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What Jesus Would Say to Jack Kevorkian

The consequences of legally assisted suicide would be morally and ethically disastrous.

You know how pets can endear themselves to you. Over the years, we've grown to love Dusty, our pet chinchilla. But a couple of months ago we took him to the vet, and he was diagnosed as having an incurable infection. After a few weeks, it was clear that his bad days were outnumbering his good days, so we had him put to sleep. Many of you have had to have a family pet put to sleep. It's almost a universal experience.

Some of you have been with loved ones who have suffered before they died. Maybe you've stood next to their bed and wondered, Is this the best thing, to let the suffering go on?

I think Jack Kevorkian might say, "If you have enough compassion to relieve your pet of suffering and give it death with dignity, then wouldn't you have that same compassion toward human beings by helping them kill themselves if that's what they want?

That, in short, is Dr. Kevorkian's crusade. As a leading advocate of suicide, also called "voluntary euthanasia, he has presided over the deaths of people, four of them in the last week alone.

These people have not been on the verge of death when they came to him. In fact, a medical examiner performed autopsies on of Kevorkian's patients and found that of the were not terminally ill. In at least three cases, autopsies detected no physical illness whatsoever.

Who is this Dr. Death?

Police have arrested Kevorkian three times, but sympathetic juries have let him go each time. So who is this Dr. Death?

Kevorkian is a pathologist, a doctor who deals with dead bodies and body parts, but he's been stripped of his medical licenses. In fact, the California Attorney General's office said, "He is fundamentally unfit to practice medicine. Kevorkian promotes all kinds of unorthodox ideasone is that we ought to auction off transplant organs to the highest bidder.

In his spare time, he paints some pretty gruesome paintings about death. He has one called "Nausea, another called "Coma, macabre kinds of paintings.

Dr. Kevorkian has become regular fodder for Jay Leno and David Letterman. Leno said recently that he had heard Kevorkian had applied for a license to carry a gun. Leno asked, "What's he doing? Opening an express lane? He said he could imagine Kevorkian buying the gun and saying to the person, "Remember, guns don't kill people. I kill people.

Kevorkian paints himself as acting purely out of compassion. Just look at one case involving a Michigan woman who asked him to help her commit suicide because she had painful rheumatoid arthritis. Two physicians who were experts on pain volunteered to alleviate her pain at no cost, because they said she had been using medication that was ineffective for that particular illness.

Kevorkian and his lawyer rebuffed them, called them publicity seekers; and Margaret Garish died from inhaling carbon monoxide from tanks supplied by Dr. Kevorkian. She'll never know if her pain could have been relieved by less drastic measures.

In short, Dr. Kevorkian's solution to suffering is to kill the sufferer. It reminds me of Vietnam where they said, "In order to save a village, we have to burn it down. Yet, the public increasingly endorses the basic philosophy that Kevorkian is espousing.

Three out of four Americans believe doctors should be legally allowed to fulfill a patient's wish to die. In one survey, one in five critical care nurses said that they have already caused or hastened a patient's death.

Oregon recently became the first state to actually pass a law legalizing assisted suicide, although it's not implemented yet. And the nation's second highest court has declared that there is a constitutional right to have help in killing ourselves. Meanwhile, as recently as last Friday the American Medical Association reaffirmed its opposition to suicide.

This is a particularly relevant topic because elderly people in America have increased since 1950. Many of us are going to be facing questions involving our grandparents, our parents, our spouse, or ourselves.

When is it okay to pull the plug? Why not let someone die if their quality of life has diminished? Why not offer the relief of death to those who are in pain? When are we sustaining life and when are we merely postponing the inevitability of death?

Those are important questions, but how we answer them is going to depend on what our world view is like. Let's look for a moment at what Dr. Kevorkian's philosophy of life is all about.

His world view begins with the premise that there is no God. People are merely biological organisms just like any other life form. This explains why he would see little difference between putting a pet to sleep and helping a human being commit suicide. When asked how he decides what's right and what's wrong, Kevorkian says, "I know what's right.

I think Jesus would say, "I am life. I am the meaning to life. I am the answer to life. I am the key to eternal life. And unless you look toward me for answers about life and about death, you're bound to make dangerous and disastrous choices.

God's attitude toward life is radically different than Kevorkian's.

God's attitude toward life is radically different than Kevorkian's. The Bible says human beings are not just like another organism. We alone are made in the image of God. Therefore, people are uniquely valuable whether they are healthy or sick. We alone are endowed with a soul; therefore, we have hope. We have . We have dignity that animals do not possess.

We're not the lord of our own lives, as Kevorkian would like us to believe. The Bible describes life as a gift from God that we are to carefully steward from the womb all the way to the point of death. First Corinthians. 6:19 says, "You are not your own, but you were bought with a price. So honor God with your body. The Bible says that the body of a C is a temple for the Holy Spirit and that death is an enemy.

