Q: “Is “pulling the plug’ on a life-support system the taking of a human life, or is it already gone?”
A: Your question is definitely a twentieth century one. It is an important question, not only because it is now possible by medical technology to keep a person alive far longer than expected, but also because the sanctity of human life is being attacked on all sides in our modern society. Infants in the womb are aborted on demand purely for selfish reasons. But go to the other end of the spectrum. Elderly are being judged as a physical, mental, or social nuisance, and so are being encouraged to “die with dignity.” Some time ago a governor told the elderly that they even had a “duty” to die.
Euthanasia (mercy-killing) got its start in the seventies. When the Supreme Court issued its decision on abortion, here’s what it also said: “Only viable human beings who have the capability for meaningful life may, but need not, be protected by the state.”
As Christians, we are vehemently opposed to abortion and to euthanasia. Such cases are plainly the taking of human life. Nevertheless, there are times when a Christian who has a high regard for human life might have to make the tough decision of “pulling the plug,” when it is extremely evident that the person involved will die in a matter of hours. This dare not be confused with euthanasia, the taking of a human life.
The precise medical situation naturally will vary from case to case. But permit me to outline 10 principles that ought to be kept in mind. 1) Human life is of inestimable value and it is invested with the highest dignity by God. Read what God says about the bodies of us Christians in I Corinthians 6:19, 20. 2) Dependency on a life-support system does not take away our value or worth. One can illustrate this by pointing out that dependency on our mothers from conception until long after our birth does not decrease our value one iota. God even says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
3) It is possible, of course, to keep some people alive today that once were considered “impossible” cases. We believe, however, that with God all things are possible. Keep in mind the case of Karen Quinlan. Doctors and parents were certain death would occur upon the immediate removal of the machine. Yet, when the machine was pulled, Karen continued living, albeit medically inexplicable.
4) We also need to consider the definition of death. The Bible defines it as the moment the soul leaves the body (Eccl. 12:7). Does the soul leave the body when the brain has ceased functioning? The only thing we can say is that we know for sure the soul has left the body when the is absolutely no more life in any of the person’s biological organs. 5) God alone is the giver and taker of life (Acts 17:24-26 and Job 1:21). We may think the issue of a person’s passing is in our hands, due to the power to pull or not to pull the plug, but God still is the One who determines.
6) In a difficult case, seek not only the best possible medical advice from a number of doctors, but also seek God’s guidance in prayer and through pastoral counsel. 7) If a decision is made to pull the plug after such counsel, rest assured. Do not second-guess yourself. It is a decision that has to be made on the basis of sanctified common sense. This is what we Christians must do, when there are no clear-cut answers on the matter in God’s Word.
8) Be careful of describing someone on a machine with the evolutionists’ term “vegetable.” 9) Also, try as hard as possible not to let the “cost factor” be the determining factor in pulling the plug. 10) Finally, may we all remember that even though death is painful, the real sting of it is removed not by morphine or medical science but by firm faith in the Savior Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:55, 56).