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Prolonging Life

It's complicated.

The Law and Life (5)

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The L
ORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the L
ORD.” Job 1.21

A complicated matter
It is not likely that Job knew the Law of God as given through Moses. However, this does not mean that he was beyond the reach of the “common sense” teaching of the Law. The works of the Law were written on Job’s heart as surely as they are written on the hearts of all people (Rom. 2.14, 15). Thus, when Job, with great sorrow, expressed his faith in the LORD, Who had taken away the lives of the children He had given him, he was expressing a view of life’s origins and ends which is consistent with the Law and all of Scripture.

God is the Lord of life. He gives it, and it is His to take away. That seems fairly cut-and-dried, or, at least it would have seemed that way in previous generations.

The creation of life-extending technologies has complicated the matter greatly, as we know. With the possibility of keeping people alive—that is, of keeping their vital organs functioning—now available electronically or chemically or both, families and physicians can have difficulty deciding when enough is enough and to “pull the plug” on a loved one.

Those whose worldview is grounded in a secular outlook will be conflicted about this decision either because (a) they don’t want to lose a loved one or (b) they don’t want a loved one to suffer unnecessarily. We might also add, alas, in many cases, (c) they don’t want the inconvenience of having to “care” for someone who is uncommunicative and who, apart from extraordinary measures, would die a “natural death.”

There is wisdom in a worldview that includes a place for the Law of God in teaching us how to address the question of whether, when, and how to prolong life by means of extraordinary measures.

Two things
However, there are no easy answers here. Even those who share Job’s view of the origin and disposition of life will struggle to know how to respond in such a situation.

We must remember two things: First, the end of physical life does not mean the end of life, at least, not for those who believe in Jesus. From the perspective of the Law of God and the Christian worldview, death is not an ending but a transition to a new and higher stage of life; thus, it is not necessarily a tragedy, as one without faith might see it, to let a loved one go who seems physically beyond recovery.

Such a view, however, can only mitigate—it cannot avoid—the sorrow and suffering that come with deciding to discontinue extraordinary measures. The Law of God does not promise us life without pain. It does, however, point the way to consistent neighbor-love, and to the One Who is all comfort in our times of sorrow and distress.

Second, life is meant for love, as we have seen throughout this study of the Law of God and public policy. As long as it is possible that one who is on life-support can continue to show love for God and neighbors, or may be revived unto such a life, efforts should be made to sustain life. In a living will, one who truly loves his neighbor might specify that his mortal existence should not be artificially extended beyond what is reasonable for the short-term, if no hope of resuscitation exists, so as not unduly to jeopardize the emotional or financial wellbeing, or prolong the anxious concerns, of those on whom the responsibility for additional care devolves.

At the same time, caring for one who is on life-support offers the opportunity for showing self-denying, disinterested love to one whose entire existence depends on such love. And this provides a clear witness to the watching world of the daily reality of all our lives before God, without whose steadfast love and faithfulness, none of us would continue to exist, even for a moment.

The best decisions
The best decisions concerning such matters must be made (a) in advance, as much as is possible, and (b) by those on whom such questions will focus, together with those closest to them. If all who are involved in such a decision are motivated by love for God and neighbor, and who bear in mind that physical death is not an end but a transition, theirs will be a much easier task than for those who are conflicted by all kinds of (for them) unanswerable questions. Not a task without heart-wrenching struggle and hard decision-making, but one which, made unto the Lord and acknowledging His sovereignty over all of life, can be borne with assurance, confidence, and a measure of joy.

Further, decisions about whether and how and how long to prolong a person’s life on artificial support should not be the province of governments, insurers, or physicians. Each of these should, of course, offer its counsel and advice. In the end, however, the families and friends of those who are being kept alive by life-support must make the decision. It can be helpful, under such circumstances, if a “living will” has been prepared detailing the wishes of the one for whom life-extending measures are under consideration.

These are not easy questions, and I do not wish to sound glib. With the Law of God, we take life seriously and consider every life to be precious. We do not quibble over questions of “quality of life” but seek only to extend and enrich the life of every person for the sake of loving God and neighbors. This is what justice requires.

For reflection
1. What do we mean by saying that death is “a transition”? A transition to what?

2. Since everyone is going to die (Heb. 9.27), a large part of living should entail preparation for dying. What should such preparation include?

3. How can believers bear witness to the grace of God by the care we show for those who are nearing the end of life?

Next steps—Preparation: Does your preparation for dying include “end of life” plans? Should they?

T. M. Moore

What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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