Q&A: On the Observance of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

 

 1) What do we mean by the phrase “Sanctity of Human Life?”

Specifically, we mean to communicate the biblical truth that each and every human life, being made in the very image of God, is a special object of God’s love and concern (Gen 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9).

God is no respecter of persons, and so we ought not to be either. Every human life, no matter how young or old, no matter how functional or dysfunctional, is truly worthy of our love and deepest respect. While human life is not to be worshipped, it is to be valued greatly and protected.

 

2) What is the origin of the practice of observing a “Sanctity of Human Life” day each year?

President Ronald Reagan began the annual tradition. By his proclamation, January 22, 1984, the 11th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, marked the first national observance of the Sanctity of Human Life. That tradition has been continued by some, but not all, presidents since Reagan.

Political observances aside, Christians across the denominational spectrum have annually been calling attention to the tragedy of abortion on demand ever since the Roe v Wade decision (Jan 22, 1973).

Roe v Wade was a wake up call. Specifically, it awakened evangelical Christians in America to the responsibility of being salt and light (Matt 5:13—16) in a culture that was growing increasing callous towards human life.

 

3) What does it mean to be “salt and light?”

Being salt and light entails bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on a lost and dying world. Preaching and personal evangelism are of paramount importance to the task, but they are incomplete and often rendered ineffective if our words are not matched by lives radically altered by the Gospel.

A life radically altered by the Gospel is one that is no longer controlled by fleshly desires and worldly thinking, but rather, it is in tune with God. It values what God values, and it finds deep and abiding joy in obeying His commands.

What is it, then, that God commands of His people?  Here is the answer He gave through the prophet Micah:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8, NASB)

 “Doing Justice” – that is what Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is about.

Among other things, “doing justice” demands that we advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, that we uphold the interests of the weak over and against the schemes of those who would oppress them.

Human Life is under attack, and doing justice demands that Christians concern themselves with the problem and minister accordingly.

 

4) In what ways is human life under attack today?

Human life is under attack across its entire spectrum. On the back end, it is threatened by the evil of euthanasia. The notion that killing can be a genuinely compassionate ministry to the aged, disabled, and/or infirm is a lie borne straight from the pit of Hell.

Even towards the healthy, we see in our culture a blatant disregard for the value of human life. Murder and violent crime are the obvious signs, but no less concerning is the disregard for human life that permeates much of what passes these days for entertainment.

For the Romans, the sinful appetite for violence was satiated at the Coliseum; for Americans, the appetite is no less strong though the venue for its satisfaction may be different. Yes we have our sports arenas for modern-day gladiatorial contests that feature all the violence without, it is hoped, the killing (e.g., UFC);  but we also have our television viewing rooms, our video game stations, and comfortable cinemas where, for our viewing pleasure, human bodies are violated, desecrated, and discarded like rubbish.

Now, what generally gets the most attention at Sanctity of Human Life observances is the assault on human life on the front end, and elective abortion in particular, which has claimed over 50 million lives in the US since Roe v Wade.

Many, frankly, have grown tired of the public controversy over abortion and just wish it would go away. But, absent a mass awakening in our country to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the killing will continue. As the Christian’s charge to protect the innocent and vulnerable is neither optional nor in harmony with the worldly ethos of our day, we may expect that the controversy will continue.

We can take heart, however, in the fact that we stand in good company for Christians have been battling the evil of infanticide from the Church’s earliest beginnings. In Roman culture, it was socially acceptable for fathers to abandon unwanted babies on the doorstep of the family home – death by exposure largely served the same purpose that abortion does today. Convinced, however, that all human life is a gift of the Creator God and thus to be valued and protected, early Christians not only refused to participate in the horrific practice, but even more, they rescued many an abandoned child.  As they did so, they provided a powerful witness to the love of God and his gracious salvation extended to helpless sinners.

