There are fewer more heartbreaking things than to hear a diagnosis of a terminal disease – whether for one's self or a loved one. As well as the emotional impact of this, terminal illness can also raise difficult ethical issues for Christians to consider.

The issue of euthanasia has already been discussed in another section. For a Christian, this is never an option, even when faced with a terminal illness. Our lives are always in God's hands (Psalm 31:15). This is not to deny the immense suffering many people face during a prolonged terminal illness. For this reason, good quality palliative care – where a person is cared for in body, mind and soul – should be our focus. Palliative care is discussed in more detail in another section of this site.

Some of the more complex issues that arise are to do with the benefits and burdens of various treatments that may be available to someone with a terminal illness. Although many Christian traditions have consistently opposed euthanasia, they have not held that a person must necessarily make use of any and every treatment that is available. Christian ethicists maintain that basic care such as food and hydration should always be appropriately provided. But beyond this, a person may in good conscience refuse treatment that is deemed to be an unnecessary burden to them.

From a spiritual perspective, we all have a terminal illness, namely that of sin leading to spiritual death (Romans 6:23). But thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has won the victory over sin and death! Because our big 'terminal illness' has been dealt with, he can give us the strength and patience we need to live in hope, even in the midst of a terminal illness.

Further resources