On a previous Visit to the Pastor’s Study, I interviewed two Christian medical doctors who helped us begin to consider the delicate matter of “End of Life Issues.”  If you haven’t heard that program, I urge you to access it from our A Visit to the Pastor’s Study archives at either our website or sermonaudio.com.

This, of course, is against the backdrop of the many faceted and complicated subject of medical ethics – and medical ethics from a distinctly Christian perspective.  Three books that are very helpful in opening up the subject and dealing with specific cases are How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World by Joni Eareckson Tada and Nigel M. de S. Cameron,  Bioethics:  A Primer for Christians by Gilbert Meilaender,  and  – my favorite – Bioethics and the Christian Life:  A Guide for Making Difficult Decisions, by David Vandrunen.  I urge churches and study groups to make use of these excellent resources.

But connected with both the ethical and medical aspects of “End of Life Issues” are the equally important – and very complex – legal issues.

According to the law, when does life begin?  Does it begin at the point of conception?   This is clearly what the Scriptures teach in various ways; but, obviously, at least the law of the United States of America does not accept this. Otherwise, the killing of an unborn child would be illegal.

Or:  Does life begin at the point of the viability of what is commonly called the fetus?  If so, what is that point, given the ability of medical technology to sustain and assist the life of what is obviously a human being delivered at earlier and earlier points in the process of gestation?

Now there are some who call for the legal definition of life to mean quality of life.  If a child in the mother’s womb – at whatever point – is determined by medical testing to have serious disabilities or abnormalities, the mother or the parents should have the right to determine whether or not they want that child to live.  Some have gone so far as to argue that this “right” should be granted by law for up to a month after the birth of a child, so that the mother or the parents can determine in that time whether or not they want to keep their child.   This is all based on the idea that quality of life should be considered in developing a legal definition of life.

At the other end of this thing called “life” are the many “end of life issues.”   Over the years these issues have been popularly associated with names like Dr. Jack Kervorkian, Karen Ann Quinlan, and Terri Schiavo.  But, underneath the famous or infamous names, are critical legal issues:

  • Should a person have “the right” to take his or her own life – at least in certain circumstances? Shouldn’t an individual have the right to do what he wants with his or her own body?  Isn’t this the same as the right to determine what we do with any other piece of property?   If a person has the right to choose a way of life, doesn’t the same person have the right to end his life?
  • Even if it would be extreme to grant the unconditional right of an individual to take his or her own life, what about allowing the person the right to end a life of horrible physical suffering and misery? Given the fact that amazing advances in medical technology have often brought with them the prolonging of the agonies of terminal illnesses, debilitating diseases, and serious accidents, why should a person not have the right to euthanasia – the right to terminate his or her life by a so-called “good death”?    Why should there be a legal prohibition of euthanasia if it is clear to all that the person’s agonies will continue for quite possibly a long period of time with no hope for recovery?  And why should there be objections if the person’s family and loved ones all agree – or if the person has no family and the suffering of suffering alone is added to the misery?  Why should law be an impediment to the person terminating his or her life in cases in which it is simply torment to watch the individual’s suffering – or to be the sufferer.

Situations like this – and we do want to sympathize with the agonies of those who are in these situations – have brought to the fore expressions like Voluntary Euthanasia, Involuntary Euthanasia, and the more carefully nuanced Physician Assisted Suicide.   We may recoil at the very mention of these topics, but – like it or not – they are on the social radar screens of our modern culture – not only in the United States of America, but in many other nations as well.

What’s the current status of the law with respect to end of life issues?  And how should Christians respond to – or react to – those legal discussions and developments?   My topic on this Visit to the Pastor’s Study is End of Life Issues:  A Christian Legal Perspective.

My guest today is Mr. Richard Guido, Esquire.  Dick served for many years as a corporate attorney in both the United States and Canada.  Since the 1980s he has also served as a ruling elder in various congregations of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  In that capacity – as a trained and practicing lawyer who also helps individuals, families, churches, and groups of churches make decisions that are faithful to the Word of God – he has kept abreast of legal issues that impact Christians and churches.   In the congregation that I pastored for many years (and where I had the pleasure of – for many years – serving as fellow-elder with Dick), he periodically gave the congregation updates on these legal issues.   Today, Dick will help us get a better understanding of legal aspects of End of Life Issues, and also help us to think these things through under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the final authority of God’s Word, the Bible.

Dick Guido, welcome to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study…

Listen to the full program here:  

Yours in the King of Kings,

Pastor Bill