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Chapter 2 - Thou Shalt Not Kill - The Christian case against compassionate killing

Euthanasia Booklet

From Euthanasia Booklet - Chapter 2 - Thou Shalt Not Kill - The Christian case against compassionate killing

There are only two instances of voluntary euthanasia in the Bible.

In the first, Abimelech, believing himself to be fatally wounded with a fractured skull after being hit on the head by a millstone, asks his armour-bearer to kill him. His request is granted and the Israelite leader is thus spared the 'indignity' of being killed by a woman. The death is seen as just retribution for Abimelech's own murder of his seventy brothers, and we are not told what happened, if anything, to the armour-bearer.[1]

In the second, an Amalekite dispatches the mortally injured Saul, still alive after a failed attempt at suicide.

'I happened to be on Mount Gilboa' the young man said 'and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him. When he turned around and saw me, he called out to me and I said, 'What can I do?'... Then he said to me 'Stand over me and kill me. I am in the throes of death but I am still alive. So I stood over him and killed him because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive''[2]

Whether the story is true (it varies from the account of Saul's death at the end of 1 Samuel 31) or the Amalekite's fabrication in order to win favour in David's eyes for dispatching Saul and delivering him the crown, the new king's reaction is interesting.

'Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord's anointed?'[3] he asks, and then apparently before receiving a reply, as if the confession in itself were sufficient grounds for a verdict to be made, orders the Amalekite's execution.

In the mind of David at least, the compassionate killing of Saul constituted a capital offence, despite him being in great pain (presumably with peritonitis) and close to death without the possibility of analgesia, and most significantly of all, despite Saul's own request to be killed.

There is a variety of reasons for resisting voluntary euthanasia. The aim of this chapter is to present a Christian case against compassionate killing based on two arguments:

a deontological (rule-based) argument based on the sixth commandment and
a consequentialist argument based on the observed changes in medical thinking and practice in recent history. This leads to a discussion of the practical implications of the current ethical and legislative predicament.

The Deontological Argument

The meaning of the sixth commandment

Let us examine the meaning and application of the sixth commandment in both Old and New Testaments.

Old Testament foundations

The sixth commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'(AV)[4] has its roots in the creation narrative's 'Let us make man in our image' 5 and in the Noahic Covenant's 'Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed'[6]. Man, being made in the image of God, is not to be killed. Killing is itself a capital offence, but herein lies the paradox. In carrying out the judicial killing the 'avenger of blood' is acting under God's authority and is thereby not himself guilty of killing.[7]

The meaning of 'ratsach'
The English language has created for us a confusion that is not present in the original text. There are in fact ten Hebrew words translated 'kill' in the Authorized Version of the Bible, all with different shades of meaning, but only one of them is implicated in the sixth commandment, the word 'ratsach'. Its Greek equivalent is 'phoneuo' and it is most accurately translated 'murder'(NIV). The meaning of the word is further defined in four main passages in the Pentateuch [8].

This resolves the ambiguity for us as we are left with a precise definition of what is prohibited, namely the 'unauthorized, intentional or hostile killing of one human being by another'. Let us consider this in more detail.

Firstly the commandment forbids 'unauthorized' killing. Under the Old Covenant God authorized killing in two situations, in the context of holy war and for capital offences. The holy war conditions are clearly spelt out by Moses [9]. In cities within the promised land everybody was to be killed, in cities at a distance the men only were to be killed and only if a preliminary offer of peace was not accepted. There were over twenty capital offences ranging from murder to contempt of court. In these situations the Israelites had the obligation of carrying out the judicial killing as God's representatives.

Secondly the commandment forbids 'intentional' killing. Anyone killing another human being unintentionally was able to flee to a city of refuge where he would gain some protection from the 'avenger of blood'. The natural death of the high priest would later atone for the killing and the guilty party would be freed [10]. However this 'manslaughter' provision applied only in very limited circumstances:

'For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbour to cut wood, and as he swings his axe to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbour and kill him' [11]

Killing resulting from negligence was not excused as unintentional [12]. Neither was killing 'in hostility' even if not necessarily premeditated [13].

