The Language of Assisted Suicide

John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Language of Assisted Suicide

The battle over ideas is the battle over definitions.  Whoever controls the language controls the debate. Let me illustrate. What’s your response—positive or negative—to the term “assisted suicide”?

Okay, now, positive or negative, what about the term “aid in dying”? Logically of course, they mean the same thing. But this isn’t about logic; it’s about persuasion. And since most people have an aversion to “suicide,” it goes down much easier if you call it “aid” instead.

A report in The New York Times by Erik Eckholm shines a light on this evolution (or corruption) in language. Eckholm writes, “Helping the terminally ill end their lives, condemned for decades as immoral, is gaining traction. “Banned everywhere but Oregon until 2008, it is now legal in five states. Its advocates, who have learned to shun the term ‘assisted suicide,’ believe that as baby boomers watch frail parents suffer, support for what they call the ‘aid in dying’ movement will grow further.”

Eckholm notes that much of this support depends on which term is used. Gallup says that in 1948, only 37 percent of Americans agreed that “doctors should be allowed to ‘end the patient’s life by some painless means” if the patient and family wanted it. Last year, however, 70 percent of Americans agreed. But just 51 percent in that same poll supported allowing doctors to help a dying patient “commit suicide.” That’s a big difference!

A pro-“assisted death” group, which cutely calls itself “Compassion and Choices,” is trying to further twist the language by insisting that killing oneself is only suicide if the person has “severe depression or other mental problems.” The rest are simply seeking to “die with dignity,” I guess. But if they succeed, they’re still dead!

And this issue isn’t ultimately just about how we speak, but how we think. Why do more and more people think ending life prematurely—or “aiding” someone in ending his or her own life prematurely—is acceptable?

Well, it’s about worldview. Let me suggest the following worldview basics, not on the dignity of death, but on the dignity of human life. Human life has dignity because we’re created in the image of God. But death is no longer the ultimate enemy because of Jesus Christ. Death has been defeated. So physical suffering is not to be avoided at all costs. Because Christianity is an incarnational faith, in which God Himself took on flesh and suffered in it, we know redemption comes through suffering. And we are not our own; we belong to God. And because all life is valuable, cheapening the life of one human being cheapens life for all of us...the very young, the very old, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the prisoner.

Whatever you choose to call it, euthanasia is becoming more and more acceptable. Belgium, for instance, has just passed a law permitting euthanasia for children! Talk about a culture of death!

But with Western culture heading into the abyss, we can’t just preach our worldview. We have to live it. Rob Moll, author of “The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come,” says that proponents of assisted suicide usually present us with a false choice.

He writes, “We need to have smarter conversations than these simplistic narratives that assume the only choice is to be hooked up to painful and futile life support or to inject poison. Americans need to know the dignity that comes when we allow ourselves to be cared for by those who love us, who want to care for us, and by professionals who have dedicated their lives to taking care of people through medicine.”

Of course, many ill people have no community to sustain them or give them true dignity in times of great suffering. But that’s where the Church must come in.

Are you and your church willing to step up and comfort someone struggling with end of life issues? Then come to, click on this commentary, and we’ll tell you how to get a copy of Rob Moll’s excellent book, “The Art of Dying.”

After all, the best response to society’s language-twisting acceptance of assisted suicide is a personal one.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: February 27, 2014