On Euthanasia

By Very Rev. Fr. Very Rev. Fr. Milorad Loncar, Serbian Orthodox Priest of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Very Rev. Fr. Zoran Pajkanovic, Phd, Serbian Orthodox Priest of Banjaluka, Repubica Srpska, B and H

The perception of human life has always been the subject of interest within all layers of society and people of all beliefs. Basically, there is a religious, philosophical and scientific approach to understanding human life.(1) Depending on one’s conviction, their approach to life is also expressed. Christianity recognizes man’s goal of communion with God in his earthly and eternal life. A philosophical approach requires a rational approach that determines norms in the evaluation of life, and modern science excludes the existence of a spiritual, invisible world that cannot be subjected to experiment. The relationship with life is also conditioned by the relation to the question of euthanasia. So, the question of euthanasia touches the most subtle relationship to human life.

Modern society, in various ways, clarifies the concept of euthanasia in an effort to justify the "right to death" not only of the person who is suffering, but also of doctors themselves who decide on the life of the person concerned. Different causes for euthanasia are based on the so-called "sympathy for the patient" or the desire to "alleviate the pain". Of course, such a relationship is contrary to the Christian understanding of the world and life.

First of all, it is important to point out that the notion of euthanasia in the modern lexicon is misunderstood. Namely, the term itself is based on the Greek compound εύ (good) and θάνατος (death). It is meant to signify a good, happy, glorious death. In ancient Greece, the term euthanasia did not express the desire for death in order to end suffering. This is clearly seen in the Sophocles tragedy when Antigone decided to die gloriously. The same thing can be seen in Homer's Illyiad when Hector wanted to fight Achilles. Their euthanasia was a sublime act of the glorious death, an act of unusual courage and dignity. Thus, the modern interpretation of this notion differs from the original meaning.

In addition, it is interesting to recall that a modern medical code that accepts the act of euthanasia is actually in contrast with the centuries-old code based on the Hippocritic oath, which says: “Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.". A doctor  who would do such a thing would have been branded as a ruthless executioner.

The thought of an Orthodox Christian is based on the word of God, translated into biblical texts. The Bible teaches us that God is the Creator and Master of all visible and invisible. God is the creator of life, according to the words of the righteous Job: “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind...” [2] Life and birth are not the property of man, it is the sublime and most precious gift of God, [3] a gift that obliges. Hence, the right to life is not claimed by anyone other than God.              

Created in the image and icon of God, a man is a psychosomatic creature, i.e. it has a visible body and an invisible eternal soul. The temporary nature of life on Earth does not represent the end of a human being. On the contrary,  a man has as his spiritual goal to become "a witness of divine nature of God" [4] through the pursuit of perfection inherent in heavenly Father, [5] in order to receive " heavenly reward." [6] The path of a Christian is the path of Christ, which means the path of Golgotha, the path of suffering. The Holy Apostle Paul teaches: “For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” [7] The words of Christ on the mountain, as a summary of the whole Gospel, give their support to all the victims, promising the reward and the fulfilment of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, for example: " Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….. “[8] Christ speaks of suffering as a transitory category.

According to this, holy Fathers teach us that we need to "die in the world in order to live in God". [9] St. Gregory Palama says that one of the secrets of the Cross is “that we get crucified in the world”. [10] From this it follows that human suffering is not a justifiable reason for the violent end of life. On the contrary! Through self-conscious suffering, accepting it as the permission of God, we receive spiritual cleansing. Therefore Christianity invites us not to renounce the suffering: "We do not want to take our baptism to crucify the flesh." [11] Practically, reasons for euthanasia are destroyed in their roots.

According to Christian teaching, euthanasia cannot be the end result based on personal rights.  Human body belongs only to God. This is evidenced by the words of St. Paul: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own." [12] Since we are not our own, and since our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, it is deserving of exalted treatment.

 Emphasizing the significance of life Christ says: "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?(13) Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?“ These words explain the deepest meaning or significance of only one soul, one being. In other words, the life of man is placed on the highest level in the human evaluation of everything created. If, then, we believe in Christ, then we must inevitably believe that our life is a gift of God and that we determine our relation to this gift according to that knowledge. If my life is a gift from God, then I am not the owner of this life. In relation to whether we have the "right" to euthanasia, as well as the "right" to violate the body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, is clarified elsewhere in Paul's epistles: "If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. . " [14] Bearing in mind such biblical lessons, it is clear that anyone who takes part in the act of euthanasia bears responsibility for the violation of God's command by which he is condemned.

