Those who read closely about the passing of Mrs. Graham noticed that her death was hastened by her own request. This quote is from the Fox News report, “Ruth Graham has been bedridden for months with degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck and underwent treatment for pneumonia two weeks ago. At her request, and in consultation with her family, she had stopped receiving nutrients through a feeding tube for the last few days, Ross said.”
There was a comment to my post on June 14 about Mrs. Graham’s passing that I believe deserves addressing. The question was… “Are you okay with her asking to have her feeding tube removed so she could die? Just wondering what your thoughts are on this type of death.” What follows are a few thoughts…
First… The concepts of Active and Passive euthanasia come from Dr. Norman Geisler’s book “Christian Ethics,” Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI. pages 157-172.
Second… I admit that this is a delicate topic that is not easily solved. My suggestion is that those who read this and contemplate what is written should study the Scripture… seek God through prayer… and carefully come to their own conclusion that is supported by God’s Word (Romans 14:5b, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 1 John 4:1).
There are two kinds of euthanasia, Active and Passive. Active is when deliberate acts are taken to end human life. It can be performed by the person or someone else. In the former case it is suicide and in the latter it is homicide. It can be with or without consent. Active euthanasia produces death.
Passive euthanasia allows death to occur. It may or may not be morally wrong depending on whether death results from withholding natural means necessary for sustaining life or from withdrawing unnatural means of resisting irreversible sickenss. Withholding natural means would be to not give a person water and nourishment needed to sustain life (In many cases this would be immoral). Withdrawing unnatural means would be stopping nourishment through a feeding tube or I.V. fluids (Given certain situations, this is acceptable.).
In my understanding of what took place, the Graham family followed the passive route. They (Mrs. Graham in consultation with her family) chose to withdraw unnatural means that was sustaining her life (Feeding tube and possibly an I.V.). Thus the natural course of events took place which was that she passed from this life into glory. This is similar (But not the exact same) as a living will that includes a D.N.R. (“Do Not Resuscitate”) request.
Notice closely that this was NOT an event anywhere near to what Dr. Jack Kevorkian was convicted of several years ago (Physician assisted suicide), nor was it what took place with Terri Schiavo when a judge ordered her feeding tube to be removed and water withheld. In both of those instances active euthanasia was implemented and were immoral.
The Graham family made a very difficult decision, but one that they all made together… including Mrs. Graham. Personally (Not that it matters any), I believe they made their decision in a manner that honored God, His Word, and kept intact the dignity of the family. This decision follows the recent dedication of Dr. Graham’s library in which he had many kind words for his wife (Click here).
The Graham family has shown how Philippians 1:27 is lived out in all times of life.
Update: Sunday June, 17, 2007. Click Here.
Philippians 1:21-24, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christs, for that is far better…”
Luke 16:22, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side…”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we say to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangle, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (ESV)
When I read the news story on Ruth Graham’s death and saw that line about the feeding tube, the medical ethics question came to my mind immediately.
I’m a Baptist. I spent ten years in overseas missions (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, the Pacific, and shorter stints in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Nepal). I’ve worked as a counselor at an abortion alternatives clinic.
I think we look for theological clarity in America beyond what’s actually available to us. That’s okay; that search is what makes us “Berean” in our Christianity (Acts 17:11 – “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”). But I think there is often a lack of humility. We arrive at absolute or extreme views and insist upon their value at the expense of discussion and further growth.
The pro-life positions on various issues provide the classic examples. Where does the Bible ever talk about God knitting us together in our mother’s test tube? I saw a blog recently that talked about the Old Testament’s emphasis on blood and breathe as indications of life – and a frozen embryo has neither. But pro-life people think those embryos are single cell babies – think they have God’s personal word on that in a way that, if you don’t see it, seems almost gnostic to you.