To put it another way, God authorized only the killing of the guilty. 'Innocent' blood could not be intentionally shed under any circumstances and specific groups who could potentially be exploited such as the poor [14], widows and orphans [15], aliens [16], the handicapped [17], slaves and servants [18] and the aged [19] were singled out for special protection. However membership of one of these protected groups did not confer any immunity from capital punishment [20]. There was to be no partiality shown to the guilty.

The purpose of capital punishment
Those of us who feel uncomfortable with the severity of Old Testament penalties need to remind ourselves that God's intention was that the fear of retribution would act as a strong disincentive to wrong behaviour. Thus the Ten Commandments conclude with the words 'the fear of the Lord will be with you to keep you from sinning' 21 . On the accordingly rare occasions when capital punishment was required God's stated intention was that 'all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no-one among you will do such evil again'[22].

Whereas God's mercy causes him to delay judgement in order to allow sinners to repent [23], his justice demands that he 'not acquit the guilty'[20]. God never excuses sin, rather, he forgives it.

So in summary, the Old Testament teaching is that the intentional or hostile killing of any innocent human being is a capital offence. There is no provision for diminished responsibility on the basis of age or illness and there is no provision for compassionate killing even at the person's request. Similarly there is no recognition of a 'right to die' as human life belongs to God [24] and is not the personal possession of any human being. Accordingly only God has the authority to take human life. Man can only do so under God's delegated authority, even if the life is 'his own'.

New Testament fulfilment

What of the New Testament? There are two questions to consider here. Firstly whether there is any place for 'authorized killing' in the New Covenant community and secondly whether the prohibition of intentional or hostile killing is still obligatory for Christians.

Authorized Killing
Let us first consider the question of authorized killing by taking the 'holy war' and 'capital offence' categories in turn.

With regard to 'holy war', does God command Christians to kill unbelievers in the same way that he commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites? Clearly not, as in the church age both the nature of our opposition and the mode of our victory have changed. Our opposition is no longer 'flesh and blood' but rather 'spiritual forces of evil'[25]. Accordingly the mode of our victory is not by killing but in recognizing that Jesus has already triumphed over our enemies through the cross, and that by virtue of being 'seated with him' we share his position of authority over them [26]. So 'holy war' as practised in the Old Testament is not a New Covenant responsibilty, although I have deliberately left aside a discussion of the far more complex issue of whether Christians should submit to secular governing authorities to the extent of fighting for one country against another. This is outside the scope of this chapter.

With regard to capital punishment, or any judicial sentencing for that matter, apostolic teaching is that this function has passed entirely to the state which is God's instituted authority, his 'servant' and 'agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer' [27]. The church has no authority to carry out Old Testament punishments on its members. In fact the very most it can do is to excommunicate those who repeatedly refuse to respond to correction [28].

So in summary, there is to be no 'authorized killing' within the New Covenant community either in the context of 'holy war' or for 'capital offences'.

Intentional and hostile killing
Now to the question of intentional and hostile killing. Whereas the ceremonial and sacrificial law of the Old Testament finds its fulfilment in Christ in the sense that it is no longer necessary nor binding for Christian believers [29], obedience to the moral law remains obligatory. This is apparent from Old Testament prophecy, and from the teaching of Christ and his apostles.

In Old Testament prophecy concerning the New Covenant we read that God's spirit is to be put in believers in order to enable them to obey his laws and decrees [30]. God's law instead of being written on tablets of stone is to be put in men's minds and written on their hearts 31 . Law is not dispensed with. Rather the purpose of the Spirit is to enable the moral law to be properly obeyed.

This high view of Old Testament moral law is also evident in the teaching of Christ himself, who commanded his disciples to obey the teachers of the law in so far as they were faithful to the Law of Moses 32 , and said that anyone who broke one of the least of the Law's commandments and taught others to do the same would be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. According to Christ not 'the least stroke of a pen' is to disappear from the Law until 'heaven and earth disappear'. In fact his disciples are expected to go beyond mere observance of the letter of the Law to fulfilment of the very principle of love upon which it is based [33]. So for example, in the eyes of Christ, hate and lust are to be regarded as seriously as murder and adultery [34].

