Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Suffering and Euthanasia
In a little more than 48 hours, we will be taking one of our cherished labs to the vet for her final nap. She has cancer in nearly every major internal organ. We know it's the right decision, but, when you've cared for and spent time with such a social animal for nearly 10 years, it's like bidding farewell to a member of the family.
It's been interesting to mull over the reasons why we, as Christians, can euthanize our pets and why the same decision holds such different moral weight when it comes to humans, especially when it's the same "disease." In our current society, many people are blurring those lines. Some people spend thousands just to grant an extra month or two to a beloved pet (like the veterinary specialist is urging us to do) while others advocate for "putting people out of their misery" when someone is faced with a rapidly progressing terminal illness.
The quick, and most often given, answer to this is that we believe humans are created in the image of God and have a soul; therefore, the decision to terminate human life is not in our hands. Over and over in Scripture, we see this played out, beginning right away with Cain and Abel. "An eye for an eye" and similar statements in Scripture illustrate the grave penalties for trifling with human life. It's the exact same reason we advocate for the life of the unborn. It is not up to us to determine the length of any human's life on earth.
What we don't talk about as much is that the suffering often attendant on the final years of life is also important--for humans, that is. Again, we look to Scripture for our source. Paul urges believers to count it all joy, James reminds us that suffering produces perseverance, Paul suffered from a thorn in the flesh, Jesus is held up as our example--that, in our suffering, we might emulate him. Since we are spiritual beings, there is a higher purpose for our suffering than there is for animals. By sparing my dog the dreadful pain that is surely coming her way quickly as her cancer metastasizes, I know I am giving her a gift. She does not have a soul, she does not have a faith that can be enriched by suffering, she is not made in the image of God. I believe the Lord cares for His creation; after all, not a sparrow can fall to the ground without his knowledge. But we are allowed, as stewards of that creation, to spare His (non-human) creatures unnecessary suffering. In contrast, when we seek to hasten the end of a human's life--even if it is rapidly and painfully approaching--we are denying them and those near to them the promised benefits and rewards of suffering. The Lord sometimes uses those final days to open someone's eyes to His truth. Sometimes, it's those watching a loved one who have their eyes opened. Sometimes, those watching are simply encouraged to fight the good fight and press on as their loved one demonstrates true faith under great trial. Whatever the purpose, we can trust that our God is sovereign, that He loves and cares for His children, and that He has walked this road ahead of us.