This page provides a range of key resources on ethics at the end of life, especially debates around euthanasia and assisted suicide. Most, but not all, of these are available online (some though requiring a subscription to be accessed).
The initial section points to some helpful introductory and widely reprinted pieces found in dictionaries and readers. It is followed by pointing to important discussions in more general books on bioethics.
There follows a selection of resources particularly focussed on Scripture and then on the Christian tradition.
The extensive section on contemporary ethical discussions first introduces a range of authors with particular expertise in this area beginning with those broadly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide and then pointing to Christian supporters before providing other resources.
Finally, there are links to a number of denominational statements and to pressure groups in this area.Last Updated on 2 March, 2021 by Andrew Goddard
Dictionary Articles & Readers
- IVP New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology articles on “Life, Health & Death” (pp. 87-92), “Ethics of Medical Care” (pp. 93-9), “Death and Dying” (pp. 284-5), “Euthanasia” (pp. 357-9), “Killing” (pp. 527-8) and “Suicide” (pp. 825-6)
- SCM New Dictionary of Christian Ethics article on “Euthanasia” (pp. 210-2), “Life, Prolongation of” (351-2), “Life, Sacredness of” (353-4) and “Suicide” (609)
- Dictionary of Scripture & Ethics there are a range of articles on “Bioethics” (pp. 95-101), “Death, Definition Of” (pp. 205-6), “Death and Dying” (pp. 206-9), “Euthanasia” (pp. 283-4), “Healthcare Ethics” (pp. 353-8), “Hospice” (p. 377), “Quality of Life” (pp. 651-2), “Sanctity of Human Life” (pp. 702-3) and “Suicide” (pp.758-60).
- The reader On Moral Medicine has 3 editions and each has chapters on “Life and Its Sanctity” and “Choosing Death and Letting Die” with a short introduction and a number of articles.
- Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics has a chapter on ‘Receiving Communion: Euthanasia, Suicide and Letting Die’ by Kathryn Greene-McCreight (Chpt 42, pp. 427-39 in 2nd edition) and by Carole Bailey Stoneking (Chpt 28, pp. 375-87 in 1st edition)
- Meilaender, Gilbert and W. Werpehowski (2005). The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics (Oxford University Press) includes chpt 15 on death by Darlene Weaver (pp. 254-69, whole text on Google books).
General Bio-ethics books
Most books on bioethics will have material on end of life issues. See, for example,
Gilbert Meilaender’s Bioethics A Primer for Christians (2013 3rd edn, Eerdmans), Chpt 6 on suicide and euthanasia and Chpt 7 on refusing treatment. Also important by Meilaender are:
- “The Distinction Between Killing and Allowing To Die”
- “Ethics at the end of life – After Schiavo” (2005 lecture)
- 3 lectures (audio) from 2011 on “Perspectives on Death and Dying”: Dignity and Death, Decisions At End of Life (most relevant to essay), and Envisioning Death
- “Treating the Person” (a 1996 book review of Testing the Medical Covenant: Active Euthanasia and Health Care Reform By William F. May)
- “Death: Enemy or Friend?” (audio)
John Wyatt’s Matters of Life and Death (2009 2nd edn, IVP), Chpts 8, 9 & 10 is the work of an evangelical Anglican, Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics, Ethics & Perinatology at University College London and a senior researcher at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge. See also his 2010 Cambridge Paper on “Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide” and two recent books :
- Right To Die?: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide And End-Of-Life Care (IVP, 2015) and
- Dying Well (IVP, 2018).
His website has a page with links to some of his articles and talks on euthanasia and palliative care.
Neil Messer’s Theological Issues in Bioethics, Chpt 5 is on death with an introduction, two articles and a case study on “The Right to Die?”.
- Allen Verhey, Reading the Bible in the Strange World of Medicine (2003, Eerdmans), Chpt 8 on “Judas, Jesus and Physician Assisted Suicide”.
- Yael Shemesh, “Suicide in the Bible”
Two classic discussions are:
- Augustine, City of God, Book 1, Chpts 11-.
- Aquinas, Whether it is lawful to kill oneself?, Summa II/II, q64 a5
Contemporary Christian Ethical Discussions of Euthanasia and Assisted Dying
The most important recent ethical work is that of Nigel Biggar in his Aiming to Kill?: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia (DLT, 2003).
Other shorter introductions to his work include:
- A Case Against Permitting Intentional Medical Killing”
- Debate with Lord Falconer chaired by Bishop Richard Harries
- Should Doctors Ever Kill?” – video of presentation and discussion with others
- Autonomy’s Suicide”
David Albert Jones is a leading Roman Catholic bioethicist whose book Approaching the End: A Theological Exploration of Death and Dying (2007, OUP) is an excellent discussion of Christian theological approaches. Other helpful shorter guides to his thinking include:
- Is there a logical slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia?”
