My Christian relatives consider suicides to be damned, because they are killing themselves, and have no chance of redemption.
I learned later in life, perhaps on this very board, the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is better translated as “Thou Shalt Not Murder”, thus allowing such things as killing in wars and the state executing prisoners.
Assuming “Murder” is more accurate, what does this mean for suicide? Does it count as murder? Is there a concensus about this among serious Bible scholars?
I think this post raises two issues. The first is “Is suicide a sin?”, the second is “does commiting suicide automatically lead to damnation?”
On the first issue, I think the short answer is “It depends”.
To get a longer answer you need to think about the framework for Christian ethics. A common one is that of “mutual love relationships”. That is, things that encourage mutual love relationships between people, or between people and God are good, and those things that detract from that are bad. In this view murder is bad because it is destroying someone who loves, therefore destroying the relationships between them and others.
Suicide can be treated in the same way, except there are two added complications. The first is where your intentional death benefits others. So for instance willingly throwing yourself in front of a truck to push someone else out of the way. I don’t know if that is what you would actually class as suicide, but you are intentionally ending your life. That sort of thing I think is not neccessarily sinful. In fact 1 John tells us
The other complicating factor is that suicide is often associated with mental illness of some sort. So for instance 10-13% percentage of schizophrenic people die as a result of suicide. Since sin involves a conscious decision to reject God and to harm mutual love relationships, then many would argue that since these people are incapable of conscious reasoned decisions in all things, then they are not able to sin in all ways. In any case I think God is a just enough judge to take into account things like mental illness.
So I think in general a suicide done by someone in their right mind, not to substantially benefit others could be seen as sinful, but this is not necessarily the case for all suicides
On the second point, as to whether suicide leads to eternal damnation, I think the overwhelming consensus amoungst evangelical protestant scholars is that the question is irrelevant. If the person accepted Christ, then his death pays for ALL sins, even suicide. If they didn’t accept Christ, then none of their sins are forgiven, and then with or without suicide they would still be condemned.
As best I can tell the idea that suicide leads to condemnation is an unreformed Catholic idea. The underlying premise is that all sins not confessed to a priest are unforgiven (hence the need for “last rites” type stuff). Since then you can’t confess suicide, because you are dead, then that sin will be held against you and you will be condemned. Protestants do not hold the underlying premise of the need to confess sins to a priest, so they see the whole argument as a bad one. That being said I am not sure whether even Catholics themselves still believe that suicide leads to condemnation.
To the best of my understanding, the sin of sucide is not equated with murder…it’s the sin of despair. God gave you a gift and you are throwing it back in his face. Despair is equated to denying god.
And it’s unforgivable not because it’s unforgivable (only sinning against the holy spirit is unforgivable…and what the hell that is is a whole other great debate) but because you can’t repent of it, what with already being dead and all. Which is a catholic idea but might apply to some protestants as well. Maybe not the born-again-forever ones.
Not to try and pull this too far afield but where would you say a doctor assisted suicide falls (or not necessarily “doctor assisted” but someone with a terminal illness choosing to end things sooner to avoid terrible pain)?
I think that the number of thoughtful Christians that think this is probably quite low. The problem is that this view implies that you have to specifically repent of each individual sin otherwise it won’t be forgiven. This has all sorts of problems. One is that for most people it is hard to remember all the sin that you commit in order to specifically repent of it. Secondly you may not realise that you did something sinful until many years after the fact. Under this view your soul is at peril until you specifically repent of that sin. It is a rather precareous situation and not one that most Christians, or I think the bible itself endorses.
I think most Christians would draw a distinction between “big R” Repentance and “little r” repentance. “Big R” repentance is the initial act of saying to God that you are a sinner and in need of his forgiveness, and you wish to live God’s way. This happens only once and marks someone’s conversion to Christianity. “Little r” repentance is confessing our ongoing sin to God, not because if we didn’t God wouldn’t forgive us, but because having accepted Christ we are in relationship with God, and asking forgiveness for bad things that you do is what you do in a relationship.
An good analogy is marraige. When you say “I do” the marraige relationship begins. This is “Big R” repentance. When you annoy your partner you don’t suddenly cease to be married. You may appologise for what you do, but that is not because you need to to restore your marraige relationship, you do it because of the existing relationship. Of course if you continue to live in a way contrary to the marraige then you may find yourself getting divorced, so you can’t just do whatever you want.
Presuming that their illness has not affected their mental capacities, then I would still say that it is a sin. In the end suicide is ultimately a self centered act. Even if you are terminally ill there is still good that you can do for others. So for instance Paul says in Philippians
Here Paul is saying that he in fact would rather be dead (although he is actually talking about death at the hands of the Romans, not his own hand), because in death he would be with Jesus. Yet Paul realises that while death is better for him, life is far better for the Philippians because in life he can continue to teach and encourage them. So then Paul chooses life, not because it is what he wants, but because it is what is good for others.
