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Decisions on Life and Living

The Christian Church teaches that each life is created by God and that human life is the supreme gift of the Creator. Human life, according to Christian teaching, is not given unreservedly by God, but is given to man under the condition that he will be responsible for its’ preservation and protection. Human existence is a chance to build a relationship with God and is not to be discarded thoughtlessly as Jesus sacrificed himself to heal the broken relationship between God and mankind. The testimony that God respects life above all else is contained in the words of the Gospel:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”

(John 3:16)

Christian teaching questions when life begins and when it ends and has caused differences in opinions between the Christian denominations. Although death can be defined and demonstrated by advances in medical technology, an exact moment in which a life begins still rests on personal opinion. Consequently, a decision must be cast on when each Christian should show responsibility for this life.

The Bible is not silent on the issue of euthanasia and abortion in which the foundation for defending the value of human life is clear. The Apostle Paul teaches that the cessation of the life of any person is considered to be a crime not only in regard to that person, but likewise in regard to the Holy Spirit.

“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”

(Corinthians 6:19)

Responsibility for a new born child is embraced within Christianity. Numerous Christian denominations celebrate the acceptance of a child into the Christian Church during Baptism, Baptists do so in a service of dedication. The baptising of a child marks their initiation into the Christian faith, and with it the shared responsibility that the congregation now have for the child’s commitment to Christian belief and worship. Baptism signifies rebirth into a life free of sin and can be an essential sacrament for a newborn child who is critically ill as it is believed that if a baby dies before baptism she will never rest in peace in Heaven and thus will remain in turmoil in Limbo. Similarly, when approaching the end of life, equal importance is placed on the official forgiving of human sin during ‘Last Rights’ to ensure acceptance into Heaven by God. The importance of ‘Last Rights’ is most prominent in Catholicism.

Responsibility for the deceased rests in the burial and funeral of the loved one. The mourning of the death of a family member or friend is inevitable although Christians believe that spiritual life consists of dying with Christ to sin and passing with him through the experience of bodily death in order to be resurrected in God’s Kingdom and should therefore celebrate the end of life. Responsibility for those at the end of life is as significant as responsibility for those at the beginning of life. Many Christians would argue that since life is given by God it is only God who has the right to take life away, however achievements of medical science and technology now permit life to be prolonged, sacrificing self-dignity and quality of life. Although the deliberate taking of a human life is forbidden by God, many Christians agree there are very strong arguments that people should not be kept alive at all costs when they are suffering unendurable pain. Christians embrace hope, love and compassion, but at what extent should they ignore suffering in order to fulfill their moral sense of duty in preserving life?

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The taking of another person’s life is a sin against God;

“Thou shall not murder”

(Exodus 20:13 {Sixth Commandment})

The sixth commandment prohibits the taking of another’s life and the taking of the life of the unborn. To generalize, Christianity looks upon abortion and euthanasia with disdain. Opinions of the sanctity of life make it difficult for a believer to justify an abortion or an act of merciful killing, although some denominations would agree that there are certain circumstances in which these actions could be justified.

Abortion is seen to aid difficulties regarding the birth of a mentally or terminally ill foetus, and is often the answer to unwanted pregnancy caused by incest or rape. Some Christians argue that God has given His people dominion over living and that He wants them to have quality of life: a child brought up in a household without love and nurture possesses little quality of life. Moreover God is love and the prevention of intolerable suffering is a loving action.

Although all denominations of Christianity agree that abortion and euthanasia should not be encouraged, there are differences in opinion as to when they are acceptable. Many Christians consider abortion as a violation of the sixth commandment, in particular the Roman Catholic denomination. The Catholic Church argues that:

“Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are the most abominable of crimes”

(Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 51)

In Catholic ideology human life begins at the moment of conception. From that moment the unborn baby’s life is sacred and God-given, and its protection should be paramount. The bible states that life begins in the mother’s womb;

“For you created my inmost being: you knit me together in my mothers womb.”

(Psalm 139)

Modern science proves that the baby is a separate human being from conception. It is never just a part of his or her mother’s body and although in the womb it deserves the same level of protection as any other member of the human family. With this understanding, the Catholic denomination believes that abortion and euthanasia are morally unacceptable: it is murder and contrary to the dignity of human beings; destroying respect that is due to God. Furthermore, the Pope believes euthanasia and abortion to be ‘a grave violation of the law of God’: the Church’s concern being to bring the light and life of Christ to everyone who needs it.

