Many people followed the tragic case of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee whose mother battled fiercely through the courts to stop the hospital and doctors turning off his life support machine. There have been many others who have also gone through the same horrendous experience of fighting for the right of their loved ones to be kept alive by mechanical means. Many such cases never reach the courts or news headlines and turning off life support equipment probably happens many more times than we realise.
I completely understand why people would fight for the right of someone to live, especially in the case of a young person. It demonstrates the power of human love and the extremes people will go to, to safeguard life. It’s very hard to let go of a loved one even when it’s their natural time to die. But one of the dilemmas I have with the whole situation is trying to find what the Christian viewpoint would, or should, be in these situations?
Another aspect which I find concerning is the recent change in English law which presumes a person has given their permission for their organs to be used after death unless they have expressly stated they do not wish for this to happen.
As Christians, we believe that God decides what happens in everyone’s lives. We also believe that God allows advances in medicine, science and technology to be able to improve and extend people’s lives in so many different ways – in past times these would have been described as “miracles”.
Photo: Anna Shvets – pexels.com
So, Graham, could it be deemed morally unethical or against Christianity for operations like organ donation or turning off life support equipment to be allowed if it’s God’s will to end the lives of the people involved? As a Christian Minister but being aware that God plans our lives, would you ask the medical profession to intervene in the case of one of your loved ones possibly being taken off life support? It’s a hard one to answer, I know, and I wouldn’t ever like to be in the position where a major life decision such as this has to be made.
Rev Graham replies:
Thanks, Carol, for another very challenging question which often raises more questions than answers. My initial thought goes to the words in Genesis where, after all God’s hard work in producing his Creation, on the sixth day He looked around and concluded that all was good and I’m sure perfect! We often question God’s design and plans, especially as we look in the mirror and see each other, alongside the unique designs of animals and creatures and the different physical environments found throughout the world.
Also in Genesis we read of the fall in Creation where Adam, Eve and all of Noah’s descendants became imperfect and experienced a new norm of confusion in devotion, action, language, work and relationships. As well as confusion we have experienced changes in regards to health and we have to navigate a journey that leads to a physical death and, one day, an eternal existence.
As we think about life from the Ice and Iron ages, throughout the Dark, Enlightened and Victorian ages, there have been countless improvements in the quality of life right up to the wonders of our modern world today!
At this point I have found myself concluding that such progress has been due, in part, to many human interventions which we have received as a gift or an imposition that society has to evaluate and assume are under the control or disapproval of God Almighty. Thanks Rifqi for the photo Pexels.com
In considering your question, Carol, there will be people who conclude that certain gains in life are morally unethical and against the teaching of the bible. For some, any form of intervention and progress is only bad news and for others the progressions in life can only be a good thing! Progress is good and sustainable but there will always be another side that brings foreseen or unexpected complications which is central to your question and the challenge includes where God is in all the progress and how, as Christians, can we discern what is good or bad!
As a Minister, on the Wirral, I worked with a family whose child was in need of some medical intervention to save her life or her life would become very restrictive and it was a shock to all in the church and community. The day of the child’s operation was one of the longest and hardest the family experienced as they choose to fight and pray for her healing whilst recognising and accepting that they may have to lose her or support her in a different way. Medical intervention helped to keep Archie Battersbee alive for a period of time after his accident and the ethical dilemmas came in regards to any decisions being made as to what was best to sustain his life or naturally allow it to end.
There are many cases where people for religious, ethical or just personal beliefs, choose not to accept blood transfusion, even if it incurs a death. Other people are happy to accept medical help that will prolong an individual’s life. In many incidences family members have specified that, in the event of medical complications when facing death, they do not want to be resuscitated which for some is massive and others quite acceptable.
In whatever life events that come our way, expected or not, in the context of our faith as a Christian we may be able to pray and seek to discern the will and mind of the Lord for the needs of the family and trust God to grant healing and comfort if a loved is to die. In the life story of Job and many others “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” The challenge is that, in whatever outcome we may experience, we continue to “praise the name of the Lord.”
