Monday, March 18, 2024

It’s Monday, March 18, 2024. 

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

France Proposes Further Diminishing of Human Dignity: French President Emmanuel Macron Announce Euthanasia ‘Aid in Dying’ Bill

I want us to think for a moment today about the fact that many of the issues of our contemporary debate emerge from somewhere else, and by somewhere else, I mean in a specific case outside the United States of America. There are other places where many of these issues arise, and there’s a very clear pattern. Clearly, there is American influence in Europe. There’s also European influence in the United States, particularly in the cultural elites or in the United States the elites are incredibly impressionable when it comes to European opinions. And when it comes to European secularization and the far more liberal culture you find in many, if not most European nations, as compared to what you find in the United States or much of the United States.

Quite frankly, there are a lot of people in Hollywood and Manhattan and elsewhere who’d be far happier if the United States had the culture of a nation like France that you’ll recall just put abortion rights in the nation’s Constitution a matter of a few days ago. But I think it’s important that we actually look at France for a moment and let’s just remind ourselves, that is what happened a few days ago. The French, even though there was no threat to abortion rights anywhere in the political horizon, even though conservatives, as they style themselves in France, supported the proposal, there was no threat to abortion.

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, grandstanded by saying that abortion needed to be put in the constitution as abortion rights. By the way, it is interesting to note that the French, though they want to be also progressive on so many issues, still apparently in a characteristically French way, are certain they’ve got a pretty good idea of who is a man and who is a woman. But nonetheless, we’re going to be looking at France right now because the French president is back with another proposal and this one not about abortion, but euthanasia and the worldview principles here are just so, so important.

Principle number one, you have moral issues that are inherently related. If you are going to subvert the sanctity of human life at the beginning of life, as you have with abortion, then you are certainly going to also eventually get to subverting the dignity and sanctity of human life at the other end of the age spectrum. So you really do understand as a Christian that the big issue here is who gets to define life and it is also opposition to that life and the demand of autonomous secularized humans that we will define ourselves by these rights. We’ll define when life begins. We’ll define when life should end. The slippery slope is indeed very slippery and it is a slope towards the acceptance of euthanasia or assisted suicide or whatever you might want to call it.

But the French president recently said that a bill on assisted suicide or assisted dying would go before the French Parliament in May. So a heads-up from the French president about legislation that is coming. He gave an interview to a couple of news sources in France back on Sunday, March the 10th, and according to his proposal, there’s going to be a distinctively French way when it comes to euthanasia, and that should be pretty scary. But nonetheless, it’s also incredibly arrogant, but we are talking about Emmanuel Macron, the French President, so arrogance is just a part of the picture, that’s a part of his charm. It isn’t exactly clear what Macron defines as being essentially French, but he did suggest some of the issues. And by the way, very tellingly, a lot of it comes down to language.

Now, I want to acknowledge right up front that the French president made this speech, made these comments in French, so it has to be translated in English, but faithfully as a translation, the French president said that he doesn’t want to call this assisted suicide or physician assisted suicide, and he doesn’t want to call it assisted death. He doesn’t want to call it euthanasia. He wants to call it aid in dying because, well, you can understand how the attempted euphemism betrays the very nature of his argument. He doesn’t want to call this what it is. He wants to call it something else.

Le Monde, which is the most influential newspaper in Paris, also tells us that the French president wants assisted dying to be limited only to adults, “With full control of their judgment, suffering an incurable and life-threatening illness in the short to medium term and whose pain cannot be relieved.” These people according to Macron, if the bill passes, will be qualified to, “Ask to be helped to die.” And there was a further clarification coming from Macron, and that is that children and minors won’t qualify, nor will patients who are suffering from what Le Monde describes as psychiatric or neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Now, okay, in moral terms, we need to define our language here. If we talk about euthanasia, we’re talking about the Greek words for a good death, and this is the very, very sinful, tragic demand of human beings to be the author of our life at the end, if not in the beginning, and thus to set the terms in which we would have an acceptable death. And something like a wish for a good death has been a part of human experience going all the way back to classical Greek and Roman culture. But we as Christians understand that is a fundamentally not only unchristian, non-Christian, but anti-Christian understanding, that’s a contradiction with the Christian understanding of the Lordship of Christ, the sovereignty of God and the goodness of the gift of life.