In apostolic teaching, while it is asserted that we are now 'not under law but under grace'[35] this statement refers not to our ethical obligations under the New Covenant but rather to the basis of our justification. Indeed we now have a much more exacting ethical obligation than mere observance of the letter of the Old Testament moral law, namely to live 'according to the Spirit'. In this way the 'righteous demands of the law' are 'fully met in us'[36]. Luther sums up this paradoxical relationship between law and grace with the words 'Good works do not make a man good but a good man does good works'. In other words, while our goodness or righteousness is 'by faith'[37] the evidence of the genuineness of our faith is that we perform good works [38] by living 'according to the Spirit'.

So in summary the New Testament gives us an even higher view of law than the Old and therefore the absolute prohibition against all unauthorized, intentional or hostile killing remains in force.

On what grounds then does the Bible forbid compassionate killing? On the grounds that it is both unauthorized by God and intentional and thereby in breach of the sixth comandment.

Attacks on biblical law

Before concluding the deontological argument we need briefly to consider three objections that might be raised. Biblical Law is under attack from within the church from three distinct ideologies which we can call for convenience antinomianism, situationism and pharisaism. All of these have a major bearing on the euthanasia debate. Let us consider them in turn.

Antinomianism dispenses with law altogether. The antinomian argues that since we are under grace, and not law, and since the death of Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness, we are no longer under any obligation to obey the moral law. This flies in the face of Paul's own rhetorical question 'Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?' to which he supplies his own answer 'By no means!' and goes on to point out that our freedom from the condemnation of the law means that we are now 'slaves of righteousness' and thereby obliged to obey God's commands [39].

Situationism retains the law but claims that in certain situations the commandments may be suspended in favour of the higher principle of 'love to one's neighbour' [40]. The situationist argues that one may intentionally kill in certain situations and yet be acting 'in love'. There are two main problems with this. Firstly it clearly contravenes Christ's own teaching that obedience to the greater commandments of the law does not in any way excuse disobedience to the lesser.[33,41] In the mind of Christ these 'conflicts of duty' simply do not occur. Secondly it begs the question of what a 'loving' action is. The reality is that 'individual conviction or conscience' is made the arbiter of right and wrong, a return to the Deuteronomic heresy of each doing 'as he sees fit'[42]. This has tremendous dangers as we shall see later.

Pharisaism substitutes human oral tradition for God's law and introduces a nonbiblical hierarchy of sins [43]. God's true commandments are distorted such that they become impractical and in fact impossible for all but a select group to obey. Thus the prohibition against 'intentional killing of the innocent' may become a directive to 'strive officiously to sustain life at all costs'. The result is that the most important principles of love, justice and mercy are ultimately lost sight of and a new legalism is imposed 41 . A tragic consequence can be that in the case of terminal care the attainable goals of caring, consoling and comforting are forgotten as the doctor (driven more by guilt than compassion) feels he must do everything technologically possible for the patient.

Antinomianism, Situationism and Pharisaism are all distortions of Christian teaching, in short they are heresies with dangerous consequences and need to be recognized as such and rejected. However we need to recognize that each is in part an overreaction to mistakes of the past: antinomianism to joyless obedience, situationism to obedience without compassion and pharisaism to lawless indulgence. In rejecting these false 'isms' we need to recognize that the best argument against them is the practical demonstration of joyful, compassionate, obedient Christian service.

Of the three, by far the most dangerous and seductive is 'situationism' and it is this which leads us on to the consequentialist argument.

The Consequentialist Argument

We now examine the change in medical thinking and practice that has taken place in the last generation.

A review of 'recent history'

Consider the following words spoken by a doctor in mitigation while on trial for carrying out euthanasia.