Human life on the front end is also threatened in our day by the effort to control reproductive outcomes and, in particular, the attributes of our progeny. Whereas the Romans had to wait and see what “nature” delivered, nowadays we have the increasing capacity  to determine what first goes into the womb.

Implicit to the drive to select children of a specific type or kind is the judgment that some children are not worth having.

In China, that judgment has manifested in a higher abortion rate for female offspring that has left the population with an enormous gender imbalance. That imbalance poses for China serious threats to peace and order – both internally, and with its neighbors.

Here in the U.S., gender selection is occurring, though not on the same scale as in China. Its not that we are any more humane, however, its just that our focus has been more on the elimination of babies perceived as defective.

And so, for example, those among us who lived in the days prior to pre-natal testing recognize that we have in our midst fewer children with Down’s Syndrome. Current estimates are that somewhere close to 90% of children identified through pre-natal tests as having Down’s Syndrome are now aborted.

 

Reproductive medicine has not only yielded an increasing capacity to control the makeup of our children, it has also created a huge “surplus” of human embryos. Most of these embryos have been consigned to the freezer. Few will ever come to occupy a womb, but instead, most will either expire on the freezer shelf or be dissected and destroyed in a medical laboratory.

To assuage the conscience uneasy about embryonic experimentation, researchers and their supporters tell us that these embryos are not really human beings or “persons,” but we know better. We were all embryos at some point, just as we were infants, and then toddlers, and then children, and so on.

From conception onward, we are who we are: individual persons known and loved by God and, thus, to be loved according to His command: as neighbor. Neighbor love is sacrificial, but note, it sacrifices not the interests of the one being loved, but rather, those of the one who loves. Killing an innocent neighbor can never be a genuinely loving thing to do.

 

 5) So, what is the Christian to do?

First, we must recognize the assault against human life for what it is. Most fundamentally, it is spiritual warfare. We face an enemy, Satan, whom the Scripture describes as a “murderer” (John 8:44) who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).

Second, we must then utilize spiritual weapons.

1)    The Gospel Truth

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls sin for what it is, but doesn’t leave the matter there;

It also proclaims in Christ Jesus redemption and forgiveness to all who would repent and place their faith in Christ Jesus;

It is lived out through daily ministry to neighbor – word and deed must be in sync.

2)    Prayer

Much prayer is required. We are up against a mighty foe, and so, we must call upon the Most High God

3)    Guarding our hearts and minds

We must take care to not let that which is unwholesome and impure to capture our hearts or minds;

This is not a call to disengage from culture, but rather, a reminder of the need to filter it and deny it a controlling influence.

 Third,  we get involved  i.e., we seek to be salt and light.

1)    Through personal evangelism

Hearts and minds must be transformed by the Gospel. Yet, as the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans declared, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

2)    A personal, social ministry – several avenues exist

Making other people’s problems our own; sharing burdens

Working with agencies whose aim it is to uphold the value of human life

Advocacy in the Public Square: telling the truth in love, pointing our culture to God’s vision of the good life

Losing control at Christmas

 

Throughout most of history, having children was not a matter of exerting control, but of accepting uncertainty. Whether and how the act of making love resulted in children was a mystery. In the pages of Scripture, having children — especially when one had been considered barren — was most often seen as a sign of God’s blessing: think of Eve, Sarah, Rachel and Leah, Hannah, Elizabeth …

Somewhere in the modern epoch the mindset changed. Children are still a blessing, but now they are also a liability, and we calculate how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to raise a child. In the modern purview, since childbirth brings liability, it must be brought under control. The most portentous embodiment of this mindset change is the development of contraception. We now speak of “planned” and “unplanned” pregnancies — another way of saying “controlled” vs. “uncontrolled.”

But this is not enough control for moderns, for all contraception, other than abstinence, is imperfect. So when contraception fails, when we lose control, we establish the option of abortion, by which we re-assert control, by which we affirm the supreme modern value of control over life.