Other distinctions we need to make are between say, well, at least in legal terms, euthanasia and assisted suicide. Assisted suicide usually is defined as some kind of agent-assisted suicide. That is someone is assisting and in many cases is defined as physician-assisted suicide, and that just tries to make the person who will die the only important moral agent. That is to say everyone else is merely assisting that person who’s presumed according to the secular worldview to have the right to define his or her own death.

But going back to euthanasia, there’s a moral distinction and a legal distinction between two forms of euthanasia. One is active euthanasia and the other is passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia means being actively involved as an agent to bring about death, and that means acting with some kind of what’s described as an intentional or positive act to bring about a more sudden death. Passive euthanasia is defined as withholding or going without medical care, not to bring about an earlier death, but to avoid forestalling a natural death.

And so at least in terms of some medical ethicists, and at least in terms of some lawyers, that’s a very crucial distinction. But the point for Christians is to understand is that the logic which is presented as passive euthanasia, it all too suddenly becomes active euthanasia. And even as you have say, voluntary euthanasia, that very quickly transforms itself into involuntary euthanasia. And that’s because the logic of euthanasia means you need to get out of the way. You’re using up too many medical resources, you’re simply costing too much. You can see where the insidious logic of euthanasia leads.

Now, Macron made this announcement saying that France is going to endorse euthanasia or assisted dying or in his own words, aid in dying, in a distinctively French way with supposedly protections put in place, no minors, only adults, these conditions, not those conditions, but it’s a very liberal proposal in that it actually allows doctors to administer a deadly dose of what would be some medication to bring about death. And so in this case, it’s not physician assisted suicide. In this case, you’re actually talking about the physician becoming the agent of death. And the law is even more liberal in the sense that it doesn’t limit these agents to physicians. It can be a friend or a family member who would be the agent of death. Just think about that for a moment.

Other media reports have put the French proposal into a European context where they’re in Europe. It’s true that a good number of countries have legislated and approved some form of assisted suicide or physician assisted suicide or euthanasia. For instance, in some countries including Italy and Germany and Austria, it’s really some form of assisted suicide. Meanwhile, in a northern European nation such as the Netherlands and Belgium, and then to the south in Spain and also in the center, Luxembourg, they actually allow the practice of euthanasia. So it’s more than so-called assisted suicide, it’s active euthanasia.

But the situation in France right now means that euthanasia, any kind of intentional direct action is classified as homicide. So the French proposal, Macron’s proposal is to legislate as lawful, now, he says, with all kinds of protections, what right now is classified as homicide. If a French doctor does now what is proposed in Macron’s legislation, that doctor can be charged with homicide. If a family member or a friend does now, what is defined as lawful in this new proposal, that person right now can be charged with homicide. So we are talking about a radical change in French law, and we as Christians understand that reflects an even more foundational and fundamental radical change in morality.

Now, just to say the obvious, this violates for example the teaching of Christianity through two millennium, and that includes Catholicism. And Catholicism historically has had a lot of influence in France, particularly in rural regions. But you also know the French Revolution, the Modern Age, the Enlightenment, French secularism and all the rest. Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, and Catholicism culturally has been largely in retreat in terms of influence in France for the better part of the last two centuries. This is evidence of that.

Well, as I said, the French president made this announcement, and from a Christian worldly perspective, I mentioned the principle of understanding that one thing does lead to another. And if you’re going to compromise the sanctity of life at the beginning of life, you’re going to compromise the sanctity of life at the end of life. Another principle to keep in mind here is that eventually, if you allow one issue to arise and you say that’s legitimate, before long, there are other issues that will arise. And if you get the first one wrong, then the ground of even judging legitimacy is destroyed. And that’s frankly how in the United States, the moral revolutionaries have made so much progress on sexual and gender issues or sexuality and gender issues because they say, “Right now, all we’re talking about is this. Oh, by the way, once we win that, now we’re talking about that. And once we win that,” they’re going to be talking about something else and demanding change somewhere else.

It’s not by accident that major American news magazines have run cover stories and major American newspapers have all of a sudden erupted in some articles asking about polyamory. It’s a very recognizable pattern. It is entirely predictable. President Macron said that the French government would be confronted with this legislation in May, so we’ll be talking about it again and we’ll track what happens there in France.

But I have to lead by thinking of the first President of the Fifth Republic, as the current of France is known, Charles de Gaulle, very well-known hero of World War II. Charles de Gaulle once complained about his job as president of France, asking the question of how anyone could govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese? And that leads to another principle of our thinking. Variety in cheese is one thing. Variety in morality, that’s a very different thing, and it’s the moral urgencies that threaten France right now, not the cheese.