Ruth Graham’s death is being compared in the blogosphere to Terri Schiavo. But unlike Schiavo, there aren’t divided groups of relatives standing around arguing about whether Ruth Graham should be allowed to die. Unlike Schiavo, Ruth Graham had a hand in the decision about her own death. I suppose time and media interest were also factors: the Schiavo case drug on forever while we watched on TV; Ruth Graham’s death had taken place before the issue was even mentioned. And of course Schiavo’s husband, Michael, had a few flaws in his life and a conflict of interested in the form of a relationship with another woman when he decided to have Terri’s tube removed. Who wants to stand up and accuse Billy Graham of anything of that nature? Not me…
I’m not sure I agree with those who say that removing a feeding tube in and of itself is wrong. Is signing your own DNR order a form of suicide? At the age of 87 and given Graham’s medical problems, is a feeding tube a “heroic measure” being used to prolong her life?
I know that many in the Evangelical world are allergic to this color, but perhaps some gray does exist on the issue.
Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that there are inconsistencies in many evangelical’s arguments on moral matters. I also agree that what took place in the Graham’s family is nothing close to what happened with Schiavo. That was my reason for using Norman Geisler as a resource. He separates the two into thoughts I can get my arm around… and agree with.
Removing a feeding tube is not the same as withholding it. My grandmother is presently 93 years old. And the literature I read is that the closer she gets to her time, her unwillingness to eat will be a sign the end is drawing near.
In my small little world, removing a feeding tube is a moral Christian decision that I would support as it is being presented by the Graham family. As I’ve often heard, there are some things worse than death. That is specially true for Christians… “To die is gain.”
I hope you will read the link in the post to the full study that has more of what Geisler says on this issue.
I’m not sure I agree with this statement,
“…nor was it what took place with Terri Schiavo when a judge ordered her feeding tube to be removed and water withheld. In (her) instance active euthanasia was implemented and (was) immoral.”
If she had a living will that stated that if she were brain dead and unable to eat would that have made a difference in the morality? I think the immorality of her case is that her husband only decided to “act on her wishes” when it was convenient for him. Had he done so in the beginning would that have been sinful? I wonder about this because I have family members who have told me that they do Not want to be kept alive if they are unable to think or eat.
Here are my questions:
IF Terri’s wishes were clear and acted upon from the beginning would this have been sinful? Does the sin question come up only because her wishes were unknown?
The reason I say the actions related to Mrs. Schiavo were immoral is because: 1) It was a verbal desire that no one else knew about and was possibly self serving for the husband, 2) There was no definitive evidence that she was ever in a vegitative state (Here is where a great deal of the discussion and argument took place. I believe her parents said she did have a level of consciousness and others disputed their claim.).
IF she had a living will and the terms of it were met, then removal of life support might have been the proper response. Thus the answer to your question… IF her wishes were clear in a written legal document that were she to be in a persistent vegitative state from which she could not recover, and that she would not want food and nourishment in such a situation, then it would seem that removal of these would have been proper. You make a good point of her wishes being acted upon “from the beginning.”
Again… this is a difficult question to answer and as Greg commented earlier… there are gray areas where it becomes difficult if not impossible to answer dogmatically.
Thus two lessons: 1) Have a living will where your wishes are spelled out clearly. 2) “If any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives to all men liberally.”
I think we all like it better when things are specifically spelled out. If it’s is black and white and clear there is little room for disagreement. But life tends not to be so easily wrestled into neat little boxes of do’s and don’ts. It’s why Christ had to come, to give to us what we could not earn through the law. A right RELATIONSHIP with God. These difficult decision’s have to be weighed against God’s word (God’s will will never go against what he has said in his word), and prayer. When we find a peace that is consistent with the word of God we have most likely come upon the right path to take.
I thank God that I face death with the miracle of salvation, knowing that death is but the beginning for me.
