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THE SANCTITY OF LIFE

by Mr Francis Maniam

Christians have historically approached questions of “end of life” issues like suicide or mercy killing from the standpoint of the sanctity of life being a gift from God, the Creator.  To end a life under any circumstance is to violate this sanctity of life since there is a clear command from God: "You shall not murder" (Ex.20:13).  Any such attempts to end a person’s life, regardless of his physical and medical condition, are considered murder that is contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the Living God, His Creator.

The Biblical basis for this "sanctity of life" draws from many Bible passages.  Here are some of the very clear teachings of the Bible, the Word of God:

1.  Human life is God’s gift:

Acts 17:25:  The Apostle Paul told the Athenians on Mars Hill: “And He (God) is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”

2.  Man is created in the image of God:

Genesis 1:26-27:  Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

3.  God’s covenant and command:

Genesis 9:5-6:  God covenanted with Noah after the world-wide flood:

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.”

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Exodus 20:13: God’s command to Moses at Mt. Sinai was, "You shall not murder.”

4.  Respect of human life:

Gen. 4:10:  God told Cain who had just murdered his brother Abel:

"What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to Me from the ground.”

Gen. 9:5: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.”

5.  Responsibility for the life of fellow humans:

Genesis 4:9:  Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"

Deut. 21:1-9:  God informed the Israelites of the detailed process for a found dead body:  “If a man is found slain, lying in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighbouring towns.  Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke and lead her down to a valley that has not been ploughed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer's neck.  The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault.  Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall declare: "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.  Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man." And the bloodshed will be atoned for.  So you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the LORD.”

This “sanctity of life” position was not publicly questioned even in cases of severe suffering (though individual Christians, faced by such suffering, no doubt made decisions counter to this position) until the 19th Century, when new anaesthetic options made mercy killing more attractive in severe cases. The public discussion on these issues started at this time but swiftly ended at the end of World War 2 in the face of the grim revelations of Hitler’s war atrocities and eugenic killings of the more than 6 million innocent Jews in Europe.  

Public discussion picked up again in America in the 1970s, when a young woman went into a coma.  Karen Ann Quinlan was the first modern icon of the right-to-die public debate.  The 21-year-old Karen collapsed at a party after swallowing alcohol and the tranquilizer Valium on 14 April 1975.  Doctors saved her life, but she suffered brain damage and lapsed into a "persistent vegetative state."  Her family waged a much-publicized legal battle for the right to remove her life support machinery.  They succeeded, but in a final twist, Karen kept breathing after the respirator was unplugged.  She remained in this state for almost 10 years in a New Jersey nursing home until her 1985 death.  Concerned observers began searching for a definition of a life no longer worth living to justify mercy killing at least in cases where the patient could make their own decision.  This revived discussion on “end of life” issues has continued on a worldwide scale right to this day and will probably continue unabated.

We need to be informed on such matters that have highly emotive bearings on our Christian faith and simple trust in God so that we can present our clear position on “end of life” issues.  This Christian position must be focused on “the sanctity of life” as clearly taught in the Bible when we have to deal with matters like “mercy killing”, “suicide” and other “end of life” decisions.  All our responsible Christian actions must be viewed from this Biblical perspective for us who live in today’s complicated world of fast changes in Christian morality and rapid advances in technology, medicine and the life sciences.

(This simple statement was presented by our elder Francis Maniam at the Family Life Ministry Forum on “The Christian’s Perspective on Dying” held on 1 October 2005.)
 

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