Part II

A Growing Rift Between France and Germany: Why Tension Between These Two Nations Does Not Bode Well for Europe

But next, as we’re thinking about President Macron and we’re thinking about France, we’re thinking about Europe, and we’re thinking about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent war, it is really interesting right now to note that the divide between France and Germany on the question of how best to respond to the plight of Ukraine, it has become really interesting because you are looking at two different ways, not only of looking at the military, you’re looking at two different ways of looking at Europe and of course, different ways of looking at Ukraine.

The French president, you may know, got into controversy in recent weeks by calling for a far more aggressive anti-Russian stance to be taken by France and its NATO allies that would include the United States, it would include Germany, by the way, very crucially, even if it meant boots on the ground. Now, that’s exactly what President Biden and other NATO presidents have said is absolutely impossible. Now, the French president is rather famous for saying things that have irritated his NATO partners. He tends to make headlines in France by saying things that the rest of his NATO allied companions and colleagues have to walk back. But in this case, you really are looking at a very interesting and widening divide all of a sudden between France and French President, Emmanuel Macron and Germany and its Chancellor, Olaf Scholz.

Now, from a Christian worldview historical perspective, this is really interesting because throughout the history of Europe, if what we call France and what we call Germany are not at peace, as historians will often quip, then Europe is not at peace. If there is friction between France and Germany, now, remember, Germany as a country is a 19th century invention, but as a culture, it is a far, far older invention. What happened in the 19th century was the unification of Germany under one federal government. Before that, you had Prussia and Allied German states. And let’s just say that when you talk about Germany and you talk about militarism, oh my goodness, it was Prussia that was at the heart of it.

France in the meantime, was both an imperial power and an absolute monarchy and a very active military force. And much of European history comes down to military action taken between France and Germany, or what would now be called France and Germany, let’s just say the French civilization and the German civilization. They often met in battle and the rest of Europe was drawn into that battle. Now, it has been acknowledged that one of the most unexpected and constructive developments that took place after the Second World War is that in the aftermath of the war, and of course, that meant that France had at one point surrendered to Nazi Germany and been occupied by it, and France was eventually counted among the allies over against Nazi Germany. And so France was actually, even though its army had surrendered very early, it was counted as one of the victor nations at the end of World War II over against the conquered Germany.

One of the big aims of those who were trying to create a new civilization in Europe, or a restored civilization in Europe after World War II, one of the main aims was to find a way for Germany and France to be at peace. And the amazing thing is Germany and France have truly been at peace ever since World War II, not one single bullet in conflict between Germany and France, and by extension, as history would indicate, this has meant a good deal of peace throughout Europe. As a matter of fact, no major European nation had invaded any other major European nation until Russia invaded Ukraine just a matter of two years ago. We are looking at a very interesting development here, and it’s a development that’s irritating the United States, but it is leading to more than irritation on the part of many European nations because the French under President Emmanuel Macron appear to want to be more aggressive when it comes to Russia than Germany wants to be.

Well, who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, I think in this case, it is probable that both have an argument to make, and quite frankly, they’re going to have to make those arguments. And neither one of them is positive in any way towards Vladimir Putin or Russia, but that still leads to a big so what or what then as to how NATO should respond? But it also reminds us, and this is so important from a Christian perspective, history always matters. France is operating out of one historical experience and Germany’s operating out of a very different historical experience. The lessons that France learned from World War II are very different than the lessons Germany learned from World War II. And history also underlines why so much of Europe, and you could add the United States in this case to European concern, why many of those nations are now quite concerned at the growing rift between France and Germany because, to state the matter as clearly as possible, that has never gone well in the history of Europe.

Part III

'Overdose' or 'Fentanyl Poisoning'? War Over Words Comes to the Drug Abuse Epidemic

But then finally, sometimes we confront as Christians and we recognize that society at large confronts very difficult moral questions, and unlike the issue of euthanasia, some of these issues are not easily defined as right and wrong. And a heartbreaking article appeared recently in the front page of the New York Times. The headline is this, In Fentanyl Deaths, Victims’ Families Say Word Choice Matters. Now, to cut to the bottom line, the word choice here is a choice between the words overdose and poisoning. And so the big moral debate here, which has very deep emotional overtones, but also legal consequences, the big debate here is as to whether when someone dies of toxicity from fentanyl, are they to be referred to as having died of a drug overdose or are they to be referred to as dying of fentanyl poisoning?

