The destiny of unbelievers at death continues to bother some Christians. Some believe that the Bible confirms eternal punishment (meaning punishing with torment forever after death) for unbelievers. Others consider that this eternal damnation is false teaching.
There was a back and forth between people who believe in eternal damnation of unbelievers and those who reject this doctrine on an Internet Christian forum.
One fellow said:
Those verses [Mat 25:46 and Rev 14:11] say that their punishment/torment goes on, continues, for ever.
In order for the punishment/torment to continue forever the person being punished/tormented also must "go on forever."
A person who is reduced to a pile of ashes can no longer be punished or tormented.
I don’t understand why that is so hard for you to grasp.
This person supported the eternal torment for unrepentant unbelievers after death.
1. Torment of unbelievers does not continue forever
Another had been defending no eternal punishment for the wicked on a Christian forum. He wrote:
Rev 14:11 doesn’t say their torment continues forever. It clearly says the smoke of their (Beast worshippers) torment rises forever. And furthermore this occurs in the presence of the Lamb, not in Hell or the Lake of Fire. Is it your view that the Lamb will be in Hell tormenting the lost forever?
Revelation 14:10he himself also will drink of the wine of the anger of God that has been mixed full strength in the cup of his wrath, and will be tortured with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. ?
The Bible doesn’t say that the lost’s eternal punishment is torment forever. It clearly teaches that death (a second death) is the punishment called for.
This is what happens when you pluck one verse (Rev 14:11 ESV) out of context and make it a proof-text. Let’s look at the context:
6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”
9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14:6-13 ESV).
3. The teaching of Rev 14:6-13 (ESV) is that
John in his revelation saw angels who had an eternal gospel to proclaim to people on the earth from every nation, tribe, language and people (v. 6).
That message was to fear God and give him glory because …
An hour of judgment has come (v. 7).
Another angel proclaimed that message of the fallen Babylon the great who made nations drink the wine of the passion of sexual immorality (v. 8)
Another angel, with others following, announced in a loud voice that anyone who worships the beast and its image and receives the mark of the beast will drink of the wine of God’s wrath and will experience the full strength of the cup of God’s anger, being tormented with fire and sulphur (vv. 9-10).
This experience of God’s wrath and anger will be in the presence of holy angels and the Lamb (v. 10).
The smoke of this torment goes up for eis aiwnas aiwnwn, i.e. for aeons of aeons. The meaning is that ‘smoke’ (a symbol) of this torment is for ‘many eons, each of vast duration, are multiplied by many more, which we imitate by "forever and ever." Human language is able to use only temporal terms to express what is altogether beyond time and is timeless. The Greek takes its greatest term for time, the eon, pluralizes this, and then multiplies it by its own plural’ (Lenski 1943/1963:48, 438).
‘Smoke’ is parallel to ‘fire and brimstone’ and is human language to convey what is experienced in the place where the worshippers of the Beast experience torment that continues for multiplied aeons. This is hell with eternal torment, using symbolic language (v. 11).
If one wants to water down the ‘aeons’ to make it less than forever and ever, John makes that impossible in v. 11 because he adds, ‘they have no rest, day or night’. There is no rest 24/7 for the unbelieving worshippers of the Beast.
It is not surprising, therefore, that John – in light of the horrific eternal experiences of the unbelievers – calls on the saints to endure and keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (v. 12).
In contrast to those serving the Beast, those who die in the Lord are blessed from now on. They rest from their labours (again this contrasts with the horrible experience of those drinking God’s wrath and the cup of his anger) – v. 13.
3.1 The damned experience torment forever after death
There are excellent, contextual reasons to demonstrate that Rev 14:11 (ESV) refers to the damned who experience torment for aeons multiplied by aeons – forever and ever. The verse reads, ‘And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name’.
They receive no rest day and night from this. It’s in the presence of the Lord because it is the Lord’s wrath they experience.
and the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image, and whoso receiveth the mark of his name.
The doctrine of the New Testament is so strong and emphatic with regard to the eternal punishment of the wicked, that we are simply not allowed to set it aside as, "sub-Christian, or to interpret it in such a way as to remove the abrasive truth of eternal punishment."[Mounce’s commentary, p. 277] Jesus spoke of this at greater length than did any of his apostles. After we have made every allowance for the figurative nature of the apocalyptic language, there still remains, "the terrifying reality of divine wrath,"[Mounce’s commentary, p. 277] to be poured out upon those who persist in following the devil. It is no light matter to abandon the holy teachings of the sacred New Testament, and to substitute the easy rules of man-made, man-controlled, and man-centered religion.
3.2 The torment of God’s wrath in the presence of the Lamb
Therefore, the context of Rev 14:11 (ESV) demonstrates that those who are serving the Beast, the unbelieving damned, will experience the torment of God’s wrath in the presence of the Lamb for aeons upon aeons – forever and ever Amen! That’s clear Bible teaching and one has to do a lot of squirming to make it say that unbelievers do not experience eternal torment. It’s called eisegesis to impose another reading on it.
This was an audacious request on a Christian forum that did not seem to indicate too much thought about the question: ‘Where in scripture does it tell us which books of the bible are to be included in the bible? (table of contents)’
How should I respond?
1. No need to inform first century Christians
There was no need to tell the Christians of the first century. They knew which books were included in the OT canon. That’s why Paul could say to the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 (ESV): ‘Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so’. Which Scriptures?
Isn’t that amazing that the Book of Acts does not need to articulate a list of the Books of the OT so that the Berean Christians would know which books were in the OT and which were out of it? Paul did not have to list them and say, ‘Here is a list of the books contained in Scripture that you should use to check the authenticity and validity of my teaching’. They knew which books were in the OT canon.
In the four NT Gospels, I do not read that there was any dispute between Jesus and the Jewish leaders over the extent of the OT canon.
2. Persistence: No list of books in the canon
The forum fellow persisted in another thread: ‘Scripture does not give us a list of books that are to be in the Bible. How do we know we have the right books in the Bible? Scripture is silent about it’.
Because the OT and NT do not give a list of books that are inspired of God to be included in the Bible does not mean that what we have is illegitimate. In fact, the word, Bible, appears nowhere in the Bible (that I’m aware of), so why are you supporting the use of the term, Bible?
However, God gave teachers to the church (1 Cor 12:28 ESV; Eph 4:11 ESV) who guide us through that process. These teachers themselves are not perfect in their understanding as Paul told the Bereans (Acts 17:11 ESV) that they were to check his teaching against the Scripture. Which Scripture? The OT. Paul didn’t say in Acts 17, here’s a list of the OT books that you need to use to check my teaching. They knew what they were as affirmed by the Jews.
3. Pseudo-gospels readily available
In the first century and beyond, there were plenty of fake gospels available. Do you want the pseudo-gospel of Peter (GPet) to be in the NT? It was rejected by the early church fathers because of its heretical teachings. It was found with the Qumran documents. It was mentioned by early church historian, Eusebius in his Church History (3.3.1-4; 3.25.6; and 6.12.3-6).
Why not also theGospel of Thomas (written about mid to late second century)? If you read the Gospel of Thomas and compare it with each of the 4 Gospels in the NT, you will notice the marked difference in content. I’d suggest a read of Nicholas Perrin’s, Thomas, the Other Gospel (Perrin 2007). Perrin concludes his book with this comment:
Is this the Other Gospel we have been waiting for? Somehow, I suspect, we have heard this message before. Somehow we have met this Jesus before. The Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, ‘I am not your saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation, will be yours – in this life.’ Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. This is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach.
If the Gospel of Thomas is good news for anybody, it is good news to those who are either intent on escaping the world or are already quite content with the way things are (Perrin 2007:139).
As for the Gospel of Peter [GPet], please read this assessment by C L Quarles (2006). Here are a few grabs from Quarles’ critique of GPet:
Such compositional projection and retrojection [of GPet] are absent from the canonical Gospels. This suggests that the authors of the canonical Gospels were constrained to preserve faithfully the traditions about Christ, but that the author of GP felt free to exercise his imagination in creative historiography. The compositional strategy of projection suggests that the GP shares a common milieu with second-century pseudepigraphical works and casts doubt on [John Dominic] Crossan’s claim that the GP antedates the canonical Gospels….
Compositional strategies that were popular in the second century can readily explain how the author of the GP produced his narrative from the canonical Gospels….
The GP is more a product of the author’s creative literary imagination than a reflection of eyewitness accounts of actual events (Quarles 2006:116, 119).
Charles Quarles has an online assessment of GPet HERE.
Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptic studies at Germany’s University of Munster, analyzed the Gospel of Judas and submitted the following assessment.
“The kind of writing reminds me very much of the Nag Hammadi codices,” he wrote, referring to a famed collection of ancient manuscripts.
“It’s not identical script with any of them. But it’s a similar type of script, and since we date the Nag ‘Hammadi codices to roughly the second half of the fourth century or the first part of the fifth century, my immediate inclination would be to say that the Gospel of Judas was written by a scribe in that same period, let’s say around the year 400.”
The Gnostic authors often borrowed the names of Jesus’ disciples to attach to their texts, such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary. The Gospel of Judas has been discovered, restored, and published most recently. Using the disciples’ names or other Biblical names gives the appearance of authority, but it is deceptive. The original disciples or Bible characters had nothing to do with these writings. The teaching of Jesus, the names of his disciples, and the four Gospels traveled well. Gnostics capitalized on this fame.
All of these (late) Gnostic documents would not be a concern to anyone but a few specialists. Yet some scholars, who have access to the national media and who write their books for the general public, imply that Gnostic texts should be accepted as equally valid and authoritative as the four canonical Gospels, or stand a step or two behind the Biblical Gospels. At least the Gnostic scriptures, so these scholars say today, could have potentially been elevated to the canon, but were instead suppressed by orthodox church leaders. (Orthodox literally means “correct or straight thinking,” and here it means the early church of Irenaeus and Athanasius, to cite only these examples).
This series challenges the claim that the Gnostic texts should be canonical or even a step or two behind the four Biblical Gospels. The Gnostic texts were considered heretical for good reason.
I examined why some of the content of these pseudo-gospels are not included in the NT in my doctoral dissertation. Take a read of the Gospel of Peter (online) and it should become evident why such fanciful imagination is not included in the NT. This section of GPet states:
35 Now in the night whereon the Lord’s day dawned, as the soldiers were keeping guard two by two in every watch, 36 there came a great sound in the heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men descend thence, shining with (lit. having) a great light, and drawing near unto the sepulchre. 37 And that stone which had been set on the door rolled away of itself and went back to the side, and the sepulchre was
X. 38 opened and both of the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw that, they waked up the centurion and the elders (for they also were there keeping 39 watch); and while they were yet telling them the things which they had seen, they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the 40 one), and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that 41 was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they 42 heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea.
