Question: "Is it a sin to refuse medical treatment?"


The Bible never says it is a sin to refuse medical treatment. However, we must thoughtfully examine our beliefs regarding medical treatment in light of what the Bible has to say.

First, we should identify and dismiss false teachings concerning medical treatment. Proponents of the health-and-wealth gospel teach that God wants everyone to be healthy and that health is dependent on internalizing God’s Word and having enough faith to ward off or heal an ailment. Similarly, proponents of the New Thought movement put an overemphasis on healing through positive thinking and faith. These teachings are unbiblical mainly because they instill the idea that Christians can heal themselves through their own works by internalizing God’s Word enough, thinking the right things, or having enough faith. In reality, the Bible does not say that our health depends on our level of spirituality; neither does it say we are lacking faith—and, therefore, sinning—if we seek medical help.

Some people in Christian circles refuse medical treatment based on these two faulty ideas: 1) the use of medical treatments is a sinful attempt to defy God’s righteous judgment on mankind, and 2) if a person refuses treatment on the grounds of personal conviction, he or she is more godly than someone who chooses to take medical treatment.

In considering the first belief, we remember the following:

– Jesus healed many sick and ailing people during His ministry; since Jesus only did what was good, receiving relief from physical pain is a good thing (Matthew 15:29–39).
– Paul prescribed wine to Timothy for his stomach ailment, which indicates that treating ailments medicinally is to be encouraged (1 Timothy 5:23).
– Christians are instructed to “honor” (not abuse or neglect) their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19–20); if a medical treatment can be taken to honor a person’s body, it is worthy of thoughtful consideration.
– Luke, who wrote over half of the New Testament, was a physician (Colossians 4:14), and there is no reason to think that his practice of medicine was sinful.

In considering the second false belief, we point out that those who “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves . . . are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). Considering one’s own personal conviction to be more righteous than another’s is rooted in pride. A mother who refuses pain-killing drugs during childbirth is in no way more righteous than the woman who takes the drugs. It is often a matter of personal conviction or medical suitability.

When it comes to end-of-life care, some choose to refuse medical treatment in advance through drafting a living will. It’s true that, in some cases, withholding certain medications, treatments, or life-extending measures may be in the patient’s best interest. If the details of end-of-life treatment have been previously discussed, the patient’s family is relieved of much moral responsibility.

Terminally ill patients are another group that sometimes refuse medical treatment. When given the choice of two years of chemotherapy or six months of drug-free time with family, many cancer patients choose to forego the treatment in favor of more quality time with loved ones. This is a matter of personal conviction, and the decision requires prayer and deliberation.

In situations not specifically addressed in the Bible, Christians must form their own personal convictions as the Holy Spirit leads them (Romans 14:22). There may be good and honorable reasons to refuse medical treatment, just as there may be good and honorable reasons for accepting it. We should not make medical decisions based on fear (2 Timothy 1:7), misguided beliefs (2 Timothy 4:3–5), or even man-made laws (Mark 7:8). Instead, we should seek the Lord’s help and guidance with prayer and thanksgiving (Psalm 143; Philippians 4:6–7), striving to bring glory to God in all our health-related decisions (1 Corinthians 10:31).