
Several things stand out in these two questions and answers that are applicable to the Terry Schiavo case, and to end of life decisions in general. First, the Catechism reminds us that we have a duty “to preserve the life of ourselves and others.” This, of course, means that suicide and enthanasia are forbidden under the sixth commandment, but it also has implications for the question of withdrawing hydration and nutrition. We’ll explore some of those implications next week.
Second, the Catechism reminds us that we are to avoid “all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” That is, we are even to take care to avoid the opportunities and actions that might lead to the unjust death of another person.
Third, the Catechism reminds us that we have an obligation to comfort and aid the distressed. Those who are in a vulnerable condition are a particular concern of ours.
Fourth, the Catechism categorically states that “all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense” is murder. This obviously highlights the sanctity of life, and reminds us of the sobriety with which we must approach all end of life decisions about ourselves and others.
Fifth, the Catechism also tells us that “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life” is a violation of the sixth commandment. This principle is particularly relevant to the Schiavo case. We’ll explore it next week.
Sixth, the Catechism tells us that “whatsoever else tends to the [unjust] destruction of the life of any” is forbidden under the sixth commandment. This global statement again reinforces the care we must take in these matters. Next week, we’ll start drawing some implications for end of life issues.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 11:51 AM