Q&A on Life Support
QUESTION: What does the Bible say about keeping someone on life support if they are seriously injured in an accident? I know that the Bible says to preserve human life so I am guessing this applies to life support. I need some proof from the Bible on this matter.
ANSWER: Sustaining life is a matter of duty and opportunity. Biblical direction regarding duty can be found as follows:
Authority Over Life:
This is the exclusive dominion of God (Deuteronomy 32:39). If God does not command or permit the taking of human life (ref. discussions on capital punishment), it is absolutely not permitted for human beings to end the lives of other human beings (Exodus 20:13; Genesis 9:6). Simply put, God does not want life to end by our will or actions unless He so commands it. That reality, therefore, calls for us to help protect and sustain life.
Caring for Human Life:
The responsibility of caring for others is a primary responsibility for Christians. It begins with caring for one’s immediate family (1 Timothy 5:8). It then branches out into the Christian community (Galatians 6:10). It is not, however, restricted only to family and fellow Christians. This compassion and care for others extends to all people (Galatians 6:10; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 John 4:7-21). Of particular importance is that we are not to play favorites (Leviticus 19:15; 1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:9). Even when someone’s quality of life is diminished we should never prejudice against him or her but rather make that person an object of our special love and respect (Leviticus 19:32; Matthew 15:30-31; 1 John 3:17).
In our world of countless blessings it is easy to forget that we are strangers here (1 Peter 1:1,17). Our life is forever in heaven. While facing the prospect of death can often cause us to measure life by what is being lost (i.e., we are losing our family member or our friend), God wants us to live optimistically even in the face of death (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 -18).
Doing What We Can:
Issues (such as “life support”) beg the question, “How far do we go?” That is an “application” question that needs to reflect the above principles – along with one more principle, and that is that we do what we can.
Everyone is blessed in different ways, and with those blessings as we have been given there are greater and lesser degrees of expectations (Luke 12:48). There is judgment upon those who can do something and fail to do so (Luke 10:25-37).
Because of the disparity of blessings one person may have the means to continue extraordinary treatment while another person cannot. Some people have access to such treatment, others do not. The nature of “application” is that it applies unchanging principles to varying circumstances.
A decision to engage “life support” is rooted in the following:
What else is going on? Are other major organs failing? Does it appear that despite our best “life support” actions the patient will still die? Does “life support” present the real possibility of sustaining life, albeit of diminished quality? Do we have access to the technology?
- This is both a geographical and a financial question. Some people do not have specialized life-preserving technology at their disposal or do not have the financial resources to secure it. Those who have the option and the resources face a different expectation than those who do not. Because the “right answers” are rooted in obedience to God’s principles it takes considerable soul-searching to ferret out emotions, prejudices or biases. When access to life support is geographically and financially possible, and the patient does not otherwise appear to be dying (i.e., other organ failure), and even though the life sustained is of diminished quality, the principles compel us to support life. If, however, we lack the access and/or the body lacks the reasonable expectation of averting death, there is no responsibility to apply life-support measures.
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