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Medical: Euthanasia, and Extraordinary Support to Sustain Life

This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.

Does the Assemblies of God have a position on euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and the use of medical support to sustain life?

The Assemblies of God believes all human life is sacred, a gift from God which only He (God) has the right to take away. Because the Bible does not specifically address the use of medical support, there is a wide range of opinion in the Assemblies of God concerning its use. Opinions vary about the use of doctors and medicine, since the church believes strongly in divine healing. The spectrum of opinion ranges from those who would never go to a doctor for any reason to those who are doctors, or consider doctors and modern medicine as a sensible means of healthy living, a gift of God for the well-being of all mankind. Such use of doctors and medicine in no way diminishes the truth of supernatural divine healing. The most common view in the Assemblies of God is a reliance on God for healing through prayer as well as a wise use of medical intervention when it is available. Occasionally, medical intervention includes life support.

Euthanasia. Our firm belief in the sanctity of human life is put to the supreme test in situations where the life of elderly or comatose patients is sustained by artificial procedures developed through medical science and technology. But we can find no scriptural support for euthanasia (sometimes called mercy-killing). The intentional killing of human life by deliberate act or omission runs contrary to a belief that human life is sacred because it has been created and given by God himself.

Though some advocates of euthanasia describe mercy-killing as an act of kindness when it is administered to a terminally ill patient subject to great pain and suffering, members of the Assemblies of God are generally concerned about abuses that can result from such an open attitude toward euthanasia. Instead of respecting the sacredness of human life, proponents of euthanasia stress the social advantages of eliminating nonproductive citizens and avoiding high-cost medical procedures. Believing that supernatural healing is always possible, no matter what the medical prognosis may be, members of the Assemblies of God are more inclined to pray for healing than to approve the taking of life, even to avoid pain and suffering. Modern medicines that can deaden pain and make a dying patient reasonably comfortable should negate a common fear that anticipated pain will be so severe that suicide or euthanasia are better alternatives.

PhysicianAssisted Suicide. The action of a few doctors who blatantly violate legal restrictions as well as ethical and moral standards by assisting terminally ill patients who request medical help in committing suicide is of growing concern to a church that believes strongly in the sacredness of human life. In physician-assisted suicide, the patient performs the life-ending act by voluntarily taking the lethal medication or poison made available by the physician.

Such actions are not accepted within the Assemblies of God. The church makes a clear distinction between actions which halt artificial life support and actions which directly cause death. Whether someone else administers the life-ending medium (homicide) or the patient takes it voluntarily (suicide), the action actively terminates life that was given by God. We recognize it is not easy to deal with the sufferings of terminally ill patients or of comatose persons in a vegetative state. Faced with these difficult dilemmas, society has become more open to aggressive steps which cause death. But abuses have become all too common as sympathetic emotions have replaced moral principles grounded in the Judeo-Christian ethic. The ready availability of drugs and medicines that can delay dying or hasten death present moral issues that were never faced in earlier days of medical care.

Use of Medical Life Support To Sustain Life. The issue of sustaining life by medical technology is complicated by uncertainty as to when death actually occurs. Is it when breathing ceases, the heart stops beating, or brain activity is no longer evident? Medical support can keep a body breathing after meaningful signs of human life have ceased. There are individuals who seemingly have died, only to be resuscitated within minutes of interrupted heartbeat or breathing. Some who have been so resuscitated and kept alive with life support have recovered and returned to live normal lives. Others have not. Questions arise in these instances: How long should one try to hold on to life, especially when suffering persists and the quality of life is at question? When is our appointed time to die?

There are times when a debilitating accident, a life-threatening illness at an advanced age, or prolonged terminal illness without any natural hope of recovery makes it appropriate for a patient to say, "I will leave my life in the hands of my Lord. Do not perform any extraordinary measures to resuscitate me or maintain my body on life support machines, for I am ready to go home to be with my Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). Terminal patients, however, often wait too long to express their preference that extraordinary life-support measures not be administered. This leaves the family with a great burden of deciding whether to allow or reject such measures. A living will clearly declaring one's wishes in this regard can eliminate such painful decisions for family and loved ones.

Such decisions about using life—support technology should ultimately be made by the patient whenever possible, after prayerful consultation with a Christian doctor and a respected spiritual leader. It is wise to consider and decide these matters before the moment of crisis.

In critical life-and-death situations, the use or refusal of life support is at best a difficult decision. While weighing the biblical principle of respecting and preserving life, the Christian also takes comfort in an equal truth of joyously accepting our appointed time to begin eternal life with Christ after physical death. Most people in the Assemblies of God believe there is room for either decision after prayer and careful consideration. Furthermore, what is right for one individual choosing life support may not be right for another. Instead, the Christian, recognizing that the decision ultimately lies with God, seeks prayerfully to find what God's will is in a specific situation.

The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.