Sanctity of Life
by Ruth Gartner
We had just gotten home from church when the phone rang. It was the Medical Center South. A nurse in ICU said she had been unable to reach the chaplain on duty for that day. Would my husband Dave, a minister, come in his place? Dave agreed to go.
When we arrived at the hospital, we found twenty to thirty family members, relatives, and friends of the patient – a father and retired minister. A spokesman for the group said that earlier in the day, the doctor had tried disconnecting the patient from the ventilator, but had found that he could not breath on his own.
The family had concluded that the right thing to do was to disconnect this father from the ventilator and let him die. They reasoned that he seemed restless and kept trying to pull his tubes out. Therefore, they believed he wanted to die. After all, he had given many years of work to the Lord. The family felt he was ready to meet his Maker and shouldn’t be kept “suffering.”
Dave decided to ask a few questions of the spokesman.
“Can he communicate?”
“No . . . yes,” the spokesman answered.
“Well, which is it?”
“He can’t talk, but he can squeeze my hand to tell me yes or no.”
“Can he understand you when you talk to him?” Dave asked.
“Have you asked him if he wants to be disconnected from the ventilator?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Well . . . I guess I could do that.”
Dave walked into the patient’s room, with six to eight family members following. He prayed for the welfare of the patient, then stepped out.
A Son’s Questions
One son sat on the bed and took hold of his father’s hand. Leaning forward, he said in a loud voice, “Dad, I’m going to ask you a question. If you want to say yes, squeeze my hand once. If you want to say no, squeeze my hand twice.
“Are you ready to meet your Maker, now?”
“Do you want to be disconnected from the ventilator and bring an end to all your troubles?”
After gazing into his father’s eyes a few moments, the son left the room.
Prayer and Recovery
The group formed a circle in the waiting room, and Dave prayed for God’s comfort and guidance in their decision-making. He also asked God to speak to those in the group who had not yet become Christians.
Satisfied that there was nothing more we could do, we returned home.
A couple of days later, Dave checked with ICU and was told the patient had been moved to the medical floor. The man’s life had been saved; he was on the road to recovery.
What is Good Quality of Life?
Some people feel that anyone who doesn’t have a good quality of life should be given the escape of death. But there is immediate disagreement over what is good quality of life and what isn’t.
I listened to a gentleman in his thirties talk about his condition during a news report on TV. He was a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair. Every so often he had to go to the hospital to have liquid pumped out of his lungs.
This man said some people might think he had poor quality of life. But, he said, he loved life. He believed he had a right to live and that this right should not be taken from him.
Despite his disability, this man was able to look past the negative in his physical condition and embrace all of life. This is not easy to do, but it can be done!
Paul, a biblical writer, suffered physical pain and faced death. He eventually was put to death for his faith in Jesus Christ. Yet Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11).
Paul was able to declare this not because he merely kept a stiff upper lip, but because he had accepted Christ’s death for his sins and maintained a close relationship with Him. In verse 13, Paul wrote, “I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength.”
An Icon of Suffering
Many people are worse off than the quadriplegic. They suffer from chronic illnesses and contract fatal diseases. Many are bedridden, unable to function in a normal lifestyle. They must rely on medication and painful treatments to make it through each day. Some face the reality that for all their efforts, they will ultimately die.
If Job, the biblical icon of suffering, could talk face to face with these people, he would understand what they’re going through. The Bible says Job was a righteous man who lost everything: his possessions, his children, and finally his health. Job’s physical and emotional suffering was so bad, he cursed the day he was born. And he wondered why those who suffer shouldn’t be allowed to die:
“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (Job 3:20-23).
Talking to God
Though he didn’t turn his back on God, Job did fire many questions and accusations at God:
“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?” (10:1-3).
Yet for all his bitter complaining and desire to die, Job did show a spark of faith: “But he [God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (23:10).
At the end of Job’s story in the Bible, God spoke to Job. But He didn’t explain the reason for his suffering, nor grant his request to die. God simply revealed who He is: the Maker and Sustainer of life (chapters 38-41). When Job grasped who God is, he concluded, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:3).
The Right to Decide
If a person has poor quality life, who has the right to decide whether that person lives or dies? Could people who favor euthanasia be like Job: speaking of things they don’t understand?
Life is a gift from God; it begins in the womb (“he who made you, who formed you in the womb . . . ,” Isaiah 44:2). God begins counting the days of our lives from the moment of conception; He has plans for us. The psalmist David wrote, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). Therefore, only God has the right to decide when death should come.
In the midst of his suffering, Job understood that only God knows how long He has given each of us to live (Job 14:5). When our days are over, our breath of life returns to the God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). People do not have the power to give life, nor do they have the authority to take it.
A great danger lurks: Every time a person decides to end another person’s life, he is claiming God’s authority over life. In reality, he is playing God.
Taking life by any means – abortion, euthanasia – is murder, and murder is sin (Exodus 20:13). However, murder is a sin that God can and will forgive if the murderer repents and turns to Christ for salvation. The Bible says if we confess our sins to God, He will forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).
Elsewhere in the Psalms, David wrote about God, “For with you is the fountain of life . . .” (Psalm 36:9). Life is sacred. Life should be enhanced. Life should be cherished.
Therefore, may we aspire to protect and preserve all human life that God has given until the end of our assigned days.
Scripture quotations were taken from the New International Version.
One woman didn’t hold life as sacred when it came to her unborn baby. Read her story “Life After Abortion”.