Here we have a walking and talking cross that came out of the sepulchre – fanciful nonsense! One does not have to be very astute to reject this kind of extra ‘gospel’, yet John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar believes GPet is the original Cross Gospel from which the other Gospels derived this information (Crossan 1994:154-155).
6. Questions about formation of the NT canon
I still have some questions about the formation of the NT canon that remain unanswered at this time. Historically, there was a partial list available, known as the Muratorian Canon (ca. AD 170-200). My questions surround the process of formation of the canon that included the procedure used to determine if a book was theopneustos (breathed out by God – 2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV). I had questions about two church councils in the late third century that finally affirmed the NT canon.
Historical details include the following:
The first historical reference listing the exact 27 writings in the orthodox New Testament is in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367 AD. His reference states that these are the only recognized writings to be read in a church service. The first time a church council ruled on the list of “inspired” writings allowed to be read in church was at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD. No document survived from this council – we only know of this decision because it was referenced at the third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD. Even this historical reference from Carthage, Canon 24, does not “list” every single document. For example, it reads, “the gospels, four books…” The only reason for this list is to confirm which writings are “sacred” and should be read in a church service. There is no comment as to why and how this list was agreed upon (Baker 2008).
Church historian, Earle Cairns, answers some of these issues with this assessment of the development of the list of books that became known as the NT:
People often err by thinking that the canon was set by church councils. Such was not the case, for the various church councils that pronounced upon the subject of the canon of the New Testament were merely stating publicly … what had been widely accepted by the consciousness of the church for some time. The development of the canon was a slow process substantially completed by A.D. 175 except for a few books whose authorship was disputed (Cairns 1981:118).
Cairns explained further why there was a delay in accepting certain NT books as canonical:
Apparently the Epistles of Paul were first collected by leaders in the church of Ephesus. This collection was followed by the collection of the Gospels sometime after the beginning of the second century. The so-called Muratorian Canon, discovered by Lodovico A. Muratori (1672-1750) in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, was dated about 180. Twenty-two books of the New Testament were looked upon as canonical. Eusebius about 324 thought that at least twenty books of the New Testament were acceptable on the same level as the books of the Old Testament. James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were among the books whose place in the canon was still under consideration. The delay in placing these was caused primarily by an uncertainty concerning questions of authorship. Athanasius, however, in his Easter letter of 367 to the churches under his jurisdiction as the bishop of Alexandria, listed as canonical the same twenty-seven books that we now have in the New Testament. Later councils, such as that at Carthage in 397, merely approved and gave uniform expression to what was already an accomplished fact generally accepted by the church over a long period of time. The slowness with which the church accepted Hebrews and Revelation as canonical is indicative of the care and devotion with which it dealt with this question (Cairns 1981:118-119).
Eusebius (ca. AD 265-330) wrote this of the disputed and rejected NT writings:
3. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name.
4. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books (Eusebius 1890, 3.25.3-4).
7. An eminent church historian’s assessment
Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church is considered one of the most comprehensive expositions of church history by a near-contemporary scholar. He wrote:
The Jewish canon, or the Hebrew Bible, was universally received, while the Apocrypha added to the Greek version of the Septuagint were only in a general way accounted as books suitable for church reading, and thus as a middle class between canonical and strictly apocryphal (pseudonymous) writings. And justly; for those books, while they have great historical value, and fill the gap between the Old Testament and the New, all originated after the cessation of prophecy, and they cannot therefore be regarded as inspired, nor are they ever cited by Christ or the apostles. (Schaff n.d., vol 3, § 118. Sources of Theology. Scripture and Tradition).
8. Which books were confirmed in the Hebrew OT?
Page from an 11th-century AramaicTargum manuscript of the Hebrew Bible (Wikipedia)
Which books were included by the Jews in the Hebrew Bible?
I reject the inclusion of the Apocrypha (Deutero-Canonical books) in the OT. This is the position adopted by Roman Catholic authority, Jerome (ca. 347-420), who, in his preface to the Vulgate version of the Apocrypha’s Book of Solomon stated that the church reads the apocryphal books ‘for example and instruction of manners’ but not to ‘apply them to establish any doctrine’. In fact, Jerome rejected Augustine’s unjustified acceptance of the Apocrypha.
The Jewish scholars who met at Jamnia, ca. AD 90, did not accept the Apocrypha in the inspired Jewish canon of Scripture. The Apocrypha was not contained in the Hebrew Bible and Jerome knew it. In his preface to the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible, he rejected the apocryphal additions to Daniel, i.e. Bel and the Dragon, and Susanna. Jerome wrote:
The stories of Susanna and of Bel and the Dragon are not contained in the Hebrew…. For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew…. After all, both Origen, Eusebius and Appolinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece acknowledge that … these visions are not found amongst the Hebrews, and therefore they are not obliged to answer to Porphyry for these portions which exhibit no authority as Holy Scripture ” (in Geisler 2002:527, emphasis added).
The Protestant canon of 39 OT books, excluding the Apocrypha, coincides with the Hebrew 22 books of the OT.
There are many other reasons for rejecting the Apocrypha. Any reasonable person, who reads Tobit, and Bel and the Dragon, knows how fanciful they become when compared with the God-breathed Scripture.
There was no need for the apostles to provide the people of the first century with a list of the OT Books contained in Scripture. It was a given as Paul, the redeemed Pharisee, made evident with his comment to the Berean Christians in Acts 17:11 (ESV). In addition, the Jewish OT canon did not include the Deuterocanonical Books (the Apocrypha).
The Hebrew scholars who met at Jamnia about AD 90 confirmed the 22 OT books in the Hebrew canon of Scripture (which are 39 books in the Protestant canon).
There are good reasons why Gnostic and other gospels were not included by the teachers of the early Christian church in establishing the NT canon. A reading of the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Judas, and other pseudo-gospels makes evident that fanciful, speculative, creative content was evidence that these ‘other gospels’ were not the genuine product to include in the NT.
At least 22-23 of the 27 NT books had been affirmed as authoritative for the canon by the late second century. The remainder were questioned because of uncertainty of authorship. However, by the end of the third century, all of the NT canonical books had been gathered and affirmed by church use.
Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.
Eusebius 1890. Church history. Tr by A C McGiffert. Ed by P Schaff & H Wace, from Nicene and Post-Nicene fathers, 2nd series, vol 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Rev & ed for New Advent by K Knight at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2501.htm (Accessed 28 October 2016).
Perrin, N 2007. Thomas, the other gospel. London: SPCK.
Quarles, C. L. 2006, The Gospel of Peter: Does it contain a precanonical resurrection narrative? in R B Stewart (ed), The resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in dialogue, 106-120. Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
Schaff, P n.d. History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-600, vol 3. Available at: Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc3 (Accessed 25 October 2016).
If you wanted to euthanise someone with a drug or provide a drug for self-administered suicide, which drug would you recommend?
Pentobarbital (trade name Nembutal) is the lethal drug recommended and made available through Australia’s Dr Philip Nitschke of Exit International for euthanasia or assisted suicide. Nitschke is a former medical doctor who also has a PhD in laser physics.
What would you do if your national TV network, funded by tax payers’ dollars to the tune of approximately $1 billion Australian annually, deliberately promoted only one side of a highly emotional contemporary issue? ABC TV’s 7.30 programme in Australia did just that on Thursday, 20 October 2016, with its advocacy for assisted suicide. How could one possibly describe it other than pursuing the role of an activist promoter?
What did it do? It provided video of euthanasia advocate, Max Bromson’s, giving himself a lethal dose of Nembutal, obtained from Philip Nitschke’s Exit International, to end his life. This was from video that the family filmed of his taking this lethal dose and then released to the ABC and the public.
The ABC gave only one side of the euthanasia controversy (with a small exception). It was grossly imbalanced in its coverage.
Therefore, I considered the place to begin was to …
1. Lodged a complaint with the ABC
This was my online complaint sent on 21 October 2016:
I viewed your story in support of euthanasia on the 7.30 programme, Thursday 20 October 2016. The story is titled, Family releases video of euthanasia advocate’s final moments, available at: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2016/s4560443.htm. It includes video and transcript. This shows the dark side of what Philip Nitschke will do illegally.
I protest at the way 7.30 did not provide balance in this story. As a $1 billion tax payer-funded broadcaster, we deserve balance in programming. That is not what I viewed last night.
In this entire story, the only words against euthanasia were from South Australian Labor MP, Tom Kenyon:
TOM KENYON, SA LABOR MP: Some of us are Christians in this Parliament and we have views that are formed and informed by our Christian upbringing and our faith.
There’s nothing wrong with that….
TOM KENYON: The idea that the state should assist in the deaths of people, to contribute financially through resources, the allocation of resources to the deaths of people, is not something I’m prepared to counter [the video said ‘countenance’].
This was an emotionally charged story to support euthanasia, even though it is illegal in Australia. There was not a word on issues such as:
These are the possible deleterious consequences for a nation that legalises the killing of people under any circumstances and assists in their suicides.
All human beings have a right to life and palliative care during their painful sicknesses and dying years.
The medical profession’s role is to help control the pain and not organise the death or killing.
Reasons why killing of human beings should not be legislated.
What a death culture of euthanasia and assisted suicide will do to the culture of the nation.
I am not writing as a theoretician. My wife is dying of leukaemia. I have two severe disabilities.
What will you do to bring balance to the 7.30 programme’s advocacy for euthanasia that was evident last night?
Spencer Gear PhD
I asked for a response via email but my experience with the ABC in the past is not to be hopeful of any lasting change in journalistic policy in obtaining balance in reporting. Unless the government demands such balance for funding and signs a contract with the ABC and SBS to that effect, it will not happen.
2. The mass media jumped on board with this story
Herald Sun front page 12 December 2005, reporting on the 2005 Cronulla riots (image courtesy Wikipedia).
Especially the News Corp media took the opportunity to challenge the content of this story. The Herald Sun on 21 October 2016 published, ‘ABC criticised for showing final moments of euthanasia advocate Max Bromson’s life. The article stated that its original edition was published as ‘ABC accused of “death voyeurism”’. ‘Death voyeurism’ was a term used by former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in responding to the ABC story.
This Herald Sun article made these points:
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accused the ABC of being “taken over” by political activists.
Tony Abbott: ‘Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there have to be standards of reporting. This is death voyeurism, not journalism’.
Neil Mitchell: ‘I strongly support voluntary euthanasia, but this was a blatant and irresponsible piece of attention-seeking by the ABC,’ the 3AW Mornings host said. He also called it ‘self-serving, self-indulgent journalism’.