The problem of euthanasia is not a problem for a Christian, for a man who believes in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. This is a problem for a society that does not recognize man as the work of the hand of God, a society which does not see in a man anything more than an intelligent animal. The contemplation of the modern society on euthanasia excludes God as a life-bearer. At the same time, this same society is not willing to acknowledge its imperfection and weakness in the matter of life and death. Life and birth are a gift from God, and life is not a product of chance.

The problem of modern society lies in the fact that it has abated God from its midst, does not recognize Christ the Savior, especially in countries that until recently had some basic gospel guidance. If, however, Christ is no longer acknowledged and is not part of us, neither is His Gospel and all that it carries, when morality and relation to life are concerned. Once we moved God out of our midst, we opened the way for philosophizing in accordance with rational possibilities. So, we create a new morality, because in the end, the majority vote for such morality and agree that it is so. Our so-called democratic decision-making establishes a man without God to the throne, which then creates a society in accordance with one’s own powers. All that is decided by those who are in power becomes moral and legal. The fact that a man does not have existence in himself, is not the cause of his existence, and, therefore, as it cannot be a decisive factor in deciding on his life,  ceases to be important. Since an organized society does not have that moral authority in deciding on one's life or death, it draws its legality from the assumption that there is no God, and if it starts from that perspective, the man is inevitably placed in the centre of events, and his decision-making system becomes "legitimate".

In any case, we believe that every disease is given to man as a blessing, a period in which he can understand himself and his relationship with people and God. A period in which one can and should reconcile himself with people and with God. Physical suffering, however hard it may be, is only one moment as opposed to eternity. As such, we should not run away from that part of our lives. We have learned to enjoy exclusively in nice things, and we hardly accept what is not so nice and pleasant. Thus, we do not accept disease, and at least not as a blessing. When one dies, we can often hear words: "I will not see him/her, because I want to keep him/her in my memory as he/she was before illness."

In addition to all modern achievements, a man is powerless in his efforts to create a life for which he is so lightly concerned. A famous scientist William Harvey has noted the fact: “Omne vivum ex vivo "(all life from life), i.e. Life could have come only from Life itself, i.e. from God. However, the blindness of the modern man prevents us from recognizing the glory of God in the perfection of life surrounding us, as the prophet David once recognized and cried out: " The heavens praise your wonders, LORD, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.. " [15] According to this statement we can say that one mechanism cannot be created without the mediation of human reason, no images without its artist, no composition without its composer, it would also be unreasonable to say that a leaf on the branch can be a product of coincidence, and let alone a man with all his physical and spiritual abilities.

When one is asked whether it 's okay for someone to take their own life or for someone else do it for him, Professor of the Theological Faculty in Belgrade, Dr. Ljubivoje Stojanović says that "for Christians this dilemma does not exist. The church cannot agree with euthanasia, and there is no need to make official views about it. All the views of the church were long recorded in the Gospel. Life is a gift from God, and every decision against life is a decision against God: no one has the right to take life from someone else for any motive, including those "compassionate" motives. Only God is the one who decides about the birth and death, and every life is in His hands. Therefore, one has to fight to live, and must handle the disease until the end."

Finally, from the perspective of Christianity, the question of euthanasia appears as an amoral question that declares a complete negation of God. Consequently, the relation to man is also disturbed, since the relation to God is as important as the relationship with man. Any factor that gets disturbed comes to moral distortion. Accepting a man as a being designated for eternity, Christianity raises its voice against the right to euthanasia.


1   About the topic pertaining to Christian Orthodox understanding of human life speaks so profoundly prof. Aleksey Iljic Osipov Phd, in the article “The Orthodox understanding of the purpose of life”:


2 „Εν χειρί Θεού πνεύμα παντός ανθρώπου “– “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind”, Јоb 12, 10.

 3 “Lo, children are a heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward”,           Psalm 127, 3.

4   1st Epistle of Peter 1, 4.

5   St. Matthew 5, 48.

6   The Epistle to the Philippians 3, 14.

7   1st Epistle to the Corinthians 1, 5.

8   St. Matthew 5, 4 – 10.

9   Philaret (Drozdov), “Word on Good Friday” (Слово в великий пяток) (1806), Moscow 1873, Volume I, 127.

10   Gregory Palmas, Sermon 11 – About Holy and Life-giving Cross, PG 151, 128.

11   Philaret (Drozdov), Letters and words, Word on the day of Transfiguration of the Lord; Слова и речи, Слово в день Преображения Господня, Moscow 1882, Volume IV, 406.

12    1st Epistle to the Corinthians 6, 19.

13    St. Mathew 16, 26.

14    1st Epistle to the Corinthians 3, 17.

15    Psalm 89, 5.