But even this degree of control is not enough. Why should we stop at merely preventing children, when we can control their conception? Thus we pursue reproductive technologies, by which the woman barren, like Rachel, or too-old-to-have-children, like Elizabeth, can produce a child. Yet this is still not enough; there is still too great an element of uncertainty, so we assert an ever-greater control over the process of conception by testing these children of reproductive technology before they are born or even en-wombed, in order to control who will live and who will not. Again, the mindset changes: children now are not only a blessing and a liability, but a product, manufactured to certain specifications and precise tolerances.

“Control” is not a bad thing. There are many in this world who would be much better off if they had a greater degree of control over their lives. But since we are a fallen race, the more we seize control of something, the more we ruin it in the process. We see this in our physical environment as we have increasingly asserted control over it; we will see it in our humanity if we continue in the path of controlling ourselves through enhancement and controlling our offspring through genetic manipulation.  One of the most vexing questions bioethics must answer is, How much control is right? And when have we gone too far?

Contrast the modern techno-birth with the most important birth in all of history, which was not a matter of control, but of surrender, surrendering control over birth. In the process, the “perfect” contraception — abstinence — fails! Yet from this act of surrendering comes the greatest gift the world has ever received. Is there a lesson here? Does our greatest good always lie not in grasping for greater and greater control, but in knowing when to relinquish control and surrender?

 

Abortion: Unbridled Democracy in Action

 

When reading a piece by Joseph Ellis on the founding of the US, American Creation, I came upon an insightful saying. I am not sure if this is a common saying and/or if I have heard it before and it just didn’t click. Whatever the case may be, it caught my attention.

The context in which Ellis wrote the phrase, “Unbridled democracy in action,” was concerning the gradual removal of Native American tribes by the expanding United States. However, is it not the case that we see unbridled democracy in action, perhaps even more than ever, in America today?

Here I am not necessarily referring to the destruction of a people as an exercise of liberty, although addressing that may be apropos. I am talking about the extension of liberty at the expense of morality and justice. While we all stand firmly on the preservation of liberty, is this not the very principle people use to justify all kinds of deeds?

 

One such deed is abortion under the guise of “procreative liberty”. This is portrayed best, perhaps, in the mistaken ruling of Roe vs. Wade delivered by Mr. Justice Blackmun:

 

“The principle thrust of appellant’s attack on the Texas statutes is that they improperly invade a right, said to be possessed by the pregnant woman [Doe], to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Appellant would discover this right in the concept of personal “liberty” embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause; or in personal, marital, familial, and sexual privacy said to be protected by the Bill of Rights…” (Section V)

 

The ruling did two dangerous things: 1.) Extended the rights of woman based upon an abstraction of the language of liberty in the constitution (I understand Blackmun cited case precedence also), and 2.) Usurped state’s rights.

The first is true because of a soft/fluid interpretation of the constitution. And despite the claims of Mr. Justice later in his delivery of the opinion of the court,  the second is true because the ruling made abortion legal nationally, which demolished standing state legislation across our nation without legislative due process.

Not to mention that this ruling negated the foundational facet of a three-faceted ideal: the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness. What about life?

Down Syndrome and Thanksgiving

 

Despite today being the retail abomination known as “Black Friday,” I will continue in the vein of Thanksgiving and write about a person I am thankful for.

My nephew’s name is Jacob, and he has Down Syndrome. He just turned 18. He is one of the most loyal and loving people I have the privilege of knowing. He gives incredible, bone-crushing hugs. His cell phone voice mail message ends with, “Love you.” His aunt, my sister, lies in a nursing home, barely able to interact since a brain injury in June; but Jacob doesn’t care about her medical conditions, he just loves to be there with her, because he loves his aunt. I am thankful for Jacob’s example of unconditional love.

When we take Jacob out to eat, he orders french fries. And when he eats french fries, he eats them a certain way, one at a time, dipped just so in his favorite condiment: steak sauce. Lunch takes at least an hour. I am thankful that Jacob makes us slow down. 