- Eight Reasons Not To Legalize Physician Assisted Suicide” (just 2 pages!)
- Apostles of Suicide: Theological Precedent for Christian Support for Assisted Dying” which looks at recent arguments in favour from Paul Badham
- End of Life Care and the Right to Die” a short dialogue between Jones and Mary Donnelly on assisted dying.
- the Anscombe Centre which he heads.
John Keown is one of the most prominent legal and ethical critics of changing the law in this area.
- Voluntary Euthanasia” Chpt 1 in his major study Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy, pp. 9-17. [pp11-19 of PDF] offers a helpful overview of key definitions.
- This video of a lecture sets out the legal situation and debates in various countries.
- Euthanasia, Dignity and the Law is also available.
- this course page on Death and Dying.
Michael Banner’s Christian Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems (CUP, 1999) Chpt 2 on “Christian Anthropology at the Beginning and End of Life” (Chpt 2, esp. pp. 47-51, 68-85) has a theological discussion of key issues. His more recent The Ethics of Everyday Life (OUP, 2014) Chpt 5 also has relevant material.
- “Memory, Community and the Reasons for Living: Theological and Ethical Reflections on Suicide and Euthanasia” with Richard Bondi (requires login at JSTOR, also here)
- Presentation alongside Sister Frances Dominica on Death (much wider than specific questions of ethics at end of life)
Paul Badham is probably the most detailed defender of assisted suicide and euthanasia from a Christian perspective. His main work is Is There a Christian Case for Assisted Dying? (SPCK, 2009) and shorter pieces setting out his case include:
- Evidence to Select Committee on Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (2006). Other evidence offered, including from various churches and Christian groups listed here.
- “Why Anglicans Should Support the Legalization of Assisted Dying”
- “A Christian Context for Assisted Dying”
Other recent Christian advocates of assisted dying include:
- Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung (summary of his book here)
- Rosie Harper (CofE priest and member of General Synod)
- Former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey (speech in House of Lords and Feb 2020 article).
- Mary Warnock in Easeful Death: Is There A Case for Assisted Dying? (OUP, 2009)and “A Duty to Die?”
- De Villiers’ article (see more details below)
Other helpful resources include:
- Always to Care, Never To Kill statement
- Joel Shuman, “Dying Well” which reviews a number of books in Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2013, pp. 74-8.
- The Christian Reflection Project on Death especially Paul J. Griffiths, “Defending Life By Embracing Death” and “The Virtues for Dying Well” by Brett McCarty and Allen Verhey.
- Death and Dying course from the Bioethics Research Library at Georgetown University has videos and papers
- Andrew Goddard, “False Steps in the Assisted Dying Debate”, Fulcrum
- Brendan McCarthy, Assisted Suicide: Drawing a Line in the Sand. (Grove Books, 2009).
- Jason Goroncy, “Euthanasia: Some theological considerations for living responsibly”, Pacifica 29.3 (2016), pp. 221-43.
- William Mattison III, “Teaching Human Dignity: Euthanasia” is a short (9pp) guide from a leading RC moral theologian.
- Andrew Grey, “Dignity at the End of Life: What’s Beneath the Assisted Dying Debate?”, a Theos report from 2017.
- The current legal situation in the UK in relation to assisted dying is set out in this Jan 2020 House of Common Briefing Paper.
- Should We Legislate to Permit Assisted Dying? – Westminster Faith Debate (video, audio and resources)
- Stephen Kettell, “How, When, and Why Do Religious Actors Use Public Reason? The Case of Assisted Dying in Britain” (2019) explores how Christians have contributed to the public debates in recent years and how they have tended to use secular rather than theological arguments.
- D. Etienne De Villiers, “May Christians request medically assisted suicide and euthanasia?”, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 72(4), 2016. Presents a case for such a request in exceptional circumstances.
The Church of England’s position is set out in
- Why the Church of England supports the current law on assisted suicide (2017)
- “At the End of the Day: Church of England perspectives on end of life issues” (2014, Church House Publishing)
- Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia: Briefing Paper (2005) especially Appendix 1 which is Joint submission from the Church of England House of Bishops and the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to The House of Lords Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (also here)
- “On Dying Well: A Contribution to the Euthanasia Debate” (2000, Church House Publishing)
The Roman Catholic Church’s teaching is set out in:
- Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (esp paras 64-74)
- Declaration on Euthanasia (1980)
- Pope Francis 2017 Message to World Medical Association
- Appendix 1 in CofE’s Assisted Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia: Briefing Paper (2005) which is Joint submission from the Church of England House of Bishops and the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to The House of Lords Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (also here)
The Church of Scotland has various reports including:
The Methodist Church has a summary of its views and links to various resources here.
Care Not Killing is the main Christian group in the UK opposed to changes in the law
Dignity in Dying is the main group in the UK working to change the law