Kevorkian and others like to say, "Death is just a natural part of life. It is not. The Bible says death was not part of God's original plan for us. It was the sin of mankind that resulted in death being introduced to this world.

Job 14:5 says "determining the moment of death is God's prerogative. The Bible warns clearly in John 8:44 that the Evil One's agenda from the very beginning has been to bring us death by whatever means.

While Scripture does not explicitly condemn suicide by name, it does say that we should not kill; and every instance of suicide in the Bible is directly associated with the person's spiritual collapse. The Bible's negative attitude toward assisted suicide can be seen in the Old Testament in the case of King Saul of Israel who was wounded in battle and asked a soldier to put him out of his misery. Later, King David condemned the action.

A person's world view will determine his or her attitudes toward life and death. It will determine where they go for answers to the difficult questions that we wrestle with when death is near. Dr. Kevorkian is starting with wrong premises; you don't get right answers when you begin with wrong premises.

Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death. Jesus would say, "Look to my teachings. Look to my guidance. Look to my wisdom, and I'll lead you to right choices.

I think Jesus would go the next step and warn Dr. Kevorkian and all of us about that most quoted verse, "We will reap what we sow. I can imagine Jesus saying, "Whenever you turn your back on my ways, you will inevitably face consequences that are only going to multiply pain and suffering. This is part of what I'm trying to save you from, the consequences that you will suffer when you turn your back and walk the other way.

You see, Kevorkian's philosophy is radical individualism. Nobody can tell me what to do with my own body. If I want to kill myself, that's nobody's business but my own; and society ought to be willing to help me carry out my wishes.

If society approves voluntary euthanasia, the potential abuses could run rampant.

Suicide is an individual and tragic decision that some people make. But when we as a society are asked to legitimize voluntary euthanasia, then this becomes a public concern because of the potential abuses and exploitation of the most vulnerable people among us.

Romans 14:7 says, "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. We're interconnected as a society; and society will suffer painful consequences if assisted suicide is legalized.

1. Legally assisted suicide would seriously damage the relationship between doctors and patients.

As one doctor said, "If killing you is an option, how can I expect you to trust me to do all I can to heal you? In Holland, where assisted suicide is permitted by the government, many disabled people and people in nursing homes are afraid to go to their own doctors because the lines have been blurred, and they're not sure any more. Is my doctor a healer or an executioner?

2. Legally assisted suicide would put pressure on elderly and disabled people to choose death so as not to become a burden on others.

In fact, 93 percent of American doctors fear that this would happen, and it is happening. Many who go to Kevorkian for help say, "I shouldn't be a burden to others.

3. Legally assisted suicides would result in irreversible mistakes.

When actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in that terrible accident a while ago he had such optimism afterwards. "I'm going to walk someday, he said. I thought I hope that's true, but he's a lot more optimistic about that than I am.

Yet in recent weeks, doctors have announced a major breakthrough in spinal cord research. Reeves may very well walk again. What if suicide had been offered to him as a viable option shortly after his paralysis began? What if he had hastily signed up with Dr. Death?

4. Legally assisted suicide would dry up resources for those who want to live out their last days in a hospice or at home under personalized care.

In Holland, there are only two very limited places where people can go to die with dignity. Why? Because there is so little incentive to develop hospice programs or to pioneer new pain techniques when so much money can be saved by encouraging the ill to commit suicide instead.

5. Assisted suicide would cause people with selfish motives to pressure the sick to kill themselves.

Maybe you saw on 60 Minutes where a former doctor in California developed the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, and over a period of time, his wife began to plant the idea that suicide would be the best route. She called the insurance company to make sure they would still pay out if he killed himself. Then she got on the phone. You know whom she called. Jack Kevorkian.

Fortunately, before anything happened, her son noticed she was suggesting suicide to this vulnerable person, and he rescued his dad. A Michigan judge actually granted the son custody of his father to protect him from being subtly coerced into giving up his life. If assisted suicide became legalized, multiply that scenario by thousands.

6. Legalizing suicide would inevitably open the door for euthanizing anyone, regardless of illness.

Illustration: At first, the Dutch allowed doctors to kill only those who were terminally ill and wanted to die. But over time it began to expand. Assisted suicide was gradually offered to those who had chronic but not fatal illnesses, including handicapped children. Then doctors were allowed to kill people who were physically fine but depressed.

A 27 ballet dancer who developed arthritis in her toes went to her doctor and said, "My life is not worth living any more because I can't dance. I want to kill myself. He obliged her.

