Thoughtful Christian engagement with contemporary challenges requires careful examination, taking time to think through implications, and learning from experts. I have observed this kind of Christian thinking in action since I first began working at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD). But in all the busyness of life, how can someone who is not an expert keep up with such things, especially with all of the pressing issues arising in medicine, science, and technology that impact our everyday lives?
In older Christian books on moral theology or ethics, the usage of the term euthanasia was common. However, these works interpret it in a fashion entirely different from how it is currently employed. The word euthanasia is a Greek composite term (eû + thánatos) meaning nothing but “good death,” “beautiful death,” or “pleasant death.” Accordingly, older Christian textbooks presented “euthanasia” as a Christian preparation for death. But what exactly was meant by that?
Only four years after the publication of Staupitz’ book, Martin Luther also authored a writing on the good death: Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben (“A sermon on the preparation for death”). Unlike Staupitz, who called for a mystical imitation of Christ’s death, Luther emphasized the connection between Christ and a Christian which is established solely through faith in the forgiveness of sins on the basis of Christ’s complete work on the cross. Christians have a living hope beyond death because of the righteousness of God which was established on Golgotha. It is from this perspective that Luther answers of what constitutes a good death.
Throughout the last century, the spirit of the age exhibited a voracious appetite for human life. Medicine became the source for myriad racial enmities and immoral projects catalyzed by ascendant science and reckless medical research that was completely oblivious to the dignity of human life. The contingent bioethical lapses reflected the impact of social Darwinism on an age of physicians who primarily acted as scientists, not healers.