Francis Schaeffer is a difficult figure to label. He grew up and was discipled in a more separatist-fundamentalist context, but founded L’Abri with his wife to reach skeptics and searchers amidst the counter culture of the late 50s and on. He studied under Cornelius Van Til, the father of presuppositional apologetics, and corresponded with Larry Norman, the father of Christian rock. He was well-versed in Ingmar Bergman movies, and was a staunch defender of biblical inerrancy. While his exact position within the larger evangelical church may be difficult to pinpoint, Schaeffer’s role and legacy can probably be summed up in one word: prophetic.
To be sure, Schaeffer wasn’t right on everything. He was imprecise on his history of ideas, and was often more worried about making a point than maintaining technical precision. He did not get Thomas Aquinas or Søren Kierkegaard completely right. But for whatever imprecision he may have had, he did possess a knack for seeing clearly the consequences of ideas. He was prophetic in knowing the general trajectory of his culture. And he was prophetic in speaking in that moment, warning believers and unbelievers alike of the consequences of their actions and thoughts. Schaeffer saw during his time what many did not. Even more, Schaeffer saw during our time what many do not. For that reason, Schaeffer still speaks to us today.
Public interest in euthanasia seems to wax and wane, though the problem remains the same. Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s popularity in the 1990s raised cultural awareness of the practice. Again in the 2000s, the Terri Schiavo case brought attention again to questions pertaining to euthanasia. Recent news from Canada, and the expansion in their medical assistance in dying (MAID) process, raises even more fears. In 2021 alone, over 10,000 people were euthanized in Canada, making up over 3% of the overall deaths in the nation. That number also constitutes a 32.4% increase from the previous year. This is not an isolated issue, but a significant evil that needs to be fought against. Even before the extension of MAID, before the Terry Schiavo case, and before “Dr. Death,” Francis Schaeffer spoke prophetically on this issue.
If you survey Schaeffer’s thoughts on euthanasia, you will almost always find it listed among two other moral evils: abortion and infanticide. The reason is not coincidental. Schaeffer repeatedly noted that the acceptance of one of these would inevitably lead to the acceptance of the others. These issues share the same basic moral assumptions. In a letter, he writes,
I feel that abortion is murder . . . I do think that this is what the Bible would set forth. It is interesting that the people who are for abortion tend also to be for euthanasia. I think both spring from the fact that modern man does not feel that man is unique, and sees him only as part of the continuum from the molecule onward. The Bible says, of course, that man is unique because he is made in the image of God.
1. Francis A. Schaeffer, Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life, ed. Lane T. Dennis (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1986), 229.
Schaeffer is well-known for his advocacy for the unborn. A variety of his books focus heavily on combating the atrocity of abortion: Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and A Christian Manifesto specifically. And yet, Schaeffer understood abortion and euthanasia (and infanticide) to share the same basic problem. They both determine “meaningful personhood” by certain functions or value to society and not by the inherent dignity placed there by the Creator. “On the one end we will kill the embryo with abortion—any time anyone wishes—and on the other end we will introduce euthanasia for the old. The one is here, and the other is coming.”
2. Christopher Talbot, “The Pro-Life Legacy of Francis Schaeffer,” First Things, September 5, 2022.
3. Francis A. Schaeffer, Back to Freedom and Dignity in Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, (Westchester, IL, Crossway, 1982), 1:367.
Even more, Schaeffer had the foresight to see that euthanasia was not and would never just be about “mercy killing.” Schaeffer knew it wasn’t merely a privatized practice. Instead, he understood that there would be political and cultural implications and influences. He writes, “If you are a social burden and an economic burden, no matter how precious life might be to you, there will be little chance of your surviving.” Schaeffer saw that these issues were not privatized decisions, but implicated in the overall trajectory of one’s culture. As the culture moves downward, so goes their ethics.
4. Francis A. Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? in Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1982), 5:347.
Loving Our Neighbors Unto Death
Schaeffer knew that these life-or-death issues were directly connected to a robust biblical anthropology. When we throw away what it means to be uniquely human—that we are made according to the image of God—then it is a quick turn downward in how we treat other people. Schaeffer states unequivocally,
If we continue to throw away our humanness as exemplified by easy abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, etc., etc., if we are more and more taken up with our own personal peace and affluence, even to the point of getting rid of my own baby before or after it’s born, or my grandmother as she’s a nuisance, I would make an absolute projection . . . I don’t feel they care for anything except for what I call their personal peace and affluence, their own selfishness.
5. See Christopher Talbot, “The Mannishness of Man and the Imago Dei: An Analysis of Francis Schaeffer’s Anthropology and Apologetic Methodology,” Eikon: A Journal for Biblical Anthropology 3.1 (2021): 72–95.
6. Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 217.
He also realized that to really love people, whether they are about to be born or are nearing the end of their life, we must be prepared to show them true compassion. True compassion means fighting and advocating against the kind of systems, ideologies, and worldviews that are ultimately harmful to each individual. Schaeffer argued that those advocating for euthanasia programs did not ultimately have individuals and their good in mind, but rather cared more about their own personal peace and affluence. Individuals are no longer seen as bearers of God’s image, but instead as commodities of the larger culture. Schaeffer wrote,
If people are not made in the image of God, the pessimistic, realistic humanist is right . . . In this setting, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia (including the killing of mentally deranged criminals, the severely handicapped, or the elderly who are an economic burden) are completely logical. Any person can be obliterated for what society at one moment thinks of as its own social or economic good.
7. Schaeffer and Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? 5:405.
The question, then, remains: how do we love people amidst the rise of euthanasia programs? Schaeffer says there are at least two steps. First, we have to believe the truthfulness of Christianity. This is more than a mere apologetic answer. Schaeffer understood personally and preached clearly that Christianity was, in fact, true. Christianity does not become true, but is truly true because it is grounded in the source of all truth: the God who is there.
Second, if we believe that Christianity is true, then we must submit to the Lordship of Christ in every area of life. Schaeffer illustrates this according to different vocations. He says that this may require those who stand against euthanasia to be willing to pay the price. They must be willing to miss promotions, give up the academic posts, lose their churches, or more. In short, to compassionately care for those affected by euthanasia, we have to be willing to be uncomfortable ourselves, and to make those comfortable with these practices uncomfortable too. Even more, applying the Lordship to every area of life requires people to be willing to affect change in their culture in substantial ways. We must work diligently to turn the tides culturally, as well as politically. We must be committed to pursuing legislation that abolishes euthanasia programs.
8. Schaeffer and Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? 5:407.
Schaeffer was not without his detractors in his day, and would certainly be critiqued today. Richard Pierard criticized Schaeffer for saying abortion and euthanasia were akin to a modern-day holocaust. But maybe Schaeffer wasn’t wrong. Maybe he was simply being prophetic. While the numbers are not yet the same, they are exponentially rising each year. If practices of euthanasia continue to rise, more and more people will die unnecessarily at the mercy of the state. People will be treated as commodities to be terminated due to economic burden, and not as people with inherent worth and dignity.
9. Richard V. Pierard, “Schaeffer on History” in Ronald W. Ruegsegger, ed., Reflections on Francis Schaeffer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 217.
Euthanasia literally means “good death.” Ironically, the practice has been used to bring about the exact opposite, harming an individual made in the image of God. To fight against these programs, we should listen to the prophetic words of Francis Schaeffer to love our neighbors amidst death and toward life. We need to listen and recognize the uniqueness of each individual made in God’s image. And we must be prepared to live under the Lordship of Christ, compassionately caring for individuals from birth all the way until death.