We haven’t talked in a while. I thought you would like to know. Gwen’s mom Lois Whisenhunt went to her eternal home unexpectedly Saturday around 1:00 PM. She had been in the hospital for triple bypass surgery, had been having some complications, was given a very positive report early Saturday, but aspirated part of her breakfast and went to be with Jesus less than an hour later. The family had the doctors remove the medications which were keeping her heart going and we had the breathing tube removed. She had already suffered irreversible brain damage from the lack of oxygen. The family was completely comfortable in removing the external props that were keeping her shell alive; we felt that this allowed her to pass on with dignity. As Paul said it was “far better” for her, but it sure is painful for those she leaves behind. Praise God that we do not grieve as those without hope because we know that we will be reunited very soon.
As far as the discussion in question, as you know, I have more experience than I would ever have wanted. Gwen and I have made the decision to pull the life support from three children. None of our children had the opportunity to have a living will or to express their personal desires on the question. Modern medical science is indeed a marvel, but it can also be a monster. We have the ability to keep a tiny heart beating and lungs moving even when there is no possibility for that heart and those lungs to ever be able to function on their own. Our children were missing an enzyme in every cell in their perfectly shaped little bodies. That enzyme was necessary for energy transfer in the cells and without it, no muscle in the body would work. The brain showed alpha wave activity only which indicated no cognitive ability. By God’s grace I was able to hold all three as their little bodies passed away.
After five years of seminary, I assure you I have looked at Scriptures extensively and, in my opinion, there is no definitive answer that would fit every situation. A knowledge of God’s Word and a vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ prior to the point of having to make the tough decisions about life and death is the only formula I know that works.
Thank you for your dedication to God’s people and your insight into His Word.
“Sorrow not as the rest who have no hope” is a passage you and you family know all too well. I’m sorry that Mrs. Wisenhunt is no loger with you all, but “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” and for that I rejoice.
I remember all too well you telling me after the death of your third child that “Just because a life is short doesn’t mean it isn’t of value and importance.” I have carried that thought with me ever since then.
I am thankful that the faith you and Gwen have is strong because of both your knowledge of the The Lord and His Word. That doesn’t mean we don’t grieve… but it does mean we have hope in the midst of our grief.
Please tell Gwen, and specially Mr. Wisenhunt, of my prayers during their loss. And please know that I count you a dear friend in Christ! I miss all of you…
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.” ESV
Just when I think I have clarity, boom here comes something else. . . SO MANY CANS OF WORMS! Speaking of worms, what about this: One of my students parents decided to not treat, (as in radiation and chemo) their son’s cancer. He died last year. They were told he would die if they did not provide him with treatments. I am wondering if this scenero falls under this definition that was on your BLOG regarding passive euthanasian allowing death to occur?
Thanks for writing these thought provoking BLOGS!
Wow Tammy… that’s a great question that I’ve never considered before! I take that you’re asking if not choosing treatment is the same as passive euthanasia in that it is not prolonging the inevitable (death). Well… here are a few thoughts that may or not be of help.
I don’t want to presume upon judging the parent’s decision. I don’t know all the doctors told them or the aggressiveness of the cancer. There are some things worse than dying. I take it that they knew there was no hope of recovery so I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have made the same decision they did. As my friend Kim said, there aren’t any hard and fast rules on things like this, we have to do the best we can that doesn’t contradict Scripture. That said…
If that were my child I would like to think that I would apply every means necessary to give them a chance to live. Being married to a nurse I have heard of too many cases that people recover when doctors have said “There’s no hope.” I also tend to fall back on our God “who is able to do exceeding and abundantly above all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). We just never know what God might do! But again… I was not in their situation.
I guess that’s why I’d say it is so important to consider issues like this now… to study God’s Word… and contemplate as best we can what we would hope to do. Then, God forbid, when we do get to such a situation one day we seek God through prayer and make the best decision we can as led by His Spirit.
I don’t know if that helps any, but those are a few thoughts I have.
Ron thank you for opening this discussion. I am impressed with the thoughtful comments. It sounds like each respondent has spent some time thinking through this issue. This issue will become a major topic of debate in the years to come.
A godly doctor friend of mine uses the following criteris when assisting families in decisions like the Graham family faced last week. He says, “We take matters out of God’s hands either when we sustain life to avoid the natural process of death or when we intoduce death to avoid the natural process life.”