The other day, I wrote about concerning proposals coming out of Canada which could have profound and disturbing consequences. The proposal is that medically assisted dying (euthanasia) should be made available for those with disabilities and for children, even under 1 year old. The purpose for this is said to be that this would enable a form of care to those considered to be going through unbearable suffering.
The significant point here is that if the decision relates to children under one year old and to disabled people, likely to include those with cognitive impairment and communication challenges then we are talking about people who are not in a position to give or express clear consent on such a significant issue as life or death. This means that others would have to step in and make the decision for them.
This means that a two part decision is being made for the person by others. First, they are determining the level of suffering and what counts as unbearable. Now, that is in and of itself quite the subjective question and dependent on other factors. It also, presumably is dependent on a further factor which is whether or not the suffering can be alleviated. We are however, not told how that will be determined. Will it be on the basis of medical impossibility (no drug therapy will make a difference) or on the basis of cost?
Secondly, they will be determining, in the face of that suffering whether or not ending the person’s life is in their best interests. So, other people will answer for young children and vulnerable adults on whether or not their suffering is unbearable and whether as a consequence they should forfeit their lives. As I argued in my earlier article, this is a dangerous position for society to be in.
The problem is that as shocking and disturbing as such discussions might be, they reflect the culture we live in. We might describe our culture as one that embraces death rather than life. This is seen in the slide towards euthanasia. It also is seen in the way that we have so readily accepted abortion so that it is considered extremist to even support some restrictions on abortion based on the age of the foetus and even to support the freedom of people to protest the killing of unborn babies. I would suggest that there are other ways in which our society demonstrates that it has embraced a culture of death.
This is another area where Biblical Theology helps us to understand the culture we live in and how we arrived at it. One perspective on the Biblical story is that it offers us an ongoing battle between two kingdoms, the kingdom of sin and death v the kingdom of life and God. It’s about a choice between two cultures, a culture of life or a culture of death.
We see this right at the beginning of the Bible when God places the first human beings, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There at the heart of the Garden, he places two trees. There is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We often talk about that one but alongside it was also the Tree of Life. I believe that these two trees offered Adam and Eve a tangible choice each day, would they choose life or death. Sadly, Adam chose death. The penalty for sin was death and this was expressed as curse.
That choice between the way of life or the way of death is presented to Cain in Genesis 4. Will he choose life by resisting sin or will he choose death by taking away the breath (abel) of life from his brother? When the flood comes, people are offered the promise of safety and life, protection through the waters of death if they go into the ark with Noah. After the flood, they are told to demonstrate their choice of life in their eating habits. If for Adam and Eve, the choice was represented in the fruit they ate, for Noah and his descendants, it was in the meat they ate and whether or not it contained blood.
Abraham is told by God that he will be blessed and there was blessing for all peoples in him and his offspring. However, there was also a curse upon those who chose to dishonour him. As we saw above, curse is an expression of death. The world around Abraham is being offered the possibility of life/blessing or death/curse.
This same choice is set before the people of Israel as they leave Egypt and enter the promise land. Life will come to them through the death of a substitute. The lamb takes the place of the Firstborn at the Passover as its blood is shed. Then when they come to Canaan, they enact a covenant renewal ceremony where the people stand on two mountains to represent obedience and disobedience, blessing and curse, life and death (see Deuteronomy 11 and Deuteronomy 30). Which will they choose? Again, they opt for disobedience, curse and death.
Therefore, in Jesus, we see the one who takes on the curse by dying on a tree. Jesus chooses death so that we might know life. The Cross becomes both the Tree of life and the tree of death. Indeed, we might see Jesus himself as the Tree of Life. The Tree is seen again at the end of time in the New Jerusalem.
It is God’s people, the church who choose life and so the early church said no to expressions of death culture including slavery and infanticide. Whenever we see those things creeping back in, it is a reminder that the world around us chooses death.
Because the World chooses death, we should not be surprised to see that throughout history it has chosen the things associated with death and curse. Today we see it in modern slavery and exploitation, abortion on demand and euthanasia.
For the Church to choose life must include speaking up against those expressions of death but it must also mean that we grow a community that positively chooses those things that pertain to life. Most of all, to choose life and a culture of life requires that we point to the Gospel.