Jacob loves music. He owns several guitars, and received a bass guitar for his last birthday. He especially loves worship music. He can strum his guitars, although a guitarist probably wouldn’t call it “playing” guitar. His singing isn’t exactly on key. Yet most Sundays he is in front of his church leading worship with the worship team. His microphone may not be turned up terribly high, but his love for Christ is at full volume. I am thankful for Jacob’s example of unselfconscious worship.

Jacob sometimes requires extra patience. His parents have made extra sacrifices. There are things he does that will drive you crazy if you let them (Is there anybody for whom that is not true?). He will never live independently, and will always require a level of extra care. But the extra care and patience are richly rewarded. And while we think we are making extra sacrifices for Jacob, I sometimes think that God sees it differently: that He is giving us an extra measure of blessing by allowing us to be with Jacob. Yet it seems that too many, when they think of “Down Syndrome,” think only of the extra work and sacrifice and limitations. Either that, or they think of a life that is not worth living. Whatever the thinking, it is both sad and frightening that in this country, about 92% of the unborn babies suspected (on the basis of prenatal testing) of having Down Syndrome are aborted: sad, because of the loss of human life through abortion as well as the loss of the privilege of being with these unique people; and frightening, because of what it says about us as a society. I am thankful that Jacob was not one of the 92%.

Voting on personhood

The issue of how we define personhood or how we define who has full moral status is one of the most fundamental issues in bioethics. It determines who is included in our considerations of ethical issues. The worldview of Christians who understand the Bible to be the foundation of our understanding of God’s moral truth and who hold to the traditional creeds of the church points to a biological definition of personhood. This biological definition would include every living human being from the time he or she became a separate biologic entity as a zygote following fertilization or its equivalent. This is in contrast to those who would define personhood functionally by the presence of what are considered human attributes.
Next week the people of Louisiana will vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would add the following statement, “Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
For those of us with a Christian worldview the proposed amendment raises two questions. 1) Is this definition correct? We would answer that with an unequivocal yes. 2) Is it prudent to add this definition to a state constitution? The answer to that is less clear. If by adding this definition the lives of defenseless unborn human beings are spared then it is clearly a good thing. If this amendment leads to a reaction at a national level which more deeply establishes personal autonomy as the legal priority over the value of the lives of those who are unable to speak for themselves then more unborn lives may be lost than if it were not passed.
We must always be clear in expressing what we understand to be God’s moral truth. When we venture into public policy we need to understand that we are working in a fallen world where that truth may not be understood and a focus on the self may distort it. We need wisdom to decide how to proceed because what is most prudent may not be clear.

The Price of Knowledge

Is it ever good to not know? Is all information good information? These questions, I would contend, are at the heart of some of the testing options during pregnancy. Now before I stick my foot in my mouth, I am not referring to any medically necessary tests or procedures for pregnancies. These offer options for therapeutic solutions.

What I am referring to are tests that are in an effort to uncover “birth defects”, such as Down syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis. These two happen to be the most contentious of diagnoses because knowing your developing child has either of them offers no therapeutic solution(s). (I say “therapeutic solutions” because abortions are rarely that and are definitely not in the case of either of these diagnoses).

Opting to receive this particular kind of information during pregnancy does not offer much resolve. There are only two answers that it offers. One is somewhat reasonable and the other is not.

The first answer is so that parents may prepare themselves. This foreknowledge gives parents an opportunity to say: “brace yourself”, but it offers no power or control over the things to come. (I would interject that having knowledge about temporal things we cannot change is often more enfeebling than it is empowering).

The second is to take the life of the child. This “solution” is the real concern. Parents are offered information/diagnoses that leave some feeling as if their only choice is to end the life of a person of potential. This is a travesty that neglects the inherent value of this person, which is abandoned in the act of placing value upon an external instead of the value given by God.