Cannot one suppose that ending your life (if terminally ill) is doing the greatest good for others and not necessarily just for yourself? Akin to a soldier throwing themself on a grenade to save those around him?
Consider that a terminally ill patient is in massive, continual pain. Their continued existence is not only trying for them but those around them. Perhaps medical bills are piling up threatening to bankrupt the family. You also have the hell of loved ones trying to deal with watching a loved one in pain constantly and not being able to do anything about it. In most cases I have read of a terminally ill patient seeking to end their life the family is usually very supportive. Certainly they are sad at losing their loved one but they see that the alternative is even worse.
I also have to wonder that medical science places more people in this position than may have been the case in times past. I would think in many cases people would have dropped dead far sooner of their malady as they would never have received any useful intervention from doctors/medicine. Now people can receive treatments that even if they do not “cure” the patient can extend their life and see them ultimately in a position of monstrous pain waiting for the inevitable end. I have a hard time thinking God would find them pushing the day they die forward a bit (when it is a foregone conclusion it will happen soon) when likely they would have been dead already had science not pulled them on longer than nature would have had it. Is the supposition that God means for these people to suffer as they do?
Actually, I think that it is precisely because of that pain that people should live. One of the biggest problems in the world is that cannot comprehend suffering anymore. We lock ourselves away from it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and some seek to eliminate themselves out of fear of it. But pain is merely a bodily expression. In accepting, unerstanding, and conscientiously ignoring it, we can show people a better way, that there is nothing to fear.
Granted, this actually goes with personal opinion that Catholicism should invest some time and study into meditation. I think it would be a fine way of learning to pray better. I also think meditation would lead to the study of better pain management techniques, ones which don’t rely solely on drugs (which work for some people better than others, and often have harmful side effects).
We have two clear-cut suicides and one kamikaze suicide in war in the Bible- King Saul, Judas Iscariot & Samson- the only one of the three who was verbally attacked post mortem was Judas. David never reviled Saul nor spoken hopelessly of him. Samson is given a kudo in Judges that his death killed more of Israel’s enemies than his life.
So I will say, it depends on the individual case. Someone who clearheadedly kills himself in such a way as to maximize psychological pain to his loved ones (a father who blows his head off in front of his children) will be much more harshly judged than a much-abused emotionally-fragile person who can’t take any more pain & OD’s on pills.
Now, if I as a Christian were counseling someone considering suicide, yes, I would consider using the possibility of Eternal Conscious Damnation as a deterrent. However, if that person still committed suicide, I would then counsel his loved ones to trust in the mercy & grace of God. A few years ago, I was corresponding for about six months with a suicidal girl I met on the Net. Suddenly, she suddenly stopped writing, and her family did not respond to any inquiries.
I’ve believed for years she may well have taken her life. And I still pray for the love of Christ & Eternal bliss to be upon her.
As a matter of practical advice, Friar Ted, I wouldn’t recommend using the possibility of Eternal Conscious Damnation as a deterrent. I’m afraid that when I’ve been suicidal I’ve figured I’m quite likely to be damned as it is, and that would be just one more bit of evidence that I’m a worthless human being who doesn’t deserve to live.
RevTim, if you’re interested several years ago, I can send you an essay I wrote on depression from a Christian perspective for my church’s newsletter. It was triggered when a fellow parishioner who’d recently learned my history said, “You realize, of course, all suicides go to hell.”
Rather than rehash old arguments, I’ll leave it at this. I cannot believe that a just and merciful God would condemn a person and negate a lifetime’s faith and works for a moment, or even several hours of despair.
There is pain that we may usually associate with life then there is Pain one might associate with things like torture. I have been unfortunate enough to witness two people go through the capital “P” pain relating to a terminal illness. One had to linger through it and it was awful. The other I am almost certain got helped along with a wink and a nod from my parents (actually he lingered through most of it as well and was only nudged along when his remaining life could only be measured in hours).
I cannot imagine a God who insists we suffer in this manner.
You’re kidding…right? Exactly what “better way” are you referring to?
I can’t believe this conversation is actually taking place here. To try to put a religious spin on one of the ugliest parts of human life…and to say that it’s good in some way to watch a relative be destroyed by pain? You’re not serious…
I’m thinking the terminally ill person who is in pain is capable of comprehending suffering. Yeah…I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s talking about.
The whole physician assisted suicide thing is something at which there are a quite a few shades of gray.
Firstly, I don’t think there is any moral obligation for doctors to treat patients just because they can. Sometimes you just have to accept that someone is going to die, and realistically there is little that you can do for them. Not treating someone who has died naturally (ie: without intervention) I don’t think is necessarily wrong.