'My underlying motive was the desire to help individuals who could not help themselves...such considerations should not be regarded as inhuman. Nor did I feel it in any way to be unethical or immoral...I am convinced that if Hippocrates were alive today he would change the wording of his oath...in which a doctor is forbidden to administer poison to an invalid even on demand...I have a perfectly clear conscience about the part I played in the affair. I am perfectly conscious that when I said yes to euthanasia I did so with the greatest conviction, just as it is my conviction today that it is right'[44]

The words are those of Karl Brandt, 'Hitler's physician', the medic in charge of the German euthanasia programme during the Second World War, who presided over the deaths of millions of Jews, Slavs and 'defective' Germans prior to being hanged at Nuremberg in 1948. In his own words his 'underlying motive was the desire to help people who could not help themselves'. If we are to accept his testimony we must conclude that he sincerely believed he was doing those whose deaths he arranged a favour. The fact that he was not alone in this is clearly demonstrated in further testimony. We might ask how such apparently good intentions could result in such dreadful consequences?

Dr Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist who worked with the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes at Nuremberg, described the process in the New England Medical Journal in July 1949.

'The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.'[45]

Most when remembering the holocaust will think of six million Jews but apparently this was only the final chapter in the story. What ended in the 1940s in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Belsen and Treblinka had much more humble beginnings in the 1930s in nursing homes, geriatric hospitals and psychiatric institutions all over Germany. With the advantage of hindsight we are understandably amazed that the German people and especially the German medical profession were fooled into accepting it. The judgement of the War Crimes Tribunal in 1949 as to how they were fooled was as follows.

'Had the profession taken a strong stand against the mass killing of sick Germans before the war, it is conceivable that the entire idea and technique of death factories for genocide would not have materialized...but far from opposing the Nazi state militantly, part of the medical profession co-operated consciously and even willingly, while the remainder acquiesced in silence. Therefore our regretful but inevitable judgement must be that the responsibility for the inhumane perpetrations of Dr Brandt...and others, rests in large measure upon the bulk of the medical profession; because the profession without vigorous protest, permitted itself to be ruled by such men.'[46]

So the truth is that the holocaust crept up on the German people by a series of small steps, each one following logically from the one before it. The rate of change in temperature was gradual enough not to be perceived until it was too late.

In the light of current medical practice the response of the British Medical Association at the time to the events under consideration makes interesting reading.

'The evidence given in the trials of medical war criminals has shocked the medical profession and the world. These trials have shown that the doctors who were guilty of these crimes against humanity lacked both the moral and professional conscience that is to be expected of members of this honourable profession. They departed from the traditional medical ethic which maintains the value and sanctity of every individual human being.
Whatever the causes such crimes must never be allowed to recur. Research in medicine as well as its practice must never be separated from eternal moral values. Doctors must be quick to point out to their fellow members of society the likely consequences of policies that degrade or deny fundamental human rights.
The profession must be vigilant to observe and to combat developments which might again ensnare its members and debase the high purpose of its ideals. Although there have been many changes in medicine, the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath cannot change and must be reaffirmed by the profession. It enjoins...the duty of caring, the greatest crime being co-operation in the destruction of life by murder, suicide and abortion.'[47]

The rewriting of medical ethics

How has medical ethical thinking evolved since Nuremberg? We will now turn to a review of the changes that have taken place in the last forty years in medical ethical codes relating to the sanctity of life.

Ethical codes on the sanctity of life
The relevant portion of the Hippocratic Oath reads as follows

'I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest such counsel, and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion.'[48]

As a result of the outcome of the Nuremberg trials the early post-war period saw the adoption of two other highly significant ethical declarations by the World Medical Association.

The first of these, the Declaration of Geneva, included the following affirmation:

'I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity'.[49]

The International Code of Medical Ethics affirmed that 'a doctor must always bear in mind the importance of preserving human life from the time of conception until death'.[50]

Both declarations, and in fact most of the laws of Western Society, had their roots in the Judeo-Christian ethic which we have already considered in detail. Axiomatic was the belief that the unauthorized taking of human life is morally wrong, even if the intentions are to help, and even if the person consents.

Abortion turns the tide
With the subsequent rise of secular humanism as a major force in shaping western ethical thinking these Judeo-Christian presuppositions have been increasingly displaced. It is not surprising that there have been corresponding shifts in medical ethics and practice.