(photo Philip Nitschke 2016, courtesy Wikipedia)
Bromson, a passionate and outspoken supporter of voluntary euthanasia, wanted to end his life his own way so he went to Philip Nitschke’s euthanasia advocacy group, Exit International, and secretly obtained the illegal euthanasia drug, Nembutal. Then at his chosen time when his bone cancer was severe, he asked family to take him to a motel room where he took the dose of Nembutal while his family filmed his last moments.
There are two bills before the South Australian parliament seeking to introduce voluntary euthanasia. This kind of political manoeuvring has been going on for two decades.
‘The latest bid for change was launched on Thursday with the 15th bill since 1995 put before the lower house by advocate and Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge…. Dr McFetridge said his Choices and Dignity at the End of Life bill had embraced previous concerns from many MPs, making voluntary euthanasia only available to people with a terminal illness whose suffering had become intolerable’.
McFetridge claimed of his euthanasia legislation that ‘it also provided for seven clear steps before voluntary euthanasia would become available and barred people with a disability or mental illness from seeking euthanasia on those grounds’.
‘This is a choice that is wanted by those few people for whom palliative care does not work,’ Dr McFetridge said.
The Sun Herald article continued: ‘Let’s give those people the democratic right to make the decision about how they leave this life’.
‘Labor MP Steph Key, who introduced the 14th bill [into the South Australian parliament] in February, said the new measures had tightened the eligibility and assessment processes. “We have continued to consult widely on the proposed voluntary euthanasia laws and this new Bill will encompass all the checks and safeguards sought by our colleagues,” she said’.
3. Responding to secular arguments favouring euthanasia
The Herald Sun’s article included a poll, ‘Should the ABC have shown footage of a euthanasia advocate ending their own life?’ Here it provided opportunity for comments. Two supporters of euthanasia responded:
3.1 Human beings compared with animals
This person compared euthanasia of human beings with what the RSPCA would do with animals that were suffering in a similar way. She compared animals found in poor state with people being prosecuted for euthanasia. However, we allow human beings to suffer, she said.
Those offended by the ABC 7.30 video should understand that ‘YOUR level of discomfort is nothing compared to what they are inflicting on these poor people. We need to stop and think for a minute about this. Making assisted suicide legal is different to making it compulsory! If YOU find the thought unpalatable, FINE don’t do it’.
She went down the standard line that ‘you do not have the right to impose your beliefs onto another human being. Making it legal will NOT result in more people dying, it will just help them die with dignity. We, collectively, as a society need to get OUR bloody noses out of other people’s business.
3.2 Pray to your mythical god
This fellow was in agreement with the animal comparison by Pat but he took the opportunity to give God a secular slam in the religious gut:
I agree with Pat. If Max was a animal his carers would be prosecuted. As for the Liberal Senator Knoll, you can pray to your mythical god and suffer if he wishes you to me. I will die with dignity at my own hand where I want and when I want.
3.3 I chose not to be silent
This support for euthanasia and assistance in suicide, comparing with animals, needs a response. This is how I countered:
The difference is that we are not animals. We are human beings. Promoting the killing of anyone is endorsing a mighty cultural shift.
There are important issues that need to be addressed before becoming gung-ho advocates of killing and assisted killing:
What are the possible deleterious consequences for a nation that legalises the killing of people under any circumstances and assists in their suicides? All human beings have a right to life and palliative care during their painful sicknesses and dying years. The medical profession’s role is to help control the pain and not organise the death. We need much more detailed discussion on the reasons why killing of human beings should not be legalised. What would a death culture of euthanasia and assisted suicide do to the culture of Australia, especially for those who are vulnerable?
I do not write as a theoretician. My wife is dying of leukaemia and I have 2 severe disabilities. I would never ever place my wife and me in the category of being animals that are so diseased and need to be put down. Life is given by God and he determines when our end should be.
Job 1:21 (NLT) reminds us: ‘He (Job) said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!”’ Psalm 139:16 (NIV) confirms that ‘Your (God’s) eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be’.
Ronald, in shaking your fist at God and declaring that ‘you can pray to your mythical god’ you have committed an appeal to ridicule logical fallacy. We cannot have a logical discussion on such an important topic as end of life issues when you resort to this fallacious reasoning.
3.4 We choose what is right for each other
It was interesting to see how a non-Christian, relativist and secularist would respond to my challenge. She came back with a predictable promotion of autonomous reason:
She understood ‘exactly’ what I said. Her point was ‘that your choices are right for you under your circumstances’. However, living in our ‘wonderful democracy’ means I have the right to make my choice and others have the right not to share my ideals and beliefs.
They have as much right to an opinion and choice as I do.
There is ‘a difference between making something legal and making it compulsory’.
If I’m opposed to assisted suicide, she was confident that ‘nothing will change if it is made legal’.
She is not optimistic about the level of palliative care in hour health care for pensioners, veterans and terminally ill.
Who’s at fault? The politicians drop the ball as there are not enough votes in them. We can’t rely on good care being available for these people.
She wished me well in dealing with the personal tribulations of my wife and me.
In spite of my opposition, she will remain steadfast in her beliefs as stated.
4. Logical consequences of ‘it’s right for you and not right for me’
What are the consequences of accepting Pat’s worldview and its values on euthanasia? This was my assessment of her use of autonomous reason in our democracy.
I also understand what Pat says and the values driving her statements. It means that since we live in this wonderful Australian democracy we can make choices that are right for you and right for me. What’s the logical conclusion of this worldview driven by autonomous reason?
Why stop with Pat choosing euthanasia and my opposing it because of choices in our democracy? There is no reason you can stop people making the right decision for them to break into your property and flog whatever they want. I don’t share that value, but who am I to stop them in a democratic society that allows choices?
Let’s press her worldview to another logical conclusion: Who am I to say that people should not murder human beings and lie about what they did when they are the choices they make? You may disagree in a democracy but neither of us should be forced to agree that stealing and murder are wrong if democratic values are maintained. Neither of us would have to agree that paedophilia and the rape of children is wrong. If it’s good for him to do that, who are we to oppose that value.
However, why are murder, theft, lying and rape illegal as absolute values in Australia? It’s because they are wrong, based on God’s transcendent standards in, say, the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1-17 NIV; Matthew 5-7 NIV). There are those who disagree and break the law in our democracy but they suffer just consequences.
She said, ‘If you are opposed to the concept of assisted suicide, then nothing will change if it is made legal.’ This is a false premise. Introducing voluntary killing of another person into our culture will change the very fabric of our society. There will be fear for the elderly, severely injured and others to enter hospital.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at what is happening in the Netherlands right now following legalisation in 2002. It started with Drs who could euthanise patients if they were competent, conscious, repeatedly asked for euthanasia, and were suffering unbearably as a result of an incurable disorder. What are they up to now? According to Reuters’ news agency of 12 October 2016, the Dutch government is drafting legislation to legalise assisted suicide for people who sense they have ‘completed life’ (the elderly) [Sterling 2016].
I agree that more money needs to be spent on palliative care. That is one value on which Pat and I agree. However, autonomous reason in a democracy leads to chaos because no reigns can be placed on any moral values. It’s the natural outcome of relativism in action.
What is relativism? ‘The term “ethical relativism” encompasses a number of different beliefs, but they all agree that there are no universal, permanent criteria to determine what may or may not be an ethical act. God granted no divine command, and human nature displays no common law. Consequences have no bearing because each person or society may interpret the “rightness” of each consequence differently. Ethical relativism teaches that a society’s ethics evolve over time and change to fit circumstances’ (Got Questions 2002-2016).
We need absolute standards of right and wrong: It is wrong to steal, kill and tell lies. God provides those standards in Scripture (see Ex 20:1-17; Matt 5-7). Without God’s unchanging standards, there is no way to objectively determine if murder is anything different to euthanasia. The Canadian Law Reform Commission got it right in 1983 when it concluded that mercy killing (euthanasia) should not be made a separate category to homicide (reference below).
5. Other issues from the secularists’ responses
The secular responses from Pat and Don raise some other disturbing concerns about euthanasia.
5.1 Dying with dignity at my own hand
Don stated: ‘I will die with dignity at my own hand where I want and when I want’.
As retired anaesthetist, Dr. Brian Pollard indicates, (see below), safe voluntary euthanasia is a myth. That Don wants to die with dignity at his own hand when he wants is a pleasing objective for a person using his or her autonomous reason. However, I have some questions:
(a) How does he know he will have a disease that will allow him to die with dignity at the end of life?
(b) History demonstrates that not all Drs can be trusted to implement the wishes of the patient.
(c) We know from the history of humanity that laws against murder, theft, rape and lying do not prevent those crimes from being committed. Therefore, to die with dignity could fall into the category of the Drs who lie about maintaining the law to euthanise human beings who voluntarily decide when they do it, without permission.
(d) A greater issue than the human side of dying is what lies beyond death. God has told us what that will be: ‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Hebrews 9:27 NIV).
Don as a secularist wants to give God a kick out of his life by assigning him to this place of imagination: ‘You can pray to your mythical god’. One minute after his last breath he will know he is dead wrong. How do I know? Truth is that which matches reality. I take Scripture and examine its description of what is happening in our contemporary world and I see an exact description of reality. Truth is that which matches reality. God’s truth in Scripture lines up with the reality of human experience in our contemporary world.
It demonstrates why doctors and human beings in general want to violate God’s way of life. Romans 1:18 (NLT) states it clearly: ‘God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’. In practical terms in the euthanasia discussion, God will show his anger towards all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth about whose responsibility it is to take life. They suppress this truth because of their practices of wickedness – sinful actions that violate God’s truthful rule in people’s lives and in our society.
I recommend to Don that he deals with something more serious than ‘dying with dignity’ and choosing the time, place and manner of his own death.
Pat wrote some of the most provocative comments in her/his support of euthanasia. Here is another one:
Pat: ‘Anyone who took offense at the video should realize that YOUR level of discomfort is nothing compared to what they are inflicting on these poor people’.
Let’s get something clear. My opposition to euthanasia and my offense at the ABC 7.30 programme’s support of euthanasia with the film of Max Bromson’s death by assisted suicide, has zero to do with inflicting suffering on poor people in their distress.
Who gives and takes life – God – and that role should not be usurped by autonomous people who reason that killing or assistance in the killing of people is appropriate for a democratic culture. ‘The LORD gives both death and life; he brings some down to the grave but raises others up’ (1 Sam 2:6 NLT).
Many doctors cannot be trusted with obeying the euthanasia law (see below).
