Is it ever permissible for a Christian to refuse medical treatment?

This is a question that comes up all the time in the field of Christian ethics. One of the problems we have in dealing with all of these modern, heretofore unthinkable advances in technological medicine is that all the other ethical questions Christians have to struggle with have been reflected upon by the best Christian minds for two thousand years. Now, all of a sudden, we have a whole crisis list of ethical questions surrounding modern medical advancements.

In one sense, the church really hasn’t had time to reflect long enough and deep enough on all of the ramifications involved in the medical ethics of the day. The ultimate question, however, is, “Am I obligated to take advantage of every medical advance?”

I have a friend who is in stage four lung cancer. As he was preparing to meet the oncologist who was coming up with a protocol to treat him, he said to me: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to ask the doctor, ‘Will this protocol that you’re suggesting give me another six months or, practically speaking, another four years? If it’s another four years, I’m very happy to go through the protocol. If it’s another four to six months, I’ll just as soon pass. I’ll let you allow me to die with dignity.’”

That was exactly Jim Boyce’s position—from diagnosis to death was six weeks. Jim didn’t go through all of those extraordinary means. That was also basically Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ position at the end. He said: “Let me go. I’m ready to go home.”

I don’t want to have this sense that I’m obligated to go through all of these extraordinary means to preserve my life. A Christian has a right to die with dignity and can take that option without violating any Christian principle.

 

This is a transcript of R.C Sproul’s answer given during our 2015 National Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.