AN INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM BARNES, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AT WALCHA
1. Why are you opposed to euthanasia?
The Sixth Commandment is clear: “You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).” But apart from the Scriptures, there are other reasons. In 2018, Dr. David Goodall flew to Switzerland at the age of 104 in order to end his life. He summed up modern thinking on euthanasia very well, giving two basic reasons for his decision: “I was considered incapable of looking after myself. And it upset me greatly being constrained… My life is no longer much worth living… If one chooses to kill oneself then that’s fair enough. I don’t think anyone else should interfere.”
In the first place, Dr. Goodall seemed to be concerned that he would be a burden to himself. Other people are concerned that their illness or old age will cause them to be a burden to others, especially family. What do we say in response to this? We utterly reject the notion that dependence or being “constrained” is shameful or worthy of death over life. Quite the opposite, to care for people unable to care for themselves is a God-honouring, dignified task. The words of the song “Brother let me be your servant” are true: “Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”
Recently, Dr. Benoit Beuselinck, an oncologist, shared a story about how he learnt to deal with such cases. He spoke of a 72 year-old woman who was asking for euthanasia. She was suffering from metastatic breast cancer and was receiving ineffective treatment. Hospital transfers were becoming difficult and she did not want to be a burden on her daughter, who had her own family and work. Dr. Beuselinck continues: “We went to see the patient. We agreed that her therapy, although well tolerated, was a burden, because it was not very effective while obliging her to come every three weeks to the hospital. We agreed to stop the therapy and to go for best supportive care at home. But she did not want to be a burden for her daughter. I asked her if – during her life – she took care of some sick people. She said that she took care of her father during the last three years of his life and then – when he died – of her mother who was ill for one year before dying. ‘Was this a burden for you to take care of your parents?’ ‘Oh, no, doctor, not at all, I was very happy to do so.’ Before I could tell her that she would not be a burden for her daughter, the daughter took the feet of the patient and started crying, asking her mother whether ‘she could please take care of her in the coming months’.” As far as I can tell they were not professing Christians, but it is still a good story.
Dr Goodall’s second reason for wanting to end his life was simply that it was his right to do so and nobody else should interfere. What do we say to that? For one, to insist on my right to die as I want to die, is to place other peoples’ lives at risk. Paul Keating has rightly said that if euthanasia is legalized (which it now is in all Australian States), “there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead.”
Michael Burleigh wrote a helpful history about euthanasia in Germany from 1900 to 1945, focusing on the Nazi Action T4 program in which tens of thousands of vulnerable people were euthanized involuntarily. He too does not seem to be a Christian, but one of the lessons that came through clearly was how logical it was to take the small step from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia. In his words, voluntary euthanasia “dovetailed” into involuntary euthanasia. He quotes one doctor at the time who said that he saw no moral difference between assisting someone in chronic pain to die peacefully, and the involuntary killing of mental patients for whom “release from this life signifies an act of mercy.”
What about the person in terrible physical pain? A person may, for example, in good conscience before God, refuse cancer treatment or withdraw from treatment. So too, we may seek pain relief, and even strong pain relief, but the aim must be to reduce pain, not take life.
2. Your church runs a small aged care home. The recent Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Bill states that aged care facilities must not hinder a person’s access to information about voluntary assisted dying. That means you must allow a pro-euthanasia representative to talk to aged care residents about how they can get access VAD. Will you allow this to happen?
No, we won’t allow it to happen or cooperate with any request for it. How could we? We won’t have anything to do with it, and if that puts us at odds with NSW law, but so be it. The civil law changed, not us. May God make us strong like those women in Exodus 1, Shiphrah and Puah, who feared God more than the Pharaoh.
3. Some professing Christians say that they support euthanasia. What would you say to them?
We must seek to bring them back to the Scriptures, which are so clear on this. A professing Christian who thinks that taking your own life or someone else’s life is morally right is, at the very least, disordered in his thinking. We stand on the side of life.
I suspect that for many such people it is fear of pain or future pain, or the agony of watching a loved one die that has caused them to think that euthanasia should be considered. But isn’t our God greater than all these and aren’t we to bring all our burdens to Him? Trusting Him we are not to act outside of His will.
William Cowper suffered terribly his whole life. He was a Christian, but he was never cured of his dreadful depression. Yet, God helped him three ways. First, in his creativity. Cowper was an excellent poet and undoubtedly that helped him face his suffering. Two, his friendship with John Newtown. Three, and most importantly, God Himself. It was the truth of God’s word and the hope of Christ Jesus our Redeemer that was his anchor. God has ordained every day given to us, and may we trust Him, even on the most painful of days.
Recently, I heard two friends speak for what, I think, will be the last time this side of eternity. They have worshipped the Lord together for more than four decades. Listening in, it was wonderful to hear them assure each other that “God is faithful and He will be with you.” A Christian sings, “I will trust You in the darkness” and “let me die Thy peoples’ death.” Just as those two believers encouraged each other in the truths of God – and encouraged me, as I had the joy to listen in – so I would also seek to encourage other Christians in the same way.
May God protect the vulnerable. May God keep us from the horrors that could be, and have been. Despite these laws, may God restrain the hand of evil. And may He give us courage, strength and loving care to protect life until its natural end.
– Graham Barnes