I have a serious reservation about this book. It is not the ambiguous title, nor the dismal cover. It is its structure. This Christian book consists of 10 chapters, but there is precious little that is distinctly Christian until chapter 7 (about halfway through). Even then, few Scripture references are made, with meagre exegesis of any.
John Wyatt’s book starts with the bad news, providing examples of euthanasia practice in the UK and elsewhere. He outlines the specious arguments given from compassion, autonomy and so on. This is the pattern of most secular bioethics books; it is what I call cart-before-the-horse bioethics. This dangerous approach brings the Christian reader to these tangled issues in the wrong frame of mind. Indeed, I confess at times that I was almost persuaded by this pro-euthanasia thinking.
By contrast, biblical mandates (such as Romans 12:2 and 1 Corinthians 2:16) insist that we process everything through the lens of Scripture and with the mind of Christ. To do otherwise is foolhardy.
Therefore, our understanding of these life-and-death issues must first be rooted within a robust biblical framework. For instance, how can we understand death without grasping the heights and depths of Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:17? The author briefly mentions the former, but not the latter.
There are further shortcomings. The book has no index. There is no list of useful anti-euthanasia websites (such as carenotkilling.org). References consist of numerous pages of unwieldy URLs and the book’s overall coverage is patchy. For example, one of the UK’s landmark legal cases, that of Miss B, is reported, but those of Tony Bland, Diane Pretty and Debbie Purdy are missing.
Other trendsetters, such as Jack Kevorkian, Brittany Maynard, Peter Singer and Philip Nitschke, are also absent. Instead, there is too much from Christian ‘clerics’ like Paul Badham, Lord Carey, Archbishop Tutu and Stanley Hauerwas. In addition, excessive quotations from the 2012 report of Lord Falconer’s flawed Commission on Assisted Dying are included.
Of course, no book can be encyclopaedic, but authors have a duty to be encompassing and edifying. I do not doubt that John Wyatt abhors the threats and horrors of legalised euthanasia, but I am unclear about his target, in terms of subject and readership.
For me, the book is too vague and detached. Its hot topics demand perspicacity, passion and polemic. I want more than four pages on ‘what it means to die well’ and a finale comprising a verse from John Donne.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide confront us with the greatest bioethical challenge of the twenty-first century. Christians need to get their theology straight first and then respond to this issue by cherishing all human life, opposing euthanasia legalisation and supporting compassionate, palliative care. It is with a heavy heart that I conclude that this book will do little to foster these grand endeavours.
John R. Ling