The killing has not stopped there. Now Dutch doctors are actually killing patients without even bothering to get their consent. In fact, in an official governmental study it revealed that in 1990, 1,040 patients were killed by their doctors, even though neither they nor their families ever gave permission. That's three people every day being put to death without their permission in a very small country.

In addition to that, nearly 5,000 others died after doctors intentionally gave them medication to speed up their deaths. Again, without their consent, without their families' knowledge. In fact, these days more patients are killed by doctors in Holland without their permission than are killed with their permission. If this kind of killing occurred at the same rate in a country our size, it would mean that every six months we would kill as many Americans without their consent as died in the entire Vietnam War.

It's no wonder that some people in Holland now carry a card in their wallet, just in case they get admitted to a hospital unconscious. The card says, "Do not put me to death if I'm unconscious.

What went wrong in Holland? A psychiatrist said, "A quite troubling thing happens to the physicians who participate in this in Holland. The first assisted suicide may give them a moment's pause. The second is easier. It eventually turns into a kind of compulsion.

A commentator put it this way: "The absolute ethical norm that doctors must not kill was removed in the name of compassion, and the inevitable happened. Good, ordinary doctors in their zeal to be ever more compassionate began killing people who didn't even ask for it. Once given the power heretofore reserved to God, some doctors acted like God.

When abortion was legalized in the United States in 1972, many Christians warned that this would cheapen attitudes toward life. "It's a slippery slope. It's going to lead toward euthanasia. And people scoffed.

Now what's happening? Judges who are dealing with cases involving assisted suicide are using abortion cases as legal precedent, saying, "Dr. Kevorkian's kind of approach is constitutional.

Kevorkian said eventually he'd like to see people suffering solely from depression be able to decide whether to live or die. But that, he said, would be far too controversial to take on now. It's better to start out by publicizing the very compelling cases, get public support first; and then we can move in the direction we'd like to move.

Jack Kevorkian envisions an America that looks an awfully lot like Holland. Jesus would warn us all to turn and run the other way, for our own sake.

Christian ethicists have drawn a moral distinction between killing a patient and letting a patient die.

When a doctor helps a person commit suicide, the doctor is the cause of death; when we lovingly let a person die, then the disease is the cause of death. Do you see the difference?

The Bible would say that intentionally killing a patient is morally wrong. On the other hand, we should be willing to let someone die when it's clear, as the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:2, that the time for death has come.

The Christian Medical Society says that dying begins when a person rapidly and irreversibly deteriorates. When death is imminent, when a person is beyond reasonable hope of recovery, then they have a right not to have their death postponed. Under certain circumstances, treatment can be withheld or it can be withdrawn, if that is the wish of the patient. We don't forestall the inevitability of death.

Said one ethicist, "Insisting against the patient's wishes that death be postponed by every means available is contrary to law and practice. It would also be cruel and inhumane.

There comes a time when continued attempts to cure are not compassionate. They're not wise. They're not medically sound. That's where a loving hospice, including hospice care can be of such help. That's when all efforts should be placed on making the patient's remaining time comfortable.

Now, sometimes in the midst of these situations all kind of ambiguities arise. Sometimes it's hard to find where the line ought to be drawn. I think it's best to take five steps to insure that we're doing the right thing.

First, pray for God's guidance.

Second, consider the wishes of the patient.

Third, seek input from godly and mature individuals who can go to Scripture and help you sort through it.

Fourth, make sure we're clear of selfish interests.

Fifth, give the patient every opportunity to receive the eternal life that Jesus Christ offers if they haven't already done so.

When we look at those kind of safeguards with a doctor who is knowledgeable about the patient and about treating the dying, they can help us wrestle through the decisions that we may be called upon to make in difficult and very emotionally trying times.

Roy Maynard, whose mother abandoned the suicide option and lived out her days with him wrote this:

"If you ever stare at the deteriorating body of a parent or relative looking to you to help them in their last days, whose God will you choose to honorJack Kevorkian's or David and Abraham's? One god pounces at us during our pain with a message to kill; the other perfects us through our pain. How big is your God? Is he big enough to care for dying loved ones? He is. He is if he is the God of David and the God of Abraham and if he is the God of my mom. Then he's big enough.

Lee Strobel is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. He is author of Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary.

(c) Lee Strobel

Preaching Today Tape # 160


A resource of Christianity Today International

Lee Strobel is teaching pastor at Saddleback Community Church in Mission Viejo, California. His most recent book is The Case for Faith (Zondervan, 2000).

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Sermon Outline:


We've all wondered if it's the best thing to let suffering continue.

I. Who is this so-called Dr. Death?

II. God's attitude toward life is radically different than Kevorkian's.

III. If society approves voluntary euthanasia, the potential abuses could run rampant.


We must draw the line between killing a patient and letting him die.