5.3 You don’t have right to impose your beliefs
Pat: ‘But you do not have the right to impose your beliefs onto another human being. Making it legal will NOT result in more people dying, it will just help them die with dignity’.
Notice the hypocrisy in this statement. I don’t have the right to impose my pro-life beliefs on another human being. What is she doing? She is imposing her pro-euthanasia views on Australian society and I am included. It is paradoxical that someone doesn’t want my values but is brazen enough to push her values on me without seeing the hypocrisy.
I have as much right to oppose euthanasia in this democracy as I have to oppose murder, theft, rape and lying. I have every right to uphold God’s absolute standards of justice for a just society. For the Old Testament people of Israel, moral standards were contained in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17 (NIV). Since the time of Christ, they have been the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 NIV). I have every right to promote the Sermon on the Mount as God’s absolutes for a society that brings justice.
It is a furphy (untrue or absurd) statement to say that I don’t have the right to ‘impose’ beliefs. A better way to put it would be: In this democracy, I have the right to demonstrate that adhering to God’s absolute laws of right and wrong leads to a society where justice is practised.
There is a further dimension: ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people’ (Proverbs 14:34 NIV). For the Hebrews, ‘righteousness’ was synonymous for ‘justice’. God’s justice will exalt Australia and breaking God’s law by sinning against his righteous standards will condemn Australia to chaos and destruction. If Australia legislates in favour of euthanasia, it will be promoting injustice and condemning the country to God’s punishments.
Pat’s view was that making euthanasia ‘legal will NOT result in more people dying; it will just help them die with dignity’. This has been demonstrated to be false in the Netherlands. Will that also happen in Canada which also legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2016?
5.4 Keep OUR bloody noses out of another person’s business
Pat: ‘We, collectively, as a society need to get OUR bloody noses out of other people’s business’.
She writes with some anger with his capitalisation of OUR. There are many good reasons why people should have their noses in other people’s businesses. That’s the responsibility of living in a caring, compassionate society. If my neighbour’s house is on fire, I’ll stick my nose into his business and call 000. If a thief breaks into the house, I’ll go to help him and do the best I can to catch the thief and hold him down.
To my dying day I’ll violate Pat’s command. Why? It IS my business if somebody is being murdered, raped, assaulted, or theft is taking place on anyone’s property that I know about. I have a duty of care and love for my neighbour, based on my Christian worldview: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31 NIV). Therefore, rejecting the deliberate killing or assistance in killing of another person through euthanasia for assisted suicide IS my business. I’ll stand up for life and not for murder. The right to life is one of God’s absolutes. It is His responsibility to take like when He is ready and not when autonomous reason says so.
Counselling people has been my business for 34 years (until retirement). I will not change my language from, ‘I’ll be available to help you with your depression or suicidal ideation’ to ‘I’ll be here to assist you to know that life is not worth living and I’ll refer you to a euthanasia doctor’. That changes the ethics of a caring professional. I will not buy into butchering ethics in that manner.
The Canadians got it correct in their 1983 Law Reform Commission on euthanasia. It concluded, following an inquiry, that ‘the Commission recommends that mercy killing not be made an offence separate from homicide and that there be no formal provision for special modes of sentencing for this type of homicide other than what is already provided for homicide’ (Parliament of Canada 1995, emphasis added).
5.5 Lack of good palliative care
Pat: ‘As for your reference to palliative care, I, sadly, do not share your optimistic view. In a perfect world, we would have excellent health care for our pensioners, veterans and terminally ill. The sad reality of it is, we do not. Our politicians continually drop the ball on these issues, guess there just aren’t many votes in it for them, so we cannot rely on the fact that good care will be readily available’.
This is one area where I agree with Pat. If politicians continue to oppose euthanasia (and I pray that they will), I ask them to pump more medical dollars into better palliative care and hospices for the suffering and dying.
6. We cannot trust all doctors to obey euthanasia laws
If we cannot accept that Australians will abide by laws against murder, lies and theft, why should we expect doctors to obey the parameters of euthanasia in any legislation that is passed into law?
I do not reject euthanasia because of the results it is likely to cause. We have international evidence that doctors cannot be trusted to abide by a euthanasia law.
Steven Pleiter is the director of the Levenseindekliniek – End of Life clinic – in The Hague, The Netherlands. Angela Neustatter (2015) reported for The Guardian that in spite of his Christian upbringing, he wished he could have helped his mother to die after she suffered a stroke. He’s aware of the arguments that people need to be protected from the chance they may improve in the future. However, to those who are really suffering and want help to die, he considers it morally right to give help in that situation.
Where does this lead? Neustatter (2015) reported that this kind of thinking extends to anyone over the age of 18 who fits the criteria. Pleiter told of a 22-year-old male who was paralysed from the neck down in a sporting accident and considered life unbearable as he began to go blind. ‘At this point, he was adamant he did not want to go on. We agreed to help and his parents were utterly supportive’. However, it was more controversial when a 47-year-old woman with incurable tinnitus (like train brakes constantly shrieking in her head) who convinced the clinic ‘her suffering was unbearable’.
The Levenseindekliniek clinic does not charge because it receives funding from the Holland government’s health system. Pleiter acknowledged that ‘we go to the borders of the law, but never outside. We are a professional organisation but one that believes you look at the fact that some people want to die as enabling them to accept responsibility for their choice. It is about using compassion to give them the dignity to go when they wish’ (Neustatter 2015).
Luke Gormally, director of London’s Linacre Bio-Ethics Centre (now called Anscombe Bioethics Centre), when in Australia warned of the message sent to youth with legalisation of euthanasia:
Legalizing euthanasia in Australia would send a ‘wholly negative message’ to young people and might even encourage teenagers to consider suicide, a British bioethics expert warned. Luke Gormally, director of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics in London, told a Sydney news conference Friday night that new research has shown that lobbying to legalize euthanasia generally occurs during economic slumps. The government of Northern Territory has already legalized euthanasia, and Australian philosophers Peter Singer and Helga Kuhse have called for the legalization of so-called mercy killing. Gormally said Singer and Kuhse had ‘no coherent concept of justice,’ and said the underlying philosophical reason for legalizing euthanasia is the judgment that certain lives were not worthwhile. ‘Not only is that concept subversive of the foundations of justice in society, but it would be an educational message of the kind Australian society just does not need,’ he said. He said legalizing euthanasia would send young people the message that suicide is an acceptable solution to problems. ‘Now it seems to me that a society that, through the law, is underwriting the notion that certain lives are not worthwhile is positively validating a perception that young people can lapse into at critical moments in their lives,’ he said. ‘It’s sending a wholly negative message about human life and human worth,’ Gormally said. He added, ‘I gather that the rate of teenage suicide in Australia is rather high,’ although he did not provide statistics. Gormally, in Australia to give public lectures in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, said a study by U.S. researchers had shown that calls to legalize euthanasia increase during times of economic depression (Anderson 1995).
The British Medical Association’s report against legalising euthanasia has been reviewed by Luke Gormally. These are the main points he makes (Gormally n d):
Euthanasia must not be supported because of the value of the individual;
It is important to have an unambiguous rule against euthanasia’s killing in order to maintain the true character of the doctor’s commitment to patient care.
The insensitivity of euthanasia needs to be acknowledged.
Which human beings are of `inestimable value’ and why are they?
What counts as intentional killing?
It creates limits of the duty to treat.
We know that when we support voluntary euthanasia, it can go beyond the person’s choice. Holland is the most evident, contemporary example for which we have clear evidence. That country has permitted voluntary, active euthanasia as far back as 1973 and made it legal in 2002.
Dutch medical doctor, Dr. Karel Gunning, on his 1992 visit to Australia said: ‘Holland has indeed become a very dangerous country, as patients may have their lives ended without their request and without knowledge of the authorities. The doctor thus has become a powerful man, able to decide on life or death’. Dr Gunning wrote that ‘whatever our own position, we have to admit that euthanasia in the Netherlands is completely out of control. If you define euthanasia, as the Dutch Physicians’ League does, as “Consciously causing a patient’s death,” then it occurred in some 20,000 cases in the Netherlands in one year. Of a total annual mortality of 129,000, this amounts to over 15 percent of all deaths’ (Gunning n.d.).
[Photograph of 91-one-year old, Nel Bolten, showing her tattoo on her chest that says: ‘Do not reanimate, I am 91+’. It was taken on Nov. 15, 2014 in The Hague, The Netherlands (Ross 2015)].
At a special presentation, Dr Gunning stated:
The government-installed Remmelink Committee, which issued a report on the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands in the year 1991, speaks of 2,300 cases of euthanasia, that is 1.8 percent of all deaths! They used another definition of euthanasia, to wit “life-ending treatment at the patient’s explicit request.”
Using our own definition we have to include, besides the 2,300 cases called euthanasia by the Committee, the 400 cases of assisted suicide and the 1,000 cases of ending a patient’s life without his request, also mentioned in the report. That makes together nearly 4,000 cases. But the report speaks also of cases where high doses of medicine for pain and symptom control were given or where treatment was omitted with the implied or explicit intention to hasten the patient’s death. And these cases are called “normal medical practice”. That is most frightening. Refraining from treatment which burdens the patient and cannot prevent his death is, of course, very good medical practice. But if it is done with the intention to end life, then it is not medical practice at all, but consciously causing a patient’s death, which we call euthanasia. On the basis of the numbers given in the Remmelink report the Dutch Physicians’ League had estimated the number of these cases at 16,000. Together, the League estimated the number of cases where the doctor had the intention (implied or explicit) to end the patient’s life at nearly 20,000 per year, that is over 15 percent of all deaths. These are huge numbers.
Now these conclusions and estimates of the Physicians’ League have been hotly contested. But in a recent letter to the editor of Medisch Contact (MC, April 29,1994), the official organ of the Royal Dutch Medical Association, the investigators of the Remmelink Committee themselves say that abstaining from treatment was done with the explicit intention to hasten the end of life in 11,000 cases. And high doses for pain and symptom control were given with the implied or explicit intention to hasten the end of a patient’s life in 6,500 cases. So, according to their estimates there must have been over 21,000 cases where the doctor had the intention (implied or explicit) to end the patient’s life, which is over 16.4 percent of all deaths, even more than the estimates of the Physicians’ League.
I mention these facts as a warning, because they show that we have no reason at all to tell the world to follow our example. They show how rapidly the Netherlands has slipped down the slippery slope. They show that, once you accept killing as a solution for one problem, you soon find a hundred problems for which killing can be regarded as a solution. First you kill at the patient’s request, then without request, a comatose patient or a handicapped newborn baby, then you help a healthy but depressed person to commit suicide, etc. (Gunning n.d.).
