Where Science and Faith Converge

Ethical Alternatives on Life and Death

By Kenneth R. Samples - June 1, 2011

As any savvy fan knows, Los Angeles Lakers hall of fame shooting guard Jerry West’s silhouette serves as the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) official logo. To encounter West’s image or likeness is to encounter the NBA.

The concept of an “image and likeness” plays a critical role in historic Christianity’s view of humankind. The Bible reveals that all human beings are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27, NIV) and, though marred by sin, all people—believer and nonbeliever, male and female alike—reflect the image of God. This foundational biblical teaching launches the Christian view that each individual possesses inherent dignity, moral worth, and genuine value. The imago Dei (Latin: the image of God) lays the foundation for the sanctity of human life. It is this image that makes human life unrepeatable and worthy of respect.

Though the great moral issues of our day pose serious challenges, historic Christianity’s focus on the imago Dei offers practical solutions that protect life and retain human dignity. Two specific examples demonstrate viable ethical alternatives to life and death dilemmas.

Alternative to Abortion

The vast majority of abortions are obtained for reasons of convenience (birth control), not for rare matters relating to the mother’s health, or the rarer case of conception through rape or incest.1

Ironically, it’s been estimated that the number of abortions each year in the US roughly equals the number of adoption requests. When young women (and men) embrace the ethical alternative of adoption over abortion they preserve life made in the image of God and avoid the devastating effects of continued guilt and shame. Adoption is thus a real moral alternative to the plague of abortion on demand.

Alternative to Active Euthanasia

Active euthanasia is the intentional taking of a human life by the individual (suicide) or by another (homicide) for a claimed good purpose (e.g., the ending of human suffering). Christian ethicists have condemned active euthanasia as morally offensive. (Passive euthanasia, where extraordinary medical intervention is required to artificially keep a person alive, is noncontroversial.)

How can Christians hope to ensure a “good death” for a suffering person? Hospice, which has deep Christian roots, employs “palliative care,” which asserts that while someone with a terminal illness cannot be cured, nevertheless they can be cared for and comforted in their condition of suffering (thus moving “from cure to care”). Hospice care presents a viable ethical alternative to the end-of-life solutions posed by active euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

Human life is valuable because of its Creator’s ultimate value. Thus, as advances in science and technology present new ethical challenges, the historic Christian worldview—rooted in a God who cares about his creation—offers timeless ethical alternatives.2

  1. For common factors relating to abortion and a defense of life, see Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009).
  2. See John Jefferson Davis, Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2004).

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