Questions and Answers

 

IF YOU HAVE A LIVING WILL AND IT STATES THAT IF I AM PUT ON LIFE SUPPORT, AND MY CONDITION TURNS FOR THE WORSE, AND THE DOCTORS SAY THAT THERE IS NO HOPE THAT I CAN RECOVER, AND I HAVE DIRECTED PER THE LIVING WILL, TO DISCONNECT THE LIFE SUPPORT, WOULD THIS BE CONSIDERED SUICIDE?


    Having a family member rendered unconscious is one of the most troubling of all scenarios.  But in this day in age, when modern medical technologies often prevent the death of critically injured individuals, families sometimes are forced to face a new and even more stressful dilemma—what to do if a person remains in that “persistent vegetative state.”  Do we “pull the plug,” or not?  Do we “end the pain?”  What is in accordance with the will of God?
    In the past, the only option was to listen to the doctors and do whatever they advised.  Today, things have changed by making legal documents to fight when one has no voice.  But realize that just because the law makes something legal, that does not mean it is legal in the eyes of God.  Clearly, God has appointed a time for each person to die (Hebrews 9:27), and thus we should not fear or shun death.  After all, for faithful Christians, this is a time to rejoice as we prepare for a heavenly “homecoming” (John 14:1-3).  But as loved ones get closer to that heavenly goal, we must make sure that our decisions do not become the actual cause of their deaths.
    Life is a gift from God.  In fact, Paul, as recorded by Luke, noted that we are the offspring of God (Acts 17:28).  Writing to the church in Rome, he noted: “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).  Thus, we must respect the integrity of the life processes that God created—from birth to death, since Christ is “Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom. 14:9).   Our decisions for our own care and treatment must reflect this divine truth. 
    Now, living wills are not in and of themselves bad.  Utilizing these forms can help ensure  that you are treated in a manner in accordance with God’s will.  No one is obliged morally or legally to accept or reject medical treatments.  Thus, as long as we make those decisions with the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God in mind, then there is no conflict.  In fact, this will leave little confusion in the mind of your family and physician as to how you expect to be treated in a clinic.  However, in an emergency setting, living wills are often ignored unless you waive it in the face of the physician or write it on their medical chart.  The durable power of attorney though, gives someone you trust legal authority to review your case when you are faced to resuscitate or not and also allows families to withhold “heroic measures” if a patient is near death and begins to deteriorate in health.  However, the key is knowing what the patient wants before he or she is in that situation, and ensuring nothing that occurs that violates the sanctity of life.
    Now, let’s consider a few situations: What if one is in a coma?  Well, the comatose individual is still alive, and while his or her future is uncertain, we must remain patient, and help those who are weak (Rom. 15:1).  What if one is in a vegetative state?  We know that in Gen. 2:7, God formed man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and became a living soul or natural body (1 Cor. 15:44-45).   And, God made man in his image (Gen. 1:26-27), that is, a spirit because God is spirit (Jn. 4:24).   We also know that Jam. 2:26 tells us that the body apart from the spirit is dead.  Therefore, if the body is alive, the spirit is there.  So, does God give man the right to terminate innocent life in which he has instilled a soul?  No.  While it is not easy to take care of or see a loved one lying there helpless, and while physicians say there is no quality of life there, or no one is there or, it is just a functioning corpse, we must ensure the sanctity of life and comfort loved one through this traumatic period.  And, we must ask:  Are we trying to end our loved one’s suffering, or our own?
    What about being brain dead?  When we hear the phrase “pulling the plug” it is often due to one being brain dead.  But, are we talking about partially dead or fully dead.  Neocortical death or partial death is a form of persistent vegetative state.  But, their body still functions.  Fully brain death is when there is no oxygen or blood flow to the brain.  The brain no longer is functioning in ANY capacity and NEVER will again.  However, this does not mean that the heart, kidney and liver is not working.
    Brain activity is the condition required for legal personhood.  Many patients are pronounced dead on the basis of brain death (with the heart still beating)— medically and legally, the patient is dead at that point—while others are pronounced dead after all the machines have been turned off and the heart stops beating.  But here again we must realize the caution Christians must take in making these decisions.  Great care must be taken not to declare a person “dead” even one moment before death actually has occurred.  Death should be declared only after, not before the fact.  A person who is dying is still alive, even a moment before death, and must be treated as such.  Thus, Christians must realize that whole-brain death is the only criterion we can accept for the end of life.  “Pulling the plug” on an individual who has suffered from “only” partial brain death, is still killing a living person (Gen. 9:6).
    What about artificial feeding and hydration?  Food and water represent standard care for any living individual (and even animals!)—they are, in fact, the sustenance of life.  So, stopping food and water will undoubtedly lead to death within 14 days.  Now, Jesus cautioned: “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Matthew25:35).  We as Christians must recognize that the presence of brain activity indicates a living person who has a right to nourishment.  Having a feeding tube in place is not a “heroic measure,” nor is it providing some type of “extraordinary care,” but rather it is quite “ordinary” care.  Other than to hasten the death of someone, what possible motive could someone have for removing this fundamental need?  Ephesians 6:2 commands that each person is to “honor thy father and mother.”  According to 1 Timothy 5:8, failing to care for one’s own family is a denial of the faith, and makes one “worse than an infidel.”   So, Just because someone is aged or vegetative, we are not to stop caring for and loving that individual.  The psalmist lamented: “Cast me not off in the time of old age. Forsake me not when my strength faileth” (Psa. 71:9)
    You know, God’s Word tells us that death is a fact of life for all humans (Heb. 9:27).  Eccl. 3:2 points out that there is, “a time to be born, and a time to die.”  The Bible also is clear that no man has the right to hasten another’s death (Exodus 20: 13; Romans 13:9).  In an age where our values often follow our pocket books, we are finding more and more excuses to free up hospital beds.  Thus, it appears that the best “treatment” for individuals suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS),  Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s multiple sclerosis, and traumatic injury  is—death!  When we come to end-of-life decisions—as many of us will—our decisions must be centered on God’s Word.   Our instincts and insights are of no use, since they often are clouded by pain or emotion.  Likewise, the laws of man are of little use, since what is legal may not be what is right in the eyes of God.  Therefore, we must prayerfully request wisdom, which God promises to those who ask (James 1:5).  Of all the times in our lives when we need to search earnestly for a “thus saith the Lord,” or for the principles contained with the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), surely these are such times. 
    As per the question, the doctors says that there is no hope that I can recover, and I have directed per the Living Will, to disconnect the life support, would this be considered suicide?  If one is not fully brain dead, from a Scripture standpoint, the soul still resides in the body and by attempting to remove that soul, it is killing an innocent life (Gen. 6:5).  Then again, no heroic measures have to be made at all and no resuscitating has to be done.  One can simply let the body die.

Robert Notgrass

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