Dr K F Gunning is president of the World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life; Board Nederlands Artsenverbond – Dutch Physicians’ League (Gunning n.d.).
Of Holland, ‘We have no reason at all to tell the world to follow our example. They show how rapidly the Netherlands has slipped down the slippery slope’.
The New Scientist magazine (20 June 1992) confirmed this alarming situation in an article titled, ‘The Dutch way of death’ (Rachel Nowak). It stated that ‘doctors and nurses in the Netherlands can practise euthanasia if they stick to certain guidelines. Yet many patients receive lethal injections without giving their consent’. It went on to say:
In some hospitals, doctors routinely approach patients who are terminally ill, offering to inject them with lethal doses of barbiturates and curare. But Dutch euthanasia has its sinister side, too. Involuntary euthanasia of sick and elderly people is commonplace in the Netherlands, and that when patients do opt for euthanasia, it is frequently out of fear of being a nuisance rather than to avoid unnecessary physical suffering.
The details are alarming. At least a third of the 5000 or so Dutch patients who each year receive lethal doses of drugs from their doctors do not give their unequivocal consent. About 400 of these patients never even raise the issue of euthanasia with their doctors. Moreover, of those who willingly opt for euthanasia, only about 5 per cent do so solely because of unbearable pain.
New Scientist concluded that ‘these revelations strike a blow at the two central canons of the worldwide euthanasia lobby: that euthanasia should be used only as a means to end pointless physical suffering, and that the patient alone should make the decision’. As one Dutch doctor put it: ‘Everywhere doctors are terminating lives. The only difference in Holland is that here we talk about it’.
6.1 Latest news out of Europe
As I was writing this article on 22 October 2016, , I was alerted to an article in The Washington Post of 19 October 2016 (Lane 2016). Its title was, ‘Europe’s morality crisis: Euthanizing the mentally ill’, and contained this disturbing information:
Once prohibited — indeed, unthinkable — the euthanasia of people with mental illnesses or cognitive disorders, including dementia, is now a common occurrence in Belgium and the Netherlands.
This profoundly troubling fact of modern European life is confirmed by the latest biennial report from Belgium’s Federal Commission on the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, presented to Parliament on Oct. 7.
Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for patients suffering “unbearably” from any “untreatable” medical condition, terminal or non-terminal, including psychiatric ones.
In the 2014-2015 period, the report says, 124 of the 3,950 euthanasia cases in Belgium involved persons diagnosed with a “mental and behavioral disorder,” four more than in the previous two years. Tiny Belgium’s population is 11.4 million; 124 euthanasias over two years there is the equivalent of about 3,500 in the United States.
The figure represents 3.1 percent of all 2014-2015 euthanasia cases — and a remarkable 20.8 percent of the (also remarkable) 594 non-terminal patients to whom Belgian doctors administered lethal injections in that period.
What’s a bit different about this Belgian report, however, is that it’s the first to appear since journalists and psychiatric professionals, inside Belgium and outside, began to take notice of what’s going on — and to raise questions about it.
Recent newspaper articles and documentaries focused on cases in which psychiatrists euthanized or offered to euthanize people with mental illnesses, some still in their 20s or 30s, under dubious circumstances.
Seemingly stung by these criticisms, the commission spends two of its report’s pages defending the system, explaining that all is well and that no one is being euthanized except in strict accordance with the law (Lane 2016).
This article again confirms the slippery slop with euthanasia legislation and how voluntary eventually becomes involuntary with euthanasia – even to killing young people with mental illnesses.
7. Why voluntary euthanasia cannot be controlled: Dr Brian Pollard speaks
Dr Brian Pollard is a retired Australian anaesthetist and palliative care physician, who founded and directed the first full-time palliative care service in a teaching hospital in Sydney at Concord Hospital in 1982 and directed it for five years. He is author of The Challenge of Euthanasia (Pollard 1994). In this article, Pollard demonstrates why ‘every law to permit euthanasia will be inherently and unavoidably unsafe’ (Pollard 2011). These are some of his reasons:
‘I believe that MPs, who have sole responsibility for making safe laws, should direct their attention to ensuring that draft euthanasia bills cannot imperil the lives of innocent people who do not wish to die’
‘A common feature of those who advocate euthanasia bills is their touching faith that certain things will happen, just because the draft prescribes them. If that were true, no crime would ever be committed because all crime is currently forbidden by some law’.
He cited Yale Kamisar, an American professor of law in this field, who wrote a ‘seminal paper’ in 1958 in which ‘he listed these basic difficulties [with euthanasia laws]: ensuring that the person’s choice was free and adequately informed; physician error or abuse; difficult relationships between patients and their families and between doctors and their patients; difficulty in quarantining voluntary euthanasia from non-voluntary; and risks resulting from this overt breach of the traditional universal law protecting all innocent human life’.
Pollard observed that all of these problems ‘still exist and others have been added, such as the critical role of depression in decision-making and the evolution in the moral basis for requesting death from the relief of severe suffering in the terminally ill to reliance on respect for personal autonomy’.
Pollard observed that definitions are often vague or at odds with ordinary meanings. What about pain and suffering? He rightly pointed out that ‘both highly subjective experiences; neither can be measured or compared between persons’. He added that according to draft euthanasia bills, they ‘have to be simply accepted as the person describes them, even when this may raise serious doubt. And, as most now allow, if the symptoms are said to make life “intolerable”, even though it is recognised that what one person finds intolerable others can bear’,
There are many other factors he raises that need to be taken on board by legislators.
Voluntary euthanasia cannot be practised with integrity (my word) because:
‘Wherever voluntary euthanasia is practised, legally or not, non-voluntary is also found, including in Australia. Many find this difficult to credit because, whatever their failings, doctors surely would not take life without any request. In fact, they do it because it seems logical’.
This happened in Holland. See my comments now on the Dutch Remmelink Report of 1991.
8. Doctors killing without explicit request in Holland: The Remmelink Report
What has been happening in The Netherlands where euthanasia has been practised since 1973 but only legal since 2002?
By eliminating the prosecutorial review of all cases, the government hopes to lessen doctors’ fears of possible prosecutions and encourage more doctors to actually report induced deaths. Reporting noncompliance is a major problem for the government. A Dutch study, published in 1996, found that the majority of Dutch doctors (59%) do not report voluntary euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths, and cases of involuntary euthanasia (without patients’ knowledge or consent) are rarely if ever reported. [van der Wal et al., “Evaluation of the Notification Procedure for Physician-Assisted Death in the Netherlands,” New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 11/28/96:1706-1707]….
In a more recent Dutch study, researchers found that 55% of the Dutch doctors interviewed in 1995 indicated that “they had ended a patient’s life without his or her explicit request” or “they had never done so but that they could conceive of a situation in which they would.” [van der Maas et al., “Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and Other Medical Practices Involving the End of Life in the Netherlands, 1990-1995,” NEJM, 11/28/96:1701] (Patients Rights Council 2013).
An earlier official Dutch Government report (The Remmelink Report, 1991) gave conclusive evidence of abuse. The report showed clearly that doctors are killing without the explicit request of the patient. Doctors have violated the ‘strict medical guidelines’ provided by the Dutch courts (in Fleming 1992). See also Fleming (2003), ‘Euthanasia by omission in Australia: What the parliament does not allow, the courts allow’.
8.1 EUTHANASIA IN HOLLAND: CRITERIA LAID DOWN BY THE COURTS
(Although officially illegal at the time of the Remmelink Report in 1991), the courts provided these criteria:
1. The request for euthanasia must come only from the patient and must be entirely free and voluntary.
2. The patient’s request must be well considered, durable and persistent.
3. The patient must be experiencing intolerable (not necessarily physical) suffering, with no prospect of improvement.
4. Euthanasia must be a last resort. Other alternatives to alleviate the patient’s situation must have been considered and found wanting.
5. Euthanasia must be performed by a physician.
6. The physician must consult with an independent physician colleague who has experience in the field.
8.2 BUT WHAT WERE THE RESULTS IN HOLLAND?
The Dutch report in the British medical journal, The Lancet, stated that ‘in cases of euthanasia the physician often declares that the patient died a natural death” (p. 669). This report indicated that 0.8% of the 38.0% of all deaths involving euthanasia were ‘life-terminating acts without explicit and persistent request’ (p. 670) [van der Maas, et al 1991:669). The abstract of this article stated that it:
presents the first results of the Dutch nationwide study on euthanasia and other medical decisions concerning the end of life (MDEL). The study was done at the request of the Dutch government in preparation for a discussion about legislation on euthanasia. Three studies were undertaken: detailed interviews with 405 physicians, the mailing of questionnaires to the physicians of a sample of 7000 deceased persons, and the collecting of information about 2250 deaths by a prospective survey among the respondents to the interviews. The alleviation of pain and symptoms with such high dosages of opioids that the patient’s life might be shortened was the most important MDEL in 17·5% of all deaths. In another 17·5% a non-treatment decision was the most important MDEL. Euthanasia by administering lethal drugs at the patient’s request seems to have been done in 1 ·8% of all deaths. Since MDEL were taken in 38% of all deaths (and in 54% of all non-acute deaths) we conclude that these decisions are common medical practice and should get more attention in research, teaching, and public debate (van der Maas et al 1991:669).
This means that the deaths of about 1,000 Dutch people in a single year were caused by a doctor who hastened the death of a patient without the patient’s explicit request and consent.
But there is more. Another assessment is that the real number of physician assisted deaths, estimated by the Remmelink Committee Report is, in reality 25,306 which is made up of (they’re on the overhead projector for you to see):
2,300 euthanasia on request (Remmelink Report, 13),
400 assisted suicide (ibid.15),
1,000 life-ending treatments without explicit request (ibid.),
4,756 died after request for non-treatment or the cessation of treatment with the intention to accelerate the end of life. cf, ibid, 15; there were 5,800 such cases but only 82% (i.e. 4,756) of these patients actually died. (cf Dutch Euthanasia Survey Report, 63ff).
8,750 life prolonging treatment was withdrawn or withheld without the request of the patient either with the implicit intention (4,750) or with the explicit intention (4,000) to terminate life.[ibid., 69; There were 25,000 such cases but only 35% (i.e. 8,750) were done with the intention to terminate life. Cf ibid., 72; cf also Remmelink Report, 16).
8,100 morphine overdose with the implicit intention (6,750) or explicit intention (1,350) to terminate life. Of these, 61% were carried out without consultation with the patient, i.e. non-voluntary euthanasia.
There were 22,500 patients who received overdoses of morphine, [cf Remmelink Report, 16. 36% were done with the intention to terminate life, cf Dutch Euthanasia Survey Report, 58. See ibid., 61, Tabel 7.7 (“Besluit niet besproken”)].