Nowhere is this more evident than in attitudes and practice with regard to abortion. Since 1948 there has been a gradual escalation in so-called 'therapeutic' abortion and worldwide there are now over 50 million such abortions a year. In the UK the annual figure is 180,000 or one abortion for every five live births. This is an average figure for the western world. In the USA the figures are one in three, in several Eastern European countries there are more abortions than live births. The vast majority of these (99%) are not for the difficult indications of rape, severe congenital disease or to save the life of the mother but rather to preserve the mother's mental health. In practice this means abortion is usually performed on no more solid grounds than social inconvenience, unwanted pregnancy, failed contraception or economic difficulty.

These abortions are performed almost exclusively by doctors. How is this possible in the light of the ethical declarations we have just outlined? In fact, the declarations themselves have been substantially amended to fit with contemporary practice.

The Declaration of Oslo changes the basis
In 1970 the World Medical Association adopted the Declaration of Oslo [51] which established the precedent for 'therapeutic' abortion in circumstances 'where the vital interests of the mother conflict with those of the unborn child'. Although the 'utmost respect for human life from the time of conception' as laid out in the Declaration of Geneva was affirmed, it was recognized that there was a 'diversity of attitudes towards the life of the unborn child'. Accordingly it was allowed that 'where the law allows therapeutic abortion to be performed... and this is not against the policy of the national medical association' then 'abortion should be performed' under certain provisos. This declaration thus laid the framework for doctors to perform abortions if their 'individual conviction and conscience' allowed it and the law and the national medical association were not in disagreement.

This appears to be a very minor change but it represented a fundamental shift in the whole presuppositional framework of medical ethics. The Judeo-Christian ethic with its concept of absolute right and wrong had been discarded and 'individual conscience' enthroned as absolute in its place.

The slippery slope
As the abortion rate world-wide continued to soar in this new ethical environment and new birth technologies came into being as a result of in vitro fertilization, it was clear that medical practice was increasingly out of step with the Declaration of Geneva and the International Code of Medical Ethics. To achieve consistency either medical practice had to be changed or the codes had to be amended. The latter course was chosen. At the 35th World Medical Assembly held in Venice in October 1983 the words 'from the time of conception' were amended to 'from its beginning' thus begging the question of when 'human' life begins.

Amendments to the International Code of Medical Ethics were even more radical. The words 'from the time of conception until death' were excised such that the revised version now reads 'A physician must always bear in mind the obligation of preserving human life' only. Neither the time at which human life begins nor the time at which it ends are defined but presumably left open to 'individual conviction and conscience which must be respected'.

Relativism reigns supreme
In other words, for practical purposes, human life exists if the individual doctor believes it does and if neither the law nor his national medical association are in firm disagreement. The way has thus been opened for certain members of the human race to be excluded from the category 'human' on the basis of age. 'Individual conviction and conscience' which 'must be respected' have replaced God as the arbiter of truth. The doctor is no longer obliged not to kill. Instead by a strange twist he is now obliged not to stop other doctors killing if their 'consciences' so dictate.

Euthanasia the logical corollary

Let us turn our attentions to the end of life. Euthanasia is still currently illegal in the United Kingdom. However in Holland the situation is quite different. The history of developments across the North Sea makes interesting reading. In 1971 a Dr Postma killed her mother, who was partially paralysed, deaf, and had pneumonia, with a lethal injection of 200mg morphine. In 1973 she was found guilty of murder but given only a week's suspended sentence and a year of probation. The presiding judge ruled that any doctor performing euthanasia may be exempt from prosecution if the patient has an incurable disease and is facing unbearable physical or mental suffering. A subsequent ruling in 1984 deemed that euthanasia can be justified as an emergency act if applied according to objective medical insight.

In practice this allows euthanasia if the doctor believes in good faith it is justified. In Holland then the current situation is that euthanasia is still a crime but that the chance of prosecution is slim. As a result, according to the Remmelink Report, commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Justice, there are now estimated to be 2,300 cases of voluntary euthanasia a year and over 1,000 cases of involuntary euthanasia. Other estimates have been far less conservative. Many doctors have made a name for themselves in practising it openly. Dr Admiraal, who was once the President of the Dutch Society of Anaesthesiology and now administers one of the largest units for terminally ill patients in Holland, sees himself as his patients' friend and ally, willing to assure them of an easy and painless death.

