On September 17, United Methodists and Catholics, led by the Houston Methodist Research Institute and the Pontifical Academy for Life, united to strongly “reject euthanasia and any pressure on the dying to end their lives.” United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Annual Conference and Catholic Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia signed the Joint Declaration on the End of Life and Palliative Care co-authored by the two groups. With this declaration, the medical professionals and religious leaders gathered in Houston for the Palliative Care and Spirituality for Life Conference reaffirmed traditional church teachings on the sanctity of life. Both the United Methodist and Roman Catholic traditions officially opposed euthanasia, said the declaration, because “the taking of a life” was “an offense against God’s sole dominion over life, and abandonment of hope and humility before God, and an affront to the dignity of and the solidarity among human beings.”
The Joint Declaration focused primarily on Christians’ duty to provide pastoral care and comfort to the dying. “Because Christian faith is relevant to every aspect of life,” it said, “no one should be expected to cope with life’s pain, suffering, and ultimate death without the help of God through other people.” The combined Catholic and United Methodist statement continued to say the Christian duty in this area extends even to social change—particularly to “reform the structures and institutions by which health and spiritual care are delivered” if those structures impose financial burdens on or fail to adequately comfort the dying.
This Joint Declaration’s specific statement “reject[ing] euthanasia and any pressure on the dying to end their lives,” with the same exact wording, has been part of the UMC’s official Social Principles for years. However, this official UMC stance is among the more traditionalist Christian values in the UMC Social Principles which leaders of the denominational establishment have rarely had the courage or conviction to publicly share and defend. Meanwhile the denomination’s far-left General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) has proposed a comprehensive rewriting of the social stances taken in the official UMC Social Principles. The most recently seen version of the GBCS’s proposal would leave this quoted language in place, for now, while making a significant incremental shift by deleting current official UMC position statements opposing “assisted suicide” and categorically declaring that “suicide is not the way a human life should end.”
This reaffirmation from United Methodists and Catholics is encouraging in light of a broader cultural trend toward viewing euthanasia in a more favorable light. For example, one 2016 movie, Me Before You (isn’t that the definition of selfishness?), attempted to emotionally manipulate theatergoers into believing that physician-assisted suicide was a virtuous choice for a wheelchair-bound romantic. Worldwide, the film amassed $208 million at the box office—$56 million in the U.S. alone.
The two denominations also used the opportunity to confront the secular culture’s fear of death. Their declaration recognized that “every mortal life will ultimately end in death,” but “for a Christian, death is not a hopeless adventure; it is the door of life that opens to eternity.” This is an important reminder, highlighting both the need to evangelize lost souls with the gospel and share the hope Christians have in Christ.
The Joint Declaration articulates traditional church teachings on the dignity of human life and the duty of Christians to love one another, and provides hope that in the future these timeless truths will be extended beyond euthanasia to other pressing social issues as well.