8.3 THIS TOTAL OF 25,306 PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED DEATHS AMOUNTED TO 19.61% OF TOTAL DEATHS [129,000] IN THE NETHERLANDS IN 1990.
‘To this should be added the unspecified numbers of handicapped newborns, sick children, psychiatric patients, and patients with AIDS whose lives were terminated by doctors according to the Remmelink Report’ (pp. 17-19).
The Dutch programme of euthanasia has moved quickly to go beyond the adult parameters of the law and legalisation. In fact, while there was no legislation but legal protocol for adult euthanasia, killing of children was happening.
This demonstrates that, like with laws against murder, theft, lying and rape, no legislation can curtail the boundaries when autonomous human reason, freedom, and sinful human beings are involved in determining the values of a culture.
‘For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard’ (Rom 3:23 NLT). What is sin? ‘Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God’’ (1 John 3:4 NLT). So anyone who breaks God’s law, ‘You shall not murder’ (Ex 20:13: Matt 5:21 NIV) is sinning. This latter verse states, ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment’’’. God’s view is that anyone who commits murder through euthanasia is violating His law and also will be subject to God’s judgment. We are not told explicitly in this verse what that will be but warning about judgment from God should be given to everyone promoting euthanasia. They may not believe in God but will come under his judgment whether they accept it or not, just as a person will face judgment in Australia for breaking the law against perjury.
The following is an example of euthanasia of infants in Holland. It was done at what was formerly the Academic Hospital, Groningen, but is now associated with The University Medical Center, Groningen:The Weekly Standard report stated:
IN 2004, Groningen University Medical Center [The Netherlands] made international headlines when it admitted to permitting pediatric euthanasia and published the “Groningen Protocol,” infanticide guidelines the hospital followed when killing 22 disabled newborns between 1997 and 2004. The media reacted as if killing disabled babies in the Netherlands was something new. But Dutch doctors have engaged in infanticide for more than 15 years. (A Dutch government-supported documentary justifying infant euthanasia played on PBS [Public Broadcasting System USA] in 1993. Moreover, a study published in 1997 in the Lancet determined that in 1995, about 8 percent of all infants who died in the Netherlands—some 80 babies—were euthanized by doctors, and not all with parental consent; this figure was reproduced in a subsequent study covering the year 2001.)
As far back as 1990, the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) published a report intended to govern “life-terminating actions” taken against incompetent patients, including severely disabled newborns. The KNMG approved of pediatric euthanasia if the baby is deemed to have an “unlivable life,” a concept disturbingly close to Binding and Hoche’s “life unworthy of life” (Smith 2006).
In 1984 the Dutch Supreme Court ruled voluntary euthanasia was acceptable, provided doctors followed strict guidelines. But, under Dutch criminal law, physicians could still face prosecution.
In 2002, the Dutch parliament voted to formally legalise the practice, making the Netherlands the first nation in the world to do so. Belgium did it in that year as well. However, examine what has happened in the Netherlands:
Originally when The Netherlands legalised euthanasia , it was for adults. Doctors could kill a patient if that person ‘was competent and conscious, had repeatedly asked for euthanasia, and was suffering unbearably as a result of an incurable disorder’ (Murray 2016).
Although Belgium had legalised euthanasia in 2002,‘in 2014, the Belgian parliament passed a bill that allows the euthanizing of children, no matter how young, so long as they are terminally ill. In Holland, the lower age limit for euthanasia is currently twelve with parental consent, though euthanasia advocates are pushing to eliminate any age limit’ (Murray 2016).
‘In Holland today, it is accepted that people who are suffering unbearably from mental illness may be killed’ (Murray 2016).
On October 12, 2016, Reuters newsagency reported: ‘The Dutch government intends to draft a law that would legalize assisted suicide for people who feel they have “completed life,” but are not necessarily terminally ill, it said on Wednesday (12 October 2016)…. Health Minister Edith Schippers wrote in the letter that “because the wish for a self-chosen end of life primarily occurs in the elderly, the new system will be limited to” them. She did not define a threshold age’ (Sterling 2016).
The slippery slope has happened in Holland. Euthanasia and assisted suicide cannot be contained.
10. Case studies of euthanasia
A Belgian physician and euthanasia activist, Wim Distelmans, has released details of what he has done in Belgium:
In September , the 60-year-old physician gave a lethal injection to Nathan Verhelst, 44, depressed over a failed sex-change operation. Last year , he oversaw the double euthanasia of Marc and Eddy Verbessem, 45-year-old deaf twins who chose to die after learning they would lose their eyesight. Also last year , he euthanized a despondent Godelieva De Troyer, 64, whose children learned of her death after the fact. And he acknowledges there are many more “borderline” cases that the public never hears about.
To some, Dr. Distelmans has come to embody the dangers of legalized euthanasia. “What is he? Is he God or something?” Ms. De Troyer’s son, Tom Mortier, asked in a recent interview (Hamilton 2013).
Charles Lane reported another case by Dr. Distelmans:
Frank van den Bleeken, imprisoned for 30 years for rape and murder, sought euthanasia from Distelmans, citing his incurable violent impulses and the misery of life behind bars. Belgian officials and Distelmans initially agreed; a lethal injection the murderer might have gotten as punishment in the United States would be supplied as therapy in anti-death penalty Europe.
Dr Karel Gunning was a medical doctor in Holland. He gave examples of how doctors violated the Dutch euthanasia law:
An internist, called to see a lady with lung cancer who breathed with great distress, told her that he could help her, but that he would prefer to admit her to his hospital. The patient refused, as she feared to be euthanized. But the doctor told her that he would be on duty during the weekend and would admit her himself. She did go on Saturday. On Sunday night, she was breathing normally. On Monday morning the doctor was off duty. In the afternoon, he came back to the hospital but the patient was dead. A colleague had come in that morning and said, “We need that bed for another case. It makes no difference for her whether she dies today or after a fortnight! So, the patient was euthanized against her explicit will.
I, myself, had a discussion with a colleague about administering morphine. I maintained that large [doses] are needed to kill a patient. At first he denied this, but suddenly said, “You are right. I remember a case of an old man who could die any day. His son came to see me. He was booked for a holiday and did not want to come home for his father’s funeral. He wanted the funeral to be over with before he left. So I went to see the old man and gave him a huge dose of morphine. In the evening I came back to declare death, but the patient was happily sitting on the edge of his bed. At last, he had gotten enough morphine to kill his pain.” My colleague told this story as if it were the most normal thing to do: to kill a patient in order to please the family (Gunning n.d.).
These examples from people in the medical profession demonstrate that some doctors cannot be trusted to obey the law, whether that relates to laws enacted by parliament or by court decisions. Voluntary, active euthanasia becomes involuntary killing of people who have not agreed to this killing.
Gunning (n.d.) rightly pointed out that two kinds of ethics are being promoted in the medical fraternity:
10.1 Humanitarian ethic
This ethic adheres to the universal principle in the Hippocratic Oath (formulated by Hippocrates in 400 BC). He was not a Christian but believed that doctors were powerful people who could decide on life and death issues for humanity. By this ethic, medical doctors swear that they will not use their knowledge or expertise to kill a person, before or after birth, not even with the patient’s own request. With the humanitarian ethic, the well being of the individual person is central (Gunning n d).
The classic version of the Hippocratic Oath contains this affirmation: ‘I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art’ (MedicineNet.com 2016).
The Christian-informed humanitarian ethic is practised by doctors and others who are opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide and promote palliative care instead. They love their neighbour as themselves – as human beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7).
10.2 Utilitarian ethic
Act and rule utilitarianism is one of the best known and most influential moral theories. It deals with the consequences of actions,
Its core idea is that whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects….
Utilitarians believe that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness). They reject moral codes or systems that consist of commands or taboos that are based on customs, traditions, or orders given by leaders or supernatural beings. Instead, utilitarians think that what makes a morality be true or justifiable is its positive contribution to human (and perhaps non-human) beings (Nathanson n.d.)
Apply this to the euthanasia and assisted suicide debate and what do we get? It does not commit to the patient’s well being but to the well being (consequences) of others. Who judges whether the patient’s life is going to be a burden or of benefit to society? The doctor does!
Dr Gunning explained how this was captured in an article in California Medicine (September 1970, ‘New Ethic for Medicine and Society, pp, 67-68) which showed that historically the lives of all human beings had equal value. That cannot be maintained now with over population and people were no longer accepting the quality of life ethic (humanitarianism) for all people. Doctors were now making medical evaluations. Intentional killing of adults was too abhorrent so they started with abortion and have now moved to voluntary euthanasia. Gunning’s assessment was that ‘in the end, we would have death control as well as birth control, and we doctors should prepare ourselves for this new task’ (Gunning n.d.).
That’s the utilitarian ethic in action, all in the name of voluntary euthanasia that has moved to involuntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in a number of countries.
11. Where is euthanasia legal?
BBC News (Lewis 2015) reported that these were the countries and USA states that have legalised assisted dying:
The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg permit euthanasia and assisted suicide
Switzerland permits assisted suicide if the person assisting acts unselfishly
Canada permits euthanasia and assisted suicide from February 2016 (slightly earlier in the province of Quebec)
At the time of writing this article in October 2016, euthanasia and assisted suicide were illegal in Australia. However, there is advocacy by groups involved in university departments such as Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Australian Centre for Health Law Research. See its activist site, End of Life Law in Australia, at: https://end-of-life.qut.edu.au/. Within the next month, I hope to prepare a review of this site and note its ideological emphases. However, a brief overview seems to indicate that it is pushing for the reform of Australian law to accommodate euthanasia and assisted suicide. There also are activist groups such as Dying with Dignity Queensland (my home state). Its theme is, ‘My life, my voice, my choice’. I have critiqued that worldview of autonomous reason above and its harmful consequences.
This also was indicated by this Law School’s invitation to Canadian Professor Jocelyn Downie to deliver the lecture, ‘The legalisation of medical assistance in dying – Lessons from Canada’ at the Gardens Theatre, QUT Gardens Point Campus, Brisbane, 19 October 2016, 6pm. I attended this lecture. This was an enthusiastic promotion of the Canadian law that has legalised euthanasia and to recommend a similar procedure in Australia. Professor Downie is Professor of Law at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
She was not a neutral person on the euthanasia issue at this lecture. Some Canadians have described her as a ‘pro-euthanasia prof’ and a ‘long-time advocate for the legalization of euthanasia’ (LifeSite News 2015). After the lecture, I spoke with one of the QUT professors, Professor Ben White, who promoted this lecture. I challenged the QUT censorship of the opposing view in this public presentation. He brushed the objection aside and considered the opposing view was covered adequately at Q&A at the end of the lecture and they have had other panel presentations that included a pro-life person. The Q&A at the lecture on 19 October 2016 was not an opportune forum to present a counter proposal, as there was not opportunity to challenge Downie’s responses and there were few who opposed Downie. It is an unfair imbalance to have a Professor of Law make a public presentation (with PPTs) in support of euthanasia in Canada and expect people in the audience to present the alternate view in the Q&A. That is destined to lead to an unfair exposure for euthanasia at the expense of the anti-euthanasia view.
