Assessing the Arguments for and against Physician-Assisted Suicide

4 Arguments against Euthanasia

In addition to arguments that can be made from the Bible against physician-assisted suicide (Ex. 20:13, “You shall not murder”), four additional arguments can be made against euthanasia:

1. The Human Moral Instinct That Murder Is Wrong

Most people have a conviction that it is wrong to murder another human being. An argument can be made from this general conviction to the specific application that it is wrong to murder elderly or terminally ill people. Is murder not murder whether the victim is young or old, strong or weak, or in good health or suffering? None of these considerations should affect the moral status of the person as a human being.

2. The Slippery Slope from Euthanasia to an “Obligation” to Die

Concerns about a “slippery slope” in public policy have some persuasive force. If euthanasia is allowed for some patients who are suffering, then how can we prevent it from being applied to more and more patients who are suffering? And with the increasing cost of health care for elderly and extremely ill patients, there is likely to be growing pressure on people to ask that their lives be taken. Moreover, “nations that have allowed for physician-assisted suicide find that a society can quickly move from merely allowing ‘the right to die’ to the belief that there is ‘an obligation to die’ on the part of the elderly and the very ill people who are ‘draining resources’ from the society. In such situations it becomes likely that a number of elderly people will be put to death against their will.”1

What the Bible Says about Abortion, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Medical Decisions

Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem offers a biblical and ethical guide to controversial issues surrounding abortion and euthanasia, defining his terms clearly and exploring science, politics, and opposing arguments.

3. The Horror of Involuntary Euthanasia

The situation in the Netherlands has become particularly notorious—a large number of elderly people have been put to death against their will.2 In 2012, 4,188 people were euthanized in the Netherlands through a mix of sedatives and a lethal dose of muscle relaxant.3 Wesley Smith, an attorney for the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force, has written that the number is actually much higher:

The evidence of decades demonstrates that such involuntary euthanasia is rampant. Indeed, in its 1997 ruling refusing to create a constitutional right to assisted suicide (Washington v. Glucksberg) the United States Supreme Court quoted a 1991 Dutch government study finding that in 1990 doctors committed “more than 1,000 cases of euthanasia without an explicit request” and “an additional 4,941 cases where physicians administered lethal morphine overdoses without the patients’ explicit consent.” That means in 1990, nearly 6,000 of approximately 130,000 people who died in the Netherlands that year were involuntarily euthanized—approximately 4 percent of all Dutch deaths. So much for “choice.”4

Euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke invented the so-called “peaceful pill” to induce suicide, and he also conducted “how to commit suicide” clinics. He said that his personal position is that “if we believe that there is a right to life, then we must accept that people have a right to dispose of that life whenever they want.”5 He continued:

Many people I meet and argue with believe that human life is sacred. I do not. . . . If you believe that your body belongs to God and that to cut short a life is a crime against God, then you will clearly not agree with my thoughts on this issue. I do not mind people holding these beliefs and suffering as much as they wish as they die. For them, redemptive suffering may well pry open heaven’s door that little bit wider, and if that is their belief they are welcome to it, but I strongly object to having those views shoved down my neck. I want my belief—that human life is not sacred—accorded the same respect.6

The slippery slope has also extended into infant euthanasia. In September 2005 the Dutch government announced its intention to expand its euthanasia policy to allow doctors to end the lives of infants with the parents’ consent. Under the “Gronican Protocol,” euthanasia is allowed when it is decided that a child is terminally ill with no prospect of recovery and suffering great pain.7

Christine Rosen, author of Preaching Eugenics, says:

The Netherlands’ embrace of euthanasia has been a gradual process aided by the growing acceptance (in a much more secular Europe) that some life is “unworthy of life.” Indeed, Europe is doing just that. According to the Associated Press, 73 percent of French doctors have admitted to using drugs to end an infant’s life, with between 2 and 4 percent of doctors in the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Sweden confessing the same.8

Belgium has also passed a law allowing the euthanasia of children, and the first child was killed in September 2016.9 Under Belgium’s law, children of any age can ask to be euthanized if they are deemed to have a terminal illness.10 Former Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International attorney Roger Kiska, who led the legal fight against the law, said after its passage:

No civilized society allows children to kill themselves. Far from a compassionate law, this law hands the equivalent of a loaded gun to a child with the astonishing belief that the child should be free to pull the trigger if he or she so chooses. Belgium’s decision to allow this is grotesquely abhorrent and inhumane. As the legal analysis we provided to members of the Belgian Parliament explained, the law’s underlying premise is that life is not worth living and that children are somehow mature enough to make such grave decisions about their own lives. On the contrary, this law exploits vulnerable children by handing to them a “freedom” that they are completely ill-equipped to bear.11

4. Examples of People Who Have Surprisingly Recovered

A final argument against euthanasia comes from personal narratives and testimonies from people who were apparently terminally ill or had life-threatening injuries but nevertheless recovered, as well as from elderly people who are still living happy, productive lives.