 

On Licensing Abortion Clinics

 

Should abortion clinics be required to meet minimum standards for patient access, medical record-keeping, sanitation, etc., as are medical facilities in which invasive procedures are performed?  More than twenty states have decided that question in the affirmative, including Virginia, whose State Board of Health is set to vote this Thursday on licensing regulations that would affect clinics in which 5 or more first-trimester abortions are performed per month.

In noting the support of staunch pro-life advocates for the proposed regulations, the editors of The Washington Post have raised their pens in moral indignation, writing that “IF SOMETHING about anti-abortion advocates pressing for “safer” abortion clinics rings false to you, trust your instincts.”[1] The editors were specifically targeting the Family Foundation and  the Virginia Catholic Conference, arguing, in effect, that consistency demands that abortion opponents disavow any serious concern for the health of women who choose to abort their children. One cannot, the editors would have their readers believe, advocate both for the criminalization of elective abortion and for the health of women who opt for abortion.

Sadly, The Post demonstrates in this “editorial board opinion” the willingness of supposedly “upper-tier”journalists to chuck the most basic rules of critical thinking when defending some cherished social ideal or policy. Surely they know they have committed the classic error of posing a false dilemma, which assumes only two options exist when, in fact, others are possible. It is not only possible for opponents of abortion to care about the health of the abortion clinic’s clientele, but such is a present reality as pro-life pregnancy crisis centers across our country routinely demonstrate in their ministrations to the health and well-being of post-abortive women. A commitment to the sanctity of human life, most pro-lifers would argue, requires not only concern for the baby’s life, but for the mother’s as well. So, while there should be no expectation that pro-lifers would cease from their efforts to outlaw elective abortion, one ought not to be surprised to see them advocating for the health and safety of aborting mothers.

Truly, as it concerns the issue of consistency, advocates of abortion who would stand in the way of regulating abortion clinics as medical facilities are in a tough spot. They generally desire that elective abortion would be viewed as healthcare (see my post from June 27, 2011), but when it comes to treating it as such, they object. The Post’s editors are willing, they claim, to accept some regulations, but not those requiring a significant outlay of capital. To that, I suspect, many hospital administrators will simply respond “Welcome to our our world!” Meeting medical facility regulatory requirements is, no doubt, a burden, but it is one that must be borne out of concern for patient safety and well-being.


[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/targeting-bortions/2011/09/01/gIQAS7Fa2J_story.html

What’s in a name?

Interacting with students often reminds me of the importance of some very basic things.  Recently I was reminded of the importance of defining the terms we use in bioethics.  In reading reviews of case studies by some of my online students I saw how their unquestioning acceptance of definitions influences how they think.

The terms involved were “abortion” and “passive euthanasia” and the definitions were from a textbook by Lewis Vaughn that we use in the course.  Vaughn’s text, which I reviewed in the summer 2011 edition of Ethics & Medicine, is generally good at representing a wide spectrum of views on current issues in bioethics, but sometimes some less objective things slip in.

Abortion was defined as “the intentional termination of a pregnancy through drugs or surgery”, which sounds pretty straightforward.  From the way a student was using the definition in a case review I realized that the definition would include and equate abortion with such things as the induction of labor for the delivery of a healthy term infant or a C-section to save the life of an infant in distress.  The fact that an abortion is a termination of pregnancy that includes the intentional ending of the life of the fetus was left out.  That part of the definition makes a big difference.

Passive euthanasia was defined as “allowing someone to die by not doing something that would prolong life.”  That is how James Rachels defined passive euthanasia in his classic defense of active euthanasia that was based on there being no moral distinction between active and passive euthanasia.  What that definition leaves out is the idea that any euthanasia involves the intent to end another person’s life.  This definition of passive euthanasia includes all the times we allow a person to die by choosing not to initiate or continue any possible life-prolonging treatment, but there is a significant difference between allowing a person to die of his or her disease when treatment has become more of a burden than a benefit and doing something with the intent of causing the person to die.  Intending another person’s death is the key to what is wrong with euthanasia and leaving that out of the definition makes a big difference.