At the lecture, I heard Prof. Downie state that ‘the feared slippery slope didn’t eventuate [in Canada]’. At Q&A after the lecture, I challenged her on this, providing evidence from Holland and Belgium. She resorted to denying this and using a genetic logical fallacy with her sprouting the superiority of peer-reviewed journals to my information from mass media sources. I had no right of reply to challenge her genetic fallacy. I hope I’ve presented enough information in this article from Dutch, Belgium and other medical sources to demonstrate that there definitely has been a slippery slope in euthanasia legislation in Holland from the legal system prior to 2002 and in legislation from 2002 to 2016.
12. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) on end of life care
The AMA’s ‘Position Statement on the Role of the Medical Practitioner in End of Life Care 2007 (amended 2014)’ states that ‘The AMA believes that while medical practitioners have an ethical obligation to preserve life, death should be allowed to occur with dignity and comfort when death is inevitable and when treatment that might prolong life will not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or will impose an unacceptable burden on the patient’ (10.1).
In section 10.5 of this Position Statement, it is stated: ‘The AMA recognises that there are divergent views regarding euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The AMA believes that medical practitioners should not be involved in interventions that have as their primary intention the ending of a person’s life. This does not include the discontinuation of futile treatment’.
What should an Australian doctor do if euthanasia or assisted suicide is requested by a patient? The AMA’s Position Statement is:
Patient requests for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide should be fully explored by the medical practitioner in order to determine the basis for such a request. Such requests may be associated with conditions such as a depressive or other mental disorder, dementia, reduced decision-making capacity, and/or poorly controlled clinical symptoms such as pain. Understanding and addressing the reasons for such a request will allow the medical practitioner to adjust the patient’s clinical management accordingly or seek specialist assistance (10.6).
Therefore, the Australian Medical Association’s current policy is against the practice of medical doctors’ involvement in euthanasia and assisted suicide, with the view of ending a person’s life. However, as of 06 October 2015, the AMA was engaged in a ‘Review of AMA Policy on Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide’. This is ‘part of a five year position statement review cycle’.
Two of Australia’s major institutions are actively promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide, even though it is illegal. They are: (a) ABC TV’s 7.30 programme, and (b) Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research. However, other mass media (e.g. the Herald Sun) exposed the ABC’s ‘death voyeurism’ by showing film of the assisted suicide of a client.
In responding to secular arguments favouring euthanasia, it was shown that human beings are not animals and to choose what’s right for me must allow me to allow you to choose what’s right for you in the breadth of ethical issues, including murder, theft, lying, rape and euthanasia. One person’s assault on the Christian’s ‘mythical god’ was an appeal to ridicule fallacy. Pushing these secularists to the logical conclusions of their ethical relativism demonstrates the chaos that results when God’s ethical absolutes are abandoned
If I don’t have the right to impose my Christian beliefs, why are they imposing their secularist values? It’s a hypocritical value system that wants to censor Christian beliefs while promoting secular beliefs. If I’m to keep my nose out of another person’s business, then it will tear the fork out of altruistic values of caring for one another in a democratic society.
Illustrations were given of how medical doctors violate euthanasia laws when euthanasia is illegal or legal. Some doctors cannot be trusted to obey the law and voluntary euthanasia becomes involuntary euthanasia for unfortunate individuals who are killed without their permission. Retired Australian anaesthetist and palliative care specialist, Dr Brian Pollard, has provided evidence to demonstrate that any effort to achieve safe voluntary euthanasia is a myth. Euthanising infants is already taking place, outside of the law.
Several case studies were provided to demonstrate that euthanasia cannot be controlled by legislation or the legal profession. Dr Karel Gunning, a Dutch medical doctor, showed how this demonstrated two contrasting ethics in action: (a) The humanitarian ethic of caring for patients and valuing life, and (b) A utilitarian ethic where the end justifies the means.
The Australian Medical Association has affirmed that it does not support euthanasia and assisted suicide. However, it is examining this policy in light of its customary 5-year review.
The position demonstrated and advocated in this paper is that God gives life and it is his responsibility to end life in His time. It is not for autonomous human beings to decide when time is up and to murder them or assist in their committing suicide. This is how it is with God and human life: ‘You [God] saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed’ (Psalm 139:16 NLT).
There are sound biblical, practical and philosophical reasons for demonstrating that the relativistic, utilitarian ethic of euthanasia and assisted suicide is wrong for individuals and societies. Australia will be exalted as long as it promotes God’s absolutes of justice in its ethics. As soon as it promotes the sinful evil of euthanasia and assisted suicide it will bring disgrace and God’s judgment on Australia.
‘Justice exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace’ (Proverbs 14:34 NAB).
Fleming, J 1992. Euthanasia, The Netherlands, and the slippery slopes. Bioethics Research Notes Occasional Paper No.1, June. Published by the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute, PO Box 206, Plympton SA 5038, Australia. It is now associated with the Adelaide Centre for Bioethics and Culture at: http://www.bioethics.org.au/index.html (Accessed 24 October 2016).
 The 2016-17 budget for the ABC (post-efficiencies) is $1.009 billion. Then add the SBS budget (post-efficiencies) for the same year of $274.5 million and we see that approx. $1.27 billion is given to the ABC/SBS consortium by tax payers to present a one-sided euthanasia story (as an example). For these budgetary figures see, Malcolm Turnbull MP, ‘FAQs on the ABC and SBS’, 19 December 2014. Available at: http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/faqs-on-the-abc-and-sbs#budget (Accessed 22 October 2016).
 Wikipedia 2016. Philip Nitschke, 23 October. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Nitschke (Accessed 23 October 2016). Nitschke set fire to his medical certificate, rejecting the Medical Board of Australia’s conditions placed on him. ABC News Brisbane, Qld., reported Nitschke’s statement: ‘Today, and with considerable sadness, I announce the end of [my] medical career,’ he said. He maintained that ‘the conditions the board has sought to impose on me … amount to a heavy handed and clumsy attempt to restrict the free flow of information on end-of-life choice’ (Breen 2015).
 Her name was Pat and I’m unsure if this person was female but her writing style seemed to fit more for a female than a male in the caring way she responded to me, but that is only a ‘seemed so’ as my subjective interpretation.
 Pat, 21 October 2016. Available at: (Accessed 22 October 2016).
New Scientist, June 20; 1992. vol 134 (1826): 28-30.
 Accessed 2 January 2010. However, on 22 October 2016 this article was available only by subscription.
 These biographical details are from Pollard (2011).
 Summarised by Mrs. Borst-Eilers, Vice-President of the Health Council (a body which provides scientific advice to the Dutch government on health issues). In I.J. Keown, “The Law and Practice of Euthanasia in The Netherlands”, The Law Quarterly Review, Vol. 108, January 1992, p. 56.
 Source: Dutch-speaking Dr. Daniel Ch Overduin, Vita, Vol. 7, No. 1, March 1992, pp. 2-3].
 Perjury is ‘The offence of wilfully telling an untruth or making a misrepresentation under oath’ (Oxford dictionaries online 2016. s v perjury).
 At this point in this ‘AMA Position Statement’, there was the footnote, ‘Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending the life of a patient for the purpose of ending intolerable pain and/or suffering. Physician assisted suicide is where the assistance of the medical practitioner is intentionally directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life’.
Does this verse mean choice for or against God or gods?
‘And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15 ESV).
A. When choose does not mean choice
I was sitting in the congregation of North Pine Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 11 September 2016, when the minister, Rev Paul Cornford, preached on Joshua 24. The title of his message was ‘The Covenant at Shechem’. When he got to Joshua 24:15, he stated, ‘“Choose this day” is a choice between false gods…. It is not a case of coming to the best God’.
So ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ does not mean a choice as to which god/God you will choose to worship. It only applies to choosing among false gods, according to Rev Cornford. Below we will check to examine whether this preacher accurately engaged in correct exegesis of this Scripture in context.
After the service, I challenged the preacher over his failure to exegete the verse in context. He engaged in eisegesis, imposing his Calvinistic meaning on the text.
What is exegesis? ”Exegesis is the process of interpreting a text of Scripture” (Grudem 1994:109). The problem any interpreter of the Bible faces is that “everyone who interprets a passage of the Bible stands in a present time while he examines a document that comes from a past time. He must discover what each statement meant to the original speaker or writer and to the original hearers or readers, in their own present time” (Mickelsen 1963:55). This is the process of exegesis. It is critical for the understanding of any text written in the past.
What is eisegesis? See Exegesis v. Eisegesis. Here is a quote from Dr. James White’s forth-coming book “Pulpit Crimes” on eisegesis, which indicates that it means:
The reading into a text, in this case, an ancient text of the Bible, of a meaning that is not supported by the grammar, syntax, lexical meanings, and over-all context, of the original. It is the opposite of exegesis, where you read out of the text its original meaning by careful attention to the same things, grammar, syntax, the lexical meanings of the words used by the author (as they were used in his day and in his area), and the over-all context of the document. As common as it is, it should be something the Christian minister finds abhorrent, for when you stop and think about it, eisegesis muffles the voice of God. If the text of Scripture is in fact God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and if God speaks in the entirety of the Bible (Matt. 22:31) then eisegesis would involve silencing that divine voice and replacing it with the thoughts, intents, and most often, traditions, of the one doing the interpretation. In fact, in my experience, eisegetical mishandling of the inspired text is the single most common source of heresy, division, disunity, and a lack of clarity in the proclamation of the gospel. The man of God is commended when he handles God’s truth aright (2 Tim. 2:15), and it should be his highest honor to be privileged to do so. Exegesis, then, apart from being a skill honed over years of practice, is an absolutely necessary means of honoring the Lord a minister claims to serve. For some today, exegesis and all the attendant study that goes into it robs one of the Spirit. The fact is, there is no greater spiritual service the minister can render to the Lord and to the flock entrusted to his care than to allow God’s voice to speak with the clarity that only sound exegetical practice can provide (in Reformation Theology, emphasis added).