One example of this phenomenon is Jesse Ramirez of Mesa, Arizona. In May 2007, the 36-year-old Jesse was in a horrific automobile accident while he and his wife were engaged in an argument.12 He suffered a broken neck and head trauma, and fell into a coma. Barely ten days after the accident, Jesse’s food, water, and antibiotics were withdrawn at the request of his wife, who received only minor injuries in the accident. He was then transferred to hospice care, where he would have died, but Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, at the behest of Jesse’s sister, were successful in restoring food, water, and treatment. A few days later, Jesse came out of his coma. Although he went without food and water for six days, Jesse recovered and walked out of the hospital in October 2007, and continued his recovery at home.13 In 2008 the state of Arizona passed “Jesse’s Law,” which closed a loophole in the decision-making process for patients who are physically unable to communicate their wishes regarding medical care.14

3 Objections Made by Proponents of Physician-Assisted Suicide

There are three primary objections to the position opposing euthanasia that I have outlined above:

1. “We must uphold the value of human freedom.”

Proponents of euthanasia often emphasize the importance of human freedom, even the freedom of an individual to choose to end his or her own life.

But if it is morally wrong to actively murder another person, then the fact that a person would choose to be murdered does not nullify this moral conclusion. There are many cases in which someone might so despair of life that he or she would say, “I want to die.” But should we then say that it is right to murder such a person? If murder is morally wrong, even the desire of the person who wants to be murdered cannot make it morally right, for it is still taking a human life. A person’s right to life does not depend on the person himself wanting to live.

2. “Sometimes we need to alleviate pain.”

Another objection is that some people are experiencing unbearable, unending pain, and they are often only a few months or years from death in any case.

However, pain and suffering are not sufficient reasons to overcome the moral prohibition against murder. A better solution is to alleviate the pain (which is almost always possible with modern medicine)15 and do whatever else can be done to overcome the person’s suffering.

3. “Medical resources and money are limited.”

A final argument is that money and medical resources are limited, and therefore we should put to death elderly or very ill people so that these resources are not wasted on them. This is not the question of allocating a scarce resource (say, a kidney transplant) to a younger or healthier person. Rather, it is the argument that older or very ill people should not be using so much medical care at all.

But this argument, phrased another way, essentially says that it is right to kill people whose care is costing us too much. This argument is simply a way of saying, “We don’t have enough money to care for these elderly and terminally ill people.” But is that a justification for taking another person’s life? This would change the commandment “You shall not murder” into a different commandment: “You shall not murder unless you do so to spend your money on something else.” This objection is hardly acceptable on moral grounds.

I must emphasize that this is not a discussion about “letting die,” which may be the right decision with terminally-ill patients who have no reasonable human hope of recovery. In such cases, the wishes of the patient and the financial resources available to care for the patient become genuine considerations. But here we are not talking about letting die. We are talking about whether it is right to actively kill another person because we think society should spend less on caring for old, sick people and direct more of its spending to other medical purposes. We are talking about whether it is right to murder.

It is important to realize that all three of these objections are based on a viewpoint that is contrary to a Christian worldview. These three objections do not value human life as something sacred, something that uniquely carries the image of God in this world. And they do not give full weight to the moral force of God’s command, “You shall not murder.”

The Importance of This Issue

The direction a society takes on the question of euthanasia is a reflection of how highly it values human life and how highly it values God’s command not to murder. In societies where physician-assisted suicide becomes legal, it sets the stage for a further erosion of the protection of human life. Some people will be thought “too old” to deserve medical treatment. Compassion and care for the elderly will diminish, and they will be more and more thought of as burdens to be cared for rather than valuable members of the society.

And unless we experience premature death, all of us reading this will ourselves one day be those “elderly” people who need care and support from others.


  1. “The End of Life,” in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2543. I was the primary author of this article, which was also modified and approved by at least three other editors.
  2. A concise summary of the Netherlands’ euthanasia law can be read at
  3. Bruno Waterfield, “Number of Dutch Killed by Euthanasia Rises by 13 Percent,” The Telegraph, Sept. 24, 2013, led-by-euthanasia-rises-by-13–per-cent.html.
  4. Wesley Smith, “We Ignore the Dutch Legalization of Euthanasia at Our Own Peril,”, Dec. 17, 2000,
  5. Quoted in Kathryn Jean Lopez, “Euthanasia Sets Sail: An interview with Philip Nitschke, the other ‘Dr. Death,’” National Review, June 5, 2001,
  6. Quoted in ibid.
  7. Wesley J. Smith, “From Holland to New Jersey,” National Review, March 22, 2005,
  8. Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), cited in Kathryn Jean Lopez, “Mercy!” National Review, March 30, 2005,
  9. Yves Logghe, “First Child Dies by Legal Euthanasia in Belgium,” CBS News, Sept. 19, 2016,
  10. Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, “Belgium Extends Euthanasia Law to Kids,” Time, Feb. 13, 2014, http://
  11. “Belgium to Allow Children to Kill Themselves,” Alliance Defending Freedom, Feb. 13, 2014,
  12. Dennis Wagner, “Injured Man’s Awakening Called ‘Miracle,’” USA Today, June 27, 2007,
  13. Rick Dubek, “Comatose Mesa Man Walks Out of Hospital,” AZCentral, Oct. 19, 2007,
  14. “ADF Commends Signing of ‘Jesse’s Law,’” Alliance Defending Freedom, June 25, 2008,
  15. There are rare cases in which no significant relief from pain is possible with medication.

This article is adapted from What the Bible Says about Abortion, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Medical Decisions by Wayne Grudem.

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