'I inject them with normal drugs used in anaesthesia and their suffering stops. This final act of terminal care has enriched my life as a doctor.'[52]

So in summary, despite the lessons to be learnt from history, we have observed since Nuremberg a major transition in medical ethics and practice. Moral relativism and secular humanism now hold sway.

The Present Ethical and Legislative Predicament

The danger of European precedent The much publicised case of the 14 year old Irish girl who became pregnant as a result of an alleged rape has interesting implications for euthanasia. The Irish Supreme Court ruled in favour of her travelling to the UK for an abortion by invoking a European law which made provision for members of any one member state of the EC travelling to any other state to make use of services there. The case did not reach the level of the European Court of Justice, but if it had then under the provisions of the Treaty of Rome a quorum of seven judges could have made a ruling binding on all member states against which there could be no appeal[53].

One can reasonably ask that if abortion is to be viewed as a 'service' which one has a right to cross borders to obtain, then why not euthanasia? In the light of this precedent what is to stop any English citizen from taking his elderly demented parent, schizophrenic dependent relative, brother with AIDS or handicapped child across the North Sea to be mercifully and kindly dispatched without fear of prosecution at the hands of doctors in the mould of Dr Admiraal? What would happen if some pioneering spirit tested this by taking such a case to the European Supreme Court?

The necessary ingredients for a holocaust We have considered the evolution of the Nazi holocaust from its small beginnings at the hands of apparently well-meaning doctors. It is fitting to remind ourselves that such a progression requires only four factors; favourable public opinion, a handful of willing physicians, economic pressure (especially that induced by war) and no prosecution for those involved (in Nazi Germany euthanasia was simply not a prosecutable offence).

What is to stop a similar situation developing again? Opinion polls have shown the general public to be in favour of voluntary euthanasia by a majority of at least two to one.

There are already doctors who would be willing to do it. Most of those involved in the 180,000 abortions currently carried out annually in the UK have the sincere conviction that they are doing the right thing.

The economic pressure already exists. The whole world is in recession and debt. Sizeable portions of GNP in most western countries go on debt service with corresponding reductions in health spending. Many already see euthanasia as an economic necessity. The President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jacques Attali, has stated in an essay in L'Avenir de la vie:

'As soon as he goes beyond 60-65 years of age man lives beyond his capacity to produce, and he costs society a lot of money...euthanasia will be one of the essential instruments of our future societies.'

The no-prosecution provision already exists in Holland and as I have argued the theoretical possibility already exists for members of other European states to take advantage of facilities there. The precedent has been recently invoked in the case of abortion.

The only factor currently retarding a similar slippery slope in the United Kingdom is that euthanasia, being 'intentional killing', is regarded as murder and is thereby still a prosecutable offence.

Ethics turn full circle Consider the following quote from Peter Singer, Director of the Centre for Human Bioethics in Melbourne, editor of the Bioethics journal and one of the most influential thinkers in bioethics today. He writes in a leading American paediatric journal:

'We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God...Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term 'human' has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater qualities of rationality, self-consciousness, communication and so on than members of any other species, but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be... If we can put aside the obsolete and erroneous notion of the sanctity of all human life, we may start to look at human life as it really is, at the quality of human life that each human being has or can achieve.'[54]

To Peter Singer and many influential thinkers like him, man is nothing but the product of matter, chance and time in a godless universe, nothing but a highly specialized animal. The value of an individual human being is determined by its degree of rationality, self-consciousness and physical characteristics. Human life that does not have these qualities can be disposed of, indeed it is an act of mercy and kindness to do so. This is of course exactly what Brandt said, 'my underlying motive was to help those who could not help themselves'. The previous generation hanged Brandt, not for believing this but for the actions which followed logically from this belief.

As a profession it appears that in our thinking we have come full circle. The situation that exists today in Europe is no different from that which existed in Germany in the early 1930s: abortion is legal, with abortion allowable up to birth for handicapped children, infanticide is effectively legal, euthanasia is a non-prosecuted offence in Holland for the handicapped, the terminally ill and the mentally infirm.