Secondly, the general goal of palliative care is not really to sustain life, rather to mkae comfortable those who are going to die. As such some palliative care does would actually shorten the lifespan of a normal person, and even can shorten the lifespan of a terminally ill person. One area in which this commonly happens is in pain medication. Since the body develops resistence to pain medications over time, then dosages must be increased, until it gets to the point where an effective dose is a near lethal dose. When it gets to the stage that legitimate pain management is actually killing the patient, then I don’t think that is necessarily wrong either, so long as what is done is in the interests of pain management, and not in the interests of killing the patient.
What I would object most strongly to is doing something that has no other medical purpose than to end the life of the patient. That is where the assisted suicide comes in. And that I think is sinful both for the doctor assisting, and in so much as the patient is in agreement with the suicide, the patient themselves.
If they are a Christian they may be able to do a lot. So for instance their continued hope in heaven in the face of their death may prove an inspiration to those around them. Just because they are suffering and they are going to die does not mean that their life is worthless.
The reason that we seek to preserve human life (or at the very least not destroy it) is because we believe that human life has value. Therefore when we seek to end it it is because we feel that the life has no inherent worth, and therefore ending it is not a bad thing. If the life had worth then ending it under whatever circumstances would be a bad thing.
If they are not a Christian, then I would still say that they shouldn’t get to choose to die. The broader reason is that I think for something to be illegal it must:
Be inherently immoral, or at the very least the prohibiting of it should not be immoral
The prohibiting of it should lead to good outcomes, or prevent bad outcomes that would happen if it were not illegal.
I think that euthanasia is inherently immoral both for the person choosing to die and for the person assisting in the suicide, so point one is fulfilled.
One the second point prohibiting euthanasia does prevent a number of bad things. It stops people coercing others (particularly the elderly) into ending their own lives, when they may not necessarily want to. This happens both consciously and subconsciously as relatives of the termanilly ill can certainly give them the impression that they are a burden on them, either emotionally or financially. It has also been reported that in places like the Netherlands doctors are actually suggesting euthanasia to patients or worse still euthanising them without their direct consent. They are able to do this as the euthanasia laws there are not strict enough to prevent doctors acting unilaterally in the life of their patients
Secondly it also ensures that people who choose to live have the option to do so. When push comes to shove palliative care is expensive. In a non-euthanasia statie it is provided as a necessity because the only other option is the inhumane suffering of the patient. If the patient is given the ability to choose to die, then logically those that do not choose to not die have made the choice to live. But if living is merely a choice, then there is no necessity to provide palliative care. If death is an optional extra, then logically so is life. If a patient has the option of choosing to die, then not providing palliative care does not necessarily lead to the patient suffering inhumanly, and therefore is no longer a necessity.
And the experience of the Netherlands and other places that have legalised euthanasia bears this out. It is certainly no secret that the Netherlands has always had a sub-standard level of palliative care. So much so that many in the Netherlands do not actually have access to a reasonable level of palliative care should they chose to live. With Europe’s aging population the especially cynical may even suggest that this is how some in Europe wish to handle the problem Reduce the cost of the elderly by convincing them to kill themselves rather than be a financial burden on the state.
Besides this I think that the “inhumane suffering” that legalising euthanasia is supposed to prevent is in many cases completely overstated. The real problem in palliative care is not that we can’t make people reasonably comfortable as their illness progresses, it is that there simply isn’t the funding to do this for everyone. Most of the suffering of the terminally ill could be stopped merely by increasing the funding and relative importance of palliative care. That to me is a much better solution to the problem rather than letting people kill themselves for what is in essence, lack of funds.
So yes, I think that euthanasia should be illegal for everyone.
Siege, if I were counseling a deeply clinically depressed person, I would indeed shy away from discussing Hell, unless the question was directly asked. But I would not eliminate the possibility of it. Still, I am speaking about counseling a very sad but still essentially rational person. I have a friend who admits she has
toyed with the idea of suicide, but is deterred by the possibility of Hell. Granted, she has dealt with intense but temporary sadness, not chronic despair. I certainly would not encourage anyone to embrace a hope that suicide would be an escape from the pain they are feeling- whether by ceasing to exist or by going peacefully to God. Now, I do believe in a Purgatorial experience, and I would lean to believing that suicide would definitely bring that on- so that the person does not escape the pain they wanted to avoid, but that they do have the sure opportunity to be redeemed through it.
Dr.-assisted suicide or “therapeutic euthanasia” is a tough one. I’m one religious & political conservative who leans to a VERY CAUTIOUS, HEAVILY REGULATED allowing of that option under EXTRAORDIARILY EXCEPTIONAL circumstances. I don’t want to see the springing up of euthanasia mills in every big city.
Actually, I think that it is precisely because of that pain that people should live. One of the biggest problems in the world is that cannot comprehend suffering anymore. We lock ourselves away from it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and some seek to eliminate themselves out of fear of it. But pain is merely a bodily expression. In accepting, unerstanding, and conscientiously ignoring it, we can show people a better way, that there is nothing to fear./QUOTE]
Be sure to tell the paramedics that the next time you break a bone. Also make sure to refuse the morphine drip if you’re ever dying of cancer.