Now, words really matter. I think we can understand the distinction. Folks who are the friends and grieving relatives of some who have died of the toxicity from fentanyl, and by the way, it’s an extremely toxic substance and it’s being mixed with all kinds of compounds, particularly, and this is what becomes so important, the illegal drug trade. And so there are a lot of people who it is true, are not seeking to take massive doses of fentanyl, but they are seeking to take something and that something is almost always illicit and illegal, and it is a form of drug abuse.

Now, the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, well, let’s just say federal agencies here are really more inclined to use the word overdose because morally, that speaks of the context in which this happens. But many of these families are saying, “That’s stigmatizing.” And so they are saying, “Instead, we should use the word poisoning. This person died of fentanyl poisoning because they didn’t intend to take a fatal overdose. They didn’t intend to die by taking fentanyl.” In so many tragic cases now, in the not only tens, but hundreds of thousands, we are looking at deaths that are so horrifying, leaving so many grieving families, grieving parents, grieving brothers and sisters, grieving children in some cases, friends. 

We are looking at the moral urgency of language, but I’ll be honest, there is no easy way to decide in this case, which is right and which is wrong, but the morality is there. There’s just no question about it. There is an immoral drug trade that is going on. There is immoral compounding of these illicit drugs, sometimes leading to what amounts to murder. But as some in the federal government point out, if you talk about poisoning and there are human beings involved, that one of them is a poisoner. But when it comes to the drug trade, it really gets complicated because so many of the people selling the drugs are also the people that are using the drugs. And when it comes to say, coming up with moral responsibility, it becomes impossible in most situations to know exactly where and exactly who, if you’re going to use the word poisoning, poisoned this substance by substituting fentanyl, say for some kind of cocaine, just to give one example, or heroin. It really becomes a very complex moral question.

And yet, it is also true that there is some intentional use of illicit drugs in almost every one of these cases, some intentional use of illicit substances. That’s why so many in the federal government believe that the word overdose is exactly the right word, because whether or not people are intending to take fentanyl rather than something else, the reality is they do know that the drug trade is laced, literally, with fentanyl and that this represents a clear and present danger.

Leo Beletsky, identified as an expert on drug policy enforcement at Northeastern University School of Law, said, “Language is really important because it shapes policy and other responses.” The New York Times then says, “In the increasingly politicized realm of public health, word choice has become imbued with even greater messaging power.” We can understand why that’s so. It’s true because words matter so much. If you name a thing, you have enormous power over it, which is by the way, so important for us to recognize that when God gave Adam the power to name the animals, that was an awesome demonstration of what’s defined as dominion.

The Times put it this way, and I quote, “Addiction is an area undergoing convulsive language change. And words like alcoholic and addict are now seen as reductive and stigmatizing.” Later, the same paper says, “The word poison is an emotional force carrying reverberations from the Bible and classic fairy tales.” Sheila Vakharia, a senior researcher at The Drug Policy Alliance, said, “Poisoning feeds into the victim-villain narrative that some people are looking for,” but The Times also points to the problem with poisoning, “But while poisoning offers many families a buffer from stigma, others whose loved ones died from taking illegal street drugs find it problematic.” So those are the families of those who died by a drug overdose in which fentanyl wasn’t involved. And they say, “Well, if all of a sudden, it’s a moral change for these people taking illicit drugs, then there ought to be the same moral change or language change for those people taking illicit drugs.”

By the time you reach the end of the article, it’s pretty clear that the federal government is at this point, uninterested in changing the language because it’s going to confuse the issue. And if you’re counting, say, health statistics and death statistics and crime statistics, overdose turns out to be a very crucial word. But at the very same time, we understand that words carry moral weight and we understand how such words can be indeed stigmatizing. We also understand, by the way, that some of that stigma is quite morally legitimate, but nonetheless, the stigma shouldn’t fall upon the loved ones of those who have died. So it’s a difficult situation. We can understand why family members of one who died of toxicity related to fentanyl, why they would want to change in the language. It points to some of the excruciating perplexities of living in a fallen world.

We often on The Briefing talk about what for Christians should be easily recognized as matters of right and wrong, light and darkness, life and death. But sometimes we also come up against issues that require us to think very hard, and sometimes these have to do with language, and we’re the people who must understand that language matters. At the very least, our concern should be to do our very best to get words right.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to 

Today I’m in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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