There have been numerous medical interventions which have radically improved human health as outlined below. The point here is that, without such interventions, many levels of health care would be compromised and the choices of patients minimised which in itself would reduce the dilemmas contained within your question, Carol.
Vaccines have been created for people to use before and during particular infections which protect and heal, as recently experienced with the Coronavirus (Covid 19). Maternal and neonatal. The health and well-being of a mother before, during and after pregnancy has improved beyond measure in respect to areas such as family planning, infectious diseases, improved deliveries and post-natal understanding.
Educational and behaviour change.It is a fact that, as human behaviour changes, then it can improve our overall health as exampled with the reduction of smoking, drinking, breastfeeding, diet and sexual habits.
Environmental changes. When we are asked to change how we use the environment we live in, it can improve and control infectious diseases such as cholera which are transmitted through water. Different ways of construction in supplying clean water, its storage and sewage, has improved our heath which can also be applied to air pollution. Thanks Nataliya for the photo Pexels.com
Pest control. In some countries certain pests and hosts help to transmit diseases. In controlling the pests, such as mosquitoes and tsetse flies, a reduction in disease does take place. Understanding the environment of the pest is vital to finding solutions.
Drugs for the prevention of disease. When we get infections we are able to benefit from certain drugs such as penicillin that protects, cures and prevents particular diseases.
Therapeutic interventions are those that treat, mitigate or postpone the effects of disease when it is active and, as a result, reduces fatalities, disabilities and morbidity.
The treatment of Infectious Diseases. It is out of field trials that a drug application will emerge. Many drugs are used to kill off or restrict the transmission of certain diseases. Diseases have to be detected, a treatment found to restrict them and, where necessary, help people to live with them.
Diagnostics to Guide Therapy. Most diseases and treatments have to be diagnosed from simple symptoms and signs which are not always an easy process. Clinical trials are required before procedures are approved, recommended and used. As a result of various actions and results, the effectiveness or otherwise of drug trials will be determined in the gathering of results from their usage.
Control of Chronic Diseases. Many chronic diseases, once diagnosed, may not be curable but they can be controlled through various interventional changes in behaviour and uses of prescribed drugs and treatments. There are other interventions which require an enforcement of law to change use and behaviour that brings about environment and personal changes and improvements such as anti-pollution laws, food labelling, public health, tobacco and alcohol pricing.
During the past month, two of my friends have faced the need for specific medical intervention, one via intensive drugs and the other a major heart operation. In the will of God, one sadly lost his life and the other successfully came through the operation and is recovering nicely. During the trauma that the family faced with their daughter they received lots of love, prayers and support and, as a result of major surgery and ongoing medical support, she has gone on to live a vibrant and full life and has children of her own.
With the advances gained in medicine and its application to wider social living, there is the case that more ethical choices are raised which can be confusing for individuals and communities to agree over. I believe that any gains are allowed by God and have to be used for the benefit of all. But because we live in a fallen world, the gains we have can also be turned into losses that are not for the overall benefit within society. Many people in the Western World are rejecting an ultra-modern lifestyle and seek to go back to a simpler one. Many in poorer third world countries know that many interventions make a great difference to everyone living and are grateful for them.
In all situations, as a Christian it is important to give thanks for the life we have available to us each and every day. To live that life to the full with family, friends and community and in whatever ethical, moral and spiritual dilemmas we face; seek the will and peace of God that passes both understanding and misunderstanding and gives us healing as from the Lord who “gives and takes away.”
Thanks Brandy Pexels.com
As we know, Archie Battersbee died on 6 August 2022, a 12 year-old boy from Essex who loved martial arts and gymnastics. May his family continue to mourn his loss with thanksgiving and know a special portion of God’s comfort and love alongside human kindness and love.
Thanks for references from the NCBI National library of Medicines Types of intervention
NHS Organ Donation – Tel: 0300 123 23 23/www.organdonation.nhs.uk
www.gov.uk – for further information and opt-out details.
Marie Curie – Tel: 0800 716146 or 0800 0902309.
How can God forgive Terrorist?