What’s in a name?  The difference between right and wrong.

Abortion Prevention

Nigel Cameron wrote that it is important to see elective abortion as a symptom, not the disease.  Because this is true, if Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, and some states started to outlaw abortion, the abortion problem would not end;  because even if Roe v. Wade goes away, all of the reasons that women have abortions will still exist.  What will those of us who call ourselves Pro-Life do to address some of those underlying causes?  What are we doing to address those underlying causes?  (Do we even think about what the underlying causes are?)  What are we doing to promote a social and cultural environment that is less inimical to the raising of and providing for children?  What are we doing to help those who do choose to carry their babies to term, particularly among the poor in whom abortion is so prevalent?  What are we doing to support them in feeding and housing and providing a safe environment and medical care to their children?  (Why are Pro-Lifers so heavily represented among those who are most vocally opposed to health care reform and gun control?)

 

I hope and pray that some day Roe v. Wade is overturned.  But I believe that we as a Christian community must work more energetically to show that being Pro-Life means more than picketing and praying.  At the very least, it means making sacrifices to help women and families with children.  It means getting more involved in the messy lives of those around us.  If we can address some of the reasons so many women feel that abortion is their best or only option, maybe we can go a long way towards accomplishing what we can never accomplish merely by overturning a Supreme Court decision.

 

From Eugenics to Genocide (A Short Walk)

Last week I wrote about the practice of eugenics in modern American obstetrics:  induced abortion performed because prenatal testing shows a potential chromosomal abnormality or birth defect.  This past week, the BBC News Online ran a series of stories under the headline “India’s unwanted girls.”  These stories tell of the practice in India of induced abortion performed because prenatal testing shows a particular unwanted chromosomal “abnormality”:  the presence of the XX chromosome pair, i.e., aborting a baby simply because she is female.  Because of long-standing prejudices and practices, in many parts of Indian society a female child is considered undesirable.  There is widespread availability of prenatal ultrasound clinics for sex determination, and so many parents  avail themselves of  these clinics’ services to guide abortion decisions that in some areas of India there are less than 840 female children for every 1000 male children.  Some Indian activists use the word “genocide” to describe this selective killing of girls.  Lest anyone suspect that Indian families thought up this novel use of medical technology on their own, the following quote from the story provides chilling evidence to the contrary:  “In 1974, Delhi’s prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences came out with a study which said sex-determination tests were a boon for Indian women.  It said they no longer needed to produce endless children to have the right number of sons, and it encouraged the determination and elimination of female foetuses as an effective tool of population control.”

Three observations:  First, given the rationalizations for the unfettered right to abortion that pro-choice advocates have promulgated in this country, they would be have to be mute in the face of sex-selective abortion.  They cannot say that it is wrong to abort girls, because if it is wrong to abort girls, then it is wrong to abort boys.  If they admit that it is wrong to distinguish — and extinguish — foetuses on the basis of an arbitrary criterion such as gender, then they would have to admit that it is wrong to do so on the basis of any arbitrary criterion — such as the presence of a disability.

Second, the term “genocide” used by certain Indian activists seems extreme, but it may not be such a long walk from eugenics to genocide.  The justification used to commit foeticide on the basis of gender can be employed to commit foeticide, say, on the basis of  a genetic predisposition to obesity (A 1993 March of Dimes poll found that 11% of parents said they would abort a  fetus whose genome was predisposed to obesity), and is not far from the justification used to commit murder on the basis of whether one belongs to the Hutu or Tutsi tribe.

Third, this tragic story shows yet again what happens when medicine abandons its Hippocratic ethos of commitment to the patient and instead uses its considerable power to pursue goals such as “population control,” social stability — or eugenics.