The shape of the future? If final ratification of the Maastricht Treaty opens the possibility that euthanasia could become a non-prosecuted offence all over the continent then war is the one remaining ingredient necessary to produce a holocaust of far greater proportions than that of the 1940s. While there is great optimism and euphoria about the possibilities of life in a future united Europe, war is not beyond the realms of possibility, especially when 'free market democracy' creates its inevitable divisions along racial and cultural lines.

We do well to remember that the two most devastating wars in the history of mankind have resulted in this century from failed political alliances in Europe. The catch-cry 'peace in our time' [55] has not always heralded international goodwill and prosperity. Should we not with biblical insight into the patterns of human history be more guarded in our optimism?

Postscipt

What then of the Amalekite? Was his compassionate killing of a man in severe pain really wrong when death seemed inevitable and the sufferer himself was pleading to be dispatched? Or did David correctly recognize a far greater threat, in the one who was 'not afraid' to break the sixth commandment? Is it rather this lack of the 'fear of the Lord' which poses the more serious danger to the future of mankind?

References

  1. Judges 9:52-55.
  2. 2 Samuel 1:6-9.
  3. 2 Samuel 1:14.
  4. Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17.
  5. Genesis 1:26.
  6. Genesis 9:6.
  7. Numbers 35:19.
  8. Exodus 21:12-14, Leviticus 24:17-21, Numbers 35:16-31, Deuteronomy 19:4-13.
  9. Deuteronomy 20:10-18.
  10. Numbers 35:28.
  11. Deuteronomy 19:5.
  12. Exodus 21:29.
  13. Numbers 35:21.
  14. Exodus 23:7.
  15. Exodus 22:22-24.
  16. Exodus 22:21.
  17. Leviticus 19:14.
  18. Exodus 21:2-6.
  19. Leviticus 19:32.
  20. Exodus 23:3-7.
  21. Exodus 20:20.
  22. Deuteronomy 13:11.
  23. Romans 2:4.
  24. Psalm 24:1.
  25. Ephesians 6:12.
  26. Ephesians 1:20-22,2:6.
  27. Romans 13:1-5.
  28. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13.
  29. Hebrews 7:11-28.
  30. Ezekiel 36:24-27.
  31. Jeremiah 31:31-34.
  32. Matthew 23:2-3.
  33. Matthew 5:17-20.
  34. Matthew 5:21-22,27-28.
  35. Romans 6:14.
  36. Romans 8:4.
  37. Romans 1:17.
  38. James 2:26.
  39. Romans 6:15-18.
  40. Matthew 22:39-40.
  41. Matthew 23:23.
  42. Deuteronomy 12:8.
  43. Mark 7:8-13.
  44. Brandt, K. Nuremberg Trials. 1948.
  45. Alexander, L. Medical Science under Dictatorship. New Eng J Med, 1949; 241:2, 39-47.
  46. War Crimes Tribunal. 'Doctors of Infamy'. 1948.
  47. British Medical Association Statement. 1947.
  48. The Hippocratic Oath. New Zealand Medical Association Handbook. Sect 5.
  49. Declaration of Geneva adopted by Gen Assembly of World Medical Association, Geneva, Switzerland, 1948.
  50. International Code of Medical Ethics adopted by 3rd World Medical Assembly London, England, October 1949.
  51. Declaration of Oslo: Statement on Therapeutic Abortion adopted by 24th World Medical Assembly, Oslo, Norway, August 1970.
  52. Daily Mail, 29 April 1987.
  53. Roney, A. The European Community. Longman, London. 1990. pp13-15.
  54. Singer, P. Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life? Paediatrics, 1983. 72:1, 128-9.
  55. Chamberlain, N. Radio Speech after Munich Agreement. 10 October 1938.

Article written by Peter Saunders

More from Euthanasia Booklet: Euthanasia Booklet

  • Chapter 1 - Introduction
  • Chapter 2 - Thou Shalt Not Kill - The Christian case against compassionate killing
  • Chapter 3 - Suicide Down the Ages - A Judeo-Christian Perspective
  • Chapter 4 - Should Doctors Support the Living Will?
  • Chapter 5 - A Doctor's Dilemma
  • Chapter 6 - Should Tube-feeding be Withdrawn in PVS? - A brief review of the issues
  • Chapter 7 - Submission from CMF to the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Medical Ethics
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