General Synod Statements: Physician-Assisted Suicide

In 1994, the Commission on Christian Action reported to the General Synod about physician-assisted suicide. They concluded:

What Christians say about issues of morality ought to be and usually is a reflection of their fundamental faith convictions. There are at least three of these convictions that appear especially relevant to the question of whether it is acceptable for Christians to seek a physician’s assistance in committing suicide in the midst of extreme suffering.

A fundamental conviction Christians have is that they do not belong to themselves. Life, despite its circumstances, is a gift from God, and each individual is its steward…Contemporary arguments for the “right” to assistance to commit suicide are based on ideas of each individual’s autonomy over his or her life. Christians cannot claim such autonomy; Christians acknowledge that they belong to God…Christians yield their personal autonomy and accept a special obligation, as the first answer of the Heidelberg Catechism invites people to confess: ‘I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ’ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1)… A decision to take one’s own life thus appears to be a denial that one belongs to God.

A second conviction is that God does not abandon people in times of suffering…Christians express their faith in God’s love by trusting in God’s care for them. A decision to end one’s life would appear to be a cessation of that trust…Suffering calls upon people to trust God even in the valley of the shadow of death. It calls on people to let God, and not suffering, determine the agenda of their life and their death.

A third conviction is that in the community of God’s people, caring for those who are dying is a burden Christians are willing to share. Both living and dying should occur within a caring community, and in the context of death, Christian discipleship takes the form of caring for those who are dying.

This is an era when many people find legislating morality a questionable practice. Should Christians promote legislation which embodies their conclusions about the morality of physician-assisted suicide?...If Christians are to be involved in debating laws regulating assisted suicide, it will be out of a concern for the health and well-being of society…As a society, there is no common understanding that gives any universal meaning to “detrimental.” In humility, Christians can simply acknowledge this, and proceed…to share our own unique perspectives, inviting others to consider them and the faith that gives them meaning. (MGS 1994: 70-71, 74-75)

This position was reaffirmed at the 1995, 1996, and 1998 General Synods.