Euthanasia and Religion

Many of the arguments made against assisted dying come from a religious basis.
The main source of this religious opposition comes from the Jewish-Christian
religions. Out of these, the Catholic Church is the strongest opponent. Islamic and
Buddhist faiths also do not agree with euthanasia. The Sikh Darma and Hindu
faiths have not taken an official position, and may leave it up to the individual.
However, there are individuals within these religions, including ordinary believers
and priests, who fully support voluntary euthanasia.
In a 1993 opinion poll, most religious people who were surveyed were in favour of
medical aid in dying. Whilst 93% of people without religious belief supported this,
83% of Protestants, 73% of Roman Catholics and 60% of Jews were also in
favour. As Gerald Larue, Professor of Religion at the University of Southern
California, said in 1985:
‘...simply because a religious organisation makes a pronouncement,
there is no guarantee that the masses will follow.’
There are three basic arguments Jewish and Christian authorities make against
helping a person to die.
1 ‘Sanctity of Life’
According to religious teaching, life is a gift from God. Only God can decide when
a life begins and ends. Any deliberate killing of the innocent without God’s authority
is wrong, and against the natural law. This extends to situations where a person’s
life is ended at their request. Voluntary euthanasia breaks this principle – people
do not have the right to choose for themselves.
2 Intentional killing is forbidden
The Sixth Commandment states that ‘thou shalt not kill’. However, this has never
been absolute. In certain circumstances the church allows killing – in war, by
capital punishment and in self-defence. Some argue that ‘thou shalt not kill’ is not
an accurate translation of the original Hebrew, and that it really means ‘thou shalt
not do murder’. However, whatever the translation, church authorities traditionally
believe that voluntary euthanasia is against this Commandment.
3 The value of human suffering
According to Christian teaching, physical suffering is part of God’s divine plan for
humankind. Suffering has a spiritual significance, and should be faced head-on, in
the knowledge that it leads to a growth in virtue and helps in redemption. So,
voluntary euthanasia, as a means of ending the suffering of an incurably ill patient,
is rejected. Many have attacked this belief as being cruel and outdated.
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The church traditionally opposes assisted dying
‘As I understand it, the purpose of life is to love God and to enjoy Him forever. I
believe that voluntary euthanasia can be a means to that end.’
The late Reverend Lord Soper, Methodist minister.
‘I sincerely believe that those who come after us will wonder why on earth we kept
a human being alive against his will, when all the dignity, beauty and meaning of
life had vanished; when any gain to anyone was clearly impossible, and when we
should have been punished by the state
if we had kept alive an animal in similar
A personal view
The late Reverend Dr Leslie
Weatherhead, a prominent Methodist.
The Reverend Brian Anderson, a
chaplain for many years, was led to
support assisted dying through personal
‘Yes, I believe in sanctity of life. Human
life must be the most precious thing we
have. It is truly holy in the sense that it is
the “all” or the whole of that we have.
When there is a painful terminal disease
of which qualified medical opinion states
that there is absolutely no hope of
recovery and when that state of
degenerative disease has robbed us of
all dignity – then and only then is that true
sanctity of living also robbed from us. I
happen to believe that whatever little
may then be left of that sanctity it should
also include and involve my remaining
freewill, and so my freedom to decide
whether or not to seek a controlled and
peaceful end to my life – in other words a
good death when nature would have it
otherwise. If I am to believe in a God who
is in any way able to be personified, then
it is in the compassionate and loving
attitude exemplified in the one we know
‘ a Christian and a theologian I am
convinced that the all-merciful God, who
has given men and women freedom
and responsibility for their lives, has
also left to dying people the
conscientious decision about the
manner and time of their deaths.’
Hans Kung, Professor of Theology
‘I feel that our concerns may be more
about our feelings than the well being of
the very ill. Is there a time when life as
such can become meaningless or of
little worth? Can we put ourselves in the
position of the very ill? Is it possible to
be selfish in this matter without realising
that we are being selfish? I have these
thoughts from a feeling of compassion
for a human being. This is strengthened
from a Christian belief in Eternal and
Everlasting Life. This is why I am very
sympathetic to euthanasia. This is the
gentle helping of a person to pass away
peacefully and with less suffering, and
also the easing of anxiety. This is not an
easy matter but this question cannot be pushed aside.’
The Rev. Lord Milverton, Church of England vicar.
None of the religious arguments against assisted dying are relevant to those who
do not share those beliefs. And of course, despite these teachings, many of those
who are religious do not oppose voluntary euthanasia either! In fact, many of those
who support assisted dying do so because of their religious beliefs. To them,
helping a person to die can be an expression of Christian compassion and the love
and support that Christians offer to those in need.