Other Christian denominations, in particular Roman Catholicism, encourage support of hospices as a compassionate alternative to euthanasia. Specialising in pain control, the aim of the hospice movement is to give people with painful terminal diseases the best possible quality of life. Dame Cicely Saunders founded the first modern hospice in 1967 on the principles of caring for the sick, researching into pain control, searching for cures for diseases and teaching nurses and doctors how to cope with terminal disease.

Not all denominations of Christianity possess a view as singly focused as that of the Catholic Church: the Church of England agree that although the deliberate taking of a human life is forbidden, there are very strong arguments that people should not be kept alive at all costs when they are suffering intolerable pain. It is a principal belief that people have been given free will and they should be able to use this free will to end their own lives.

Anglicans argue that spiritual life consists of dying with Christ to the sin of the individual as well as the sin of mankind, and consequently passing with Him through the experience of bodily death in order to be resurrected in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, death should be free of pain as it is not the end of a mortal life, merely a stepping stone into immortal existence.

Similarly, where abortion is concerned, The Church of England believes there to be certain circumstances in which it is accepted:

“The foetus is to be specially respected and protected. Nonetheless the life of the foetus is not absolutely sacrosanct if it endangers the life of the mother.”

(Church of England Report, 1984)

Difficulty arises as to where to draw the line on which circumstances should allow for the termination of an unborn child e.g. incest or rape and which circumstances should deny the opportunity to abort an unwanted child e.g. poor income or living conditions. The Church of England stresses the importance of individual conscience before God and allows for Anglican worshipers to determine in which conditions they would permit abortion; encouraging members of the Church to show understanding, love and compassion for quality of life.

All denominations of Christianity realise that abortion and euthanasia are two of the most critical issues ever to face society. Although there are ranging levels of acceptance for both issues, Christians prefer to offer practical ways in which people can overcome the desire to terminate life, whether at the beginning or approaching the end. Support is on hand in the form of prayer, counselling and guidance to the direct persons involved and those that, although indirect in the decided form of action, may be effected by the decision.

Furthermore in the case of abortion, Christians acknowledge that whether legal or illegal abortions will still take place. Non-fundamentalist Christians therefore try to deal with this in a practical way promoting fostering and adoption as sensible and humane alternatives.

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“What Christians believe about life is up to them. They should not try to make others accept their position.”

It could be argued that everybody has the right to their own beliefs and although people should welcome fresh insight and education into alternative opinions, it is disrespectful to belittle someone’s existing morals, therefore Christians should deter from persuading others to accept their position on the ‘Sanctity of Life’. Emphasis on Christian teaching is evident in education; children are brainwashed with the indoctrination of Christian beliefs and principles. However this is not a new vogue: for centuries our legal system has been built from Christian codes of conduct and every day we aspire to live by these laws; the sixth commandment “Thou shall not murder” remains an absolute law respected and abided by. In the past Christians have inflicted their opinions on others and dismissed others’ beliefs with their bigotry, however in the incident of ‘The Woman Caught in Adultery’ Jesus taught that Christians must be open-minded and considerate rather than condescending and arrogant;

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

(John 8:7)

It would therefore follow that Christians should not suggest that one man’s morals are unparalleled to those of Christianity.

On the other hand it could be said that Christians should always have the capability to voice their opinion and be respected for it. It can be understood that if Christianity feels so strongly about the ‘Sanctity of Life’ that Christians would take advantage of every opportunity presented to them by which they could argue their beliefs. However to what extent may the public make known their opinion on certain aspects of life? At what instance does opinion become blasphemous and divisive?

Free speech and the right to pass personal judgment regularly causes disarray within the USA where Pro-Life groups feel so passionately about the injustice of abortion that they take to the street to argue their case. However the Pro-Life campaign goes to extreme lengths to protest against abortion laws. Relentlessly, the campaigners threaten to shoot surgeons and nurses who carry out the legal procedure, defending their actions with the argument that medics are willing to murder a living foetus and therefore lack care for human life.

In conclusion, the beliefs we continue to develop provide a framework within which we consider issues and comprehend where we stand on them, these beliefs change and evolve over time as we encounter new ideas and learn through new experiences, therefore personally I advocate choice and believe that everybody has the right to voice their own opinion as long as they don’t suppress opposing attitudes or impose their own on others.