James White is a Calvinist and among the chief proponents of eisegesis are Calvinists who impose their Reformed Calvinistic meaning on a text with doctrinaire repetition.
If one wants to convey this message to a contemporary audience, the speaker engages in the discipline of exposition, but exegesis precedes exposition: “He must see what meaning these statements had in the past, but he must also show what is their meaning for himself and for those to whom he conveys these ideas” (Mickelsen 1963:55).
To understand why Rev. Cornford takes this line, it is consistent with his 5-point Calvinist theology. You used to be able to listen to his sermons on TULIP Calvinism on the church’s website [Note: The sermons are no longer available on the website. Rev Cornford committed adultery and has been defrocked from the Presbyterian Church of Australia.]
However, this article is not designed to respond to the following teaching of Calvinism, but to examine Joshua 24:15 in context. What does it teach regarding a person’s ability or inability to choose to serve God?
What does Calvinism believe about choice in salvation and/or serving God? These are only a few examples from leading Calvinists:
‘In order for one who is dead to the things of God to come alive to God, something must be done to him and for him. Dead men cannot make themselves come alive’ (Sproul 1986:114). Norman Geisler describes this comment as an example of ‘the extreme Calvinists’ view’ (Geisler 1999:57).
I have responded to the extreme Calvinistic position in:
Loraine Boettner, a leading Calvinist of the past, could not state the Calvinistic position clearer:
Man is a free agent but he cannot originate the love of God in his heart. His will is free in the sense that it is not controlled by any force outside of himself. As the bird with a broken wing is “free” to fly but not able, so the natural man is free to come to God but not able. How can he repent of his sin when he loves it? How can he come to God when he hates Him?…
We read that that “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned,” I Cor. 2:14. We are at a loss to understand how any one can take a plain common sense view of this passage of Scripture and yet contend for the doctrine of human ability’ (Boettner 1932:62, 63).
These articles of mine cover some of this opposition to ‘whosoever will may come’ (John 3:16).
Based on this kind of Calvinistic theology, there could be no way that any human being would be able to choose to follow God. That’s because of Calvinism’s bias against it with its unusual understandings of,
The meaning of ‘dead in trespasses and sin’;
Regeneration precedes faith;
Unbelievers are all predestined to damnation (not all Calvinists accept this view that is endorsed by John Calvin himself).
C. What does Joshua 24:15 teach?
Let’s develop a textual outline of Joshua 24:14-28 so that we obtain some context. The heading for this section in the English Standard Version is ‘Choose Whom You Will Serve’. When I prepare to preach an expository sermon (which is my normal approach to preaching from any biblical section), I begin by preparing a textual outline,
1. Textual outline: Joshua 24:14-28
This is based on the ESV text:
1. (A command to the Israelites) fear the Lord and serve him (v. 14);
2. (Command to) put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River (v. 14);
3. (Command to) serve the Lord (v. 14);
4. If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve (v 15)
5. Choose the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites (v 15);
6. But as for me [i.e. Joshua] and my house, we will serve the Lord (v 15).
7. The people’s answer was: ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods’ (v 16);
8. The Lord our God brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of slavery, and who performed the great signs in our sight and preserved us (v 17);
9. The Lord drove out all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God (v. 18);
10. Joshua said: You are not able to serve the Lord for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins (v. 19).
11. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good (v. 20);
12. The people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord’ (v. 21).
13. Joshua said: ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him’. The Israelites agreed: ‘We are witnesses’ (v. 22).
14. Joshua said: ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel’ (v. 23);
15. The people said to Joshua: ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey’ (v. 24);
16. Joshua made a covenant with the Israelite people that day at Shechem to put in place statutes and rules (v. 25);
17. Joshua wrote words in the Book of the Law of God and set it up with a stone (v. 26);
18. Joshua said to all the people that the stone would be a witness against us/you lest you deal falsely with your God (v. 27).
19. Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance (v.28).
2. Homiletical outline: Joshua 24:14-28
This is designed to summarise what the text is saying and grab the attention of the congregation or readers with relevant information that comes directly out of the text. This is the outline for a sermon that I will preach (not prepared yet) on this text. It may take 2 sermons of 30 minutes each to cover this material.
a. God does not deceive you: A command means you can do it (v. 14)
Fear the Lord
Put away the other gods.
God would not be commanding you to do it if you were incapable of acting on the instruction.
b. Honest! You can choose today which God or gods you will serve (v. 15)
The choice is yours: Choose gods or THE GOD
c. They chose the Lord (vv. 15-18)
d. You are not able to serve the Lord (v 19)
Is this a contradiction? (You can choose the Lord, v. 15; you can’t serve the Lord, v. 19? You have chosen the Lord, v. 22)
Why this inability? (v. 19)
Why it happens – when you forsake the Lord (v. 20)
e. We will serve the Lord (v. 21)
f. KEY VERSE FOR INTERPRETATION: You have chosen the Lord (v. 22)
g. You can put away the foreign gods and serve the Lord (vv. 23-24)
h. Signing the covenant to serve the Lord (vv. 25-28)
What does this outline demonstrate regarding the ability to choose God or other gods?
1. The command to fear the Lord, serve Him and put away the other gods infers that people are able to choose to do it (v. 14).
2. You can choose to serve other gods or the Lord (v. 15).
John Calvin’s commentary on Joshua 24:15 is:
By giving them the option to serve God or not, just as they choose, he loosens the reins, and gives them license to rush audaciously into sin. What follows is still more absurd, when he tells them that they cannot serve the Lord, as if he were actually desirous of set purpose to impel them to shake off the yoke. But there is no doubt that his tongue was guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, in stirring up and disclosing their feelings. For when the Lord brings men under his authority, they are usually willing enough to profess zeal for piety, though they instantly fall away from it. Thus they build without a foundation (Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua 24, Bible Hub).
Calvin gives them the ‘option’ to serve God or not – as they choose – but he considers this one where Joshua ‘loosens the reins’, giving them the opportunity to rush into sin.
3. They chose the Lord (vv. 15-18).
4. After the previous and following verses, verse 19 seems like a contradiction, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord’. This is especially a paradox in light of verse 22, ‘You have chosen the Lord’. Verse 19 is an irony with Joshua 24:31 (ESV) in view, ‘Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel’. Keil & Delitzsch (n d, vol 2:231) consider that ‘“ye cannot serve Jehovah” … in the state of mind in which ye are at present, or “by your own resolution only, and without the assistance of divine grace, without solid and serious conversion from all idols, and without true repentance and faith” (J. H. Michaelis)’. What also is puzzling is the statement, ‘He will not forgive your transgressions’, because there are many affirmations in the OT that God is a forgiving God. See Exodus 34:6-7a where the Lord revealed to Moses, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty….’ Surely this is meant to be hyperbole to demonstrate that God will not deal lightly with sin.
5. Verse 22 gets to the crux of interpretation for this passage. It leaves no doubt as to what the meaning is in context: ‘You have chosen the Lord’. No matter what the opposition from the Calvinistic camp, anybody anywhere can choose to serve pagan gods or the Lord God.
since Christ’s death on Golgotha for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), people need to be drawn by God the Father:
‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:44 ESV).
How many will be drawn and how many will be forsaken? Jesus was clear about that: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (John 12:32 ESV).
So, since Christ’s death and resurrection, all people are drawn to Jesus but many reject his offer of salvation. Why?
‘So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?’ (Heb 2:3 NLT).
Romans 1:18 (NLT) gives us further insight into why people reject God’s evidence: ‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’.
How did John Calvin understand Joshua 24:22. In his commentary on this verse he stated:
We now understand what the object was at which Joshua had hitherto aimed. It was not to terrify the people and make them fall away from their religion, but to make the obligation more sacred by their having of their own accord chosen his government, and betaken themselves to his guidance, that they might live under his protection. They acknowledge, therefore, that their own conscience will accuse them, and hold them guilty of perfidy [i.e. deceitfulness], if they prove unfaithful…. But although they were not insincere in declaring that they would be witnesses to their own condemnation, still how easily the remembrance of this promise faded away, is obvious from the Book of Judges. For when the more aged among them had died, they quickly turned aside to various superstitions. By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies which occupy the senses of men, and how tortuous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves by vain confidence (Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua 24:22, Bible Hub).
He did not deny that the Israelites were in a situation of ‘having of their own accord chosen his [God’s] government’.
6. The Israelites could choose to put away the foreign gods in their midst and serve the Lord. This they did and signed a covenant of commitment (Josh 24:23-28).
A doctrinaire, Calvinistic, presuppositional view of no choice in salvation is what drove Rev Paul Cornford, an evangelical Presbyterian, to reject the clear teaching of Joshua 24:15 in context. ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’ means that the Israelites could choose to serve other gods or the Lord God.
Joshua 24:22 drives the interpretation home, ‘You have chosen the Lord, to serve him’ (ESV). Other translations are as affirmative:
‘You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (NLT);
‘Ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him’ (KJV);
‘You have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him’ (NASB);
’You have chosen the Lord, to serve him’ (NRSV);
’You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (NIV);
’You have chosen the Lord for yourselves’ (NKJV);
’You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (ISV).
Exegesis and exposition are clear for Joshua 24:15 and its context. Norman Geisler reached a consistent position on this verse and related verses:
God desires that all unsaved people will change their mind (i.e., repent), for “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Like the alternatives of life and death that Moses gave to Israel, God says, ‘Choose life’ (cf. Deut. 30:19). Joshua said to his people: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). God sets morally and spiritually responsible alternatives before human beings, leaving the choice and responsibility to them. Jesus said to the unbelievers of His day: “If you do not believe that I am … you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24), which implies they could have and should have believed.
Over and over, “belief” is declared to be something we are accountable to embrace: “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69); “Who is he sir? … Tell me so that I may believe in him” (John 9:36); “Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe, ‘ and he worshiped him” (John 9:38); “Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you but you do not believe’” (John 10:25). This is why Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in [me] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18) [Geisler 2004:130, emphasis in original].
E. Works consulted
Boettner, L 1932. The reformed doctrine of predestination. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.
Delitzsch, F. n.d., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon in C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes (vol. 6). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William E. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.
Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.
Grudem, W. 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, two vols in 1, vol 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Madvig, D H 1992. Joshua, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The expositor’s Bible commentary, vol 3, 239-371. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
 I take notes in an exercise book for sermons I hear and these comments are based on the notes I took for the sermon on 11 September 2016, 9.00am service, North Pine Presbyterian Church, 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie Qld. 4502, Australia. My wife and I have attended this church for 5 years at the time of writing this article (8 October 2016).
 This was the interpretation by Madvig (1992:369).