The contemporary debate concerning physician-assisted suicide is predicated, from the traditional Christian standpoint, first, on a belief that illness and suffering have no particular value or purpose and, second, that there is no life after death or, if there is, earthly life is not a necessary preparation or determinative for that life.
Father Alexey Young
Traditional Christianity (Orthodoxy), articulated in some detail by H. Tristam Englehardt in his article, “Physician-assisted suicide reconsidered: Dying as a Christian in a post-Christian age,” can also be summarized in the following statement by St. John of Kronstadt :
"In our eyes, illnesses appear only as painful, unpleasant, indeed terrible … but in God's all-wise and most merciful providence, not a single illness remains without some profit to our soul... Not a single sickness sent to us shall return void ... For man the earthly life, life in the body, serves only to prepare us for life eternal...
Therefore we must, without delay, make use of this present life to prepare ourselves for that other life to come .
A last-day father of the Church, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov , further explained that “earthly life—this brief period—is given to man by the mercy of the Creator in order that man may use it for his salvation, that is, for the restoration of himself from death to life”. This means that the focus of one's life is not primarily here, and therefore not political or sociological, but there, in the next world, in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is vividly illustrated by the final words of the righteous monk, Theodore of Svir (+1822) who, on his deathbed, said: “God be blessed! God be blessed! I have crossed the stormy sea of life and endured many troubles, but now the coast is in view.”
Given this otherworldly viewpoint, it then follows that “how long we live, what disease or illness accompanies our death—such things are not the proper concern of [traditional] Christians.” Afflictions of all kinds, illness, and death came into the world by God's permission in order to frequently, if not constantly, remind us that we are only creatures and in need of spiritual refinement and purification before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This great mystery of suffering applies even to seemingly “innocent” children who are sicken and, sometimes, die. The great Optina Elder, St. Ambrose , explained it thus:
We should not forget that in our age of “sophistication” even little children are spiritually harmed by what they see and hear. As a result, purification is required, and this is only accomplished through bodily suffering... You must understand that Paradisal bliss is granted to no one without suffering.
The process by which bodily afflictions act upon the soul is explained by St. John Chrysostom:
But if the body suffers only a little, we make every effort to be free of the illness and its pain. Therefore, God corrects the body for the sins of the soul, so that by chastising the body, the soul might also receive some healing.