Sunday, December 22, 2013

Morality By the Numbers

A fellow named Phil Robertson, from the popular cable television show Duck Dynasty, made some comments about homosexuality based on his religious beliefs, and an uproar has ensued.   The television network, Arts and Entertainment, suspended him from the program.  A lot of people on opposite sides of this issue have reacted strongly.  In the midst of all this furor, it behooves the thinking Christian to know where the real problem lies.

First of all, this is not a free speech issue in any sense.  The First Amendment guarantees that congress will make no law abridging the freedom of speech.  That certainly did not occur in this case, and no law prevented Mr. Robertson from speaking his mind.  He does not face any legal repercussions from doing so.  However, assuming the contractual language is correct, the A&E network is within its rights to stop doing business with him if they so desire.  Believe it or not, your employer can fire you in most cases if you speak out in ways they do not like.  Your freedom to speak is guaranteed, but not your job security.  Your boss can fire you if you publicly endorse the KKK platform or teachings of the Nazi party.

And in this great land of ours, with its free markets, we can refuse to buy products at any time we wish, for whatever reason.  A boycott is not in any way illegal.  You could boycott A&E for allowing Mr. Robertson to make his statements or you could boycott them for suspending him. 

What we are seeing here is morality by math.  A&E knows that the Duck Dynasty program is a huge money-maker with a wide audience.  But they also know that speaking out against homosexuality is going to offend a larger number of viewers.  So they calculate which is going to do more harm, supporting or suspending, and act accordingly.  I have found the Cracker Barrel weather vane more like a windmill.  Here is a company that had employment policies in the 1990's that dismissed employees that did not display "normal heterosexual values"; they actively opposed gays and their lifestyle. In this latest brouhaha, they did the math, reversed course, and decided that they would offend paying customers by continuing to carry merchandise with Mr. Robertson's image.  So they decided to discontinue those products, hoping to keep their customers as well as burnish their image as tolerant.  They were the first corporation after A&E to take such an action.  However, when toting up the numbers they discovered that their math added up the wrong way, and after their clientele bombarded them with messages supporting Mr. Robertson they reinstated those image-bearing products.  It seems that few things are as effective at determining the correct moral stance as money.

GLAAD, which used to stand for "Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation", but now just stands for "GLAAD", decided that its Biblical expertise and interpretation of the Scriptures enabled it to make the following declaration: "Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe." And: "By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value."

To look at that first statement, a Christian must ask one question: "Is homosexuality a sin?"  It is a simple yes or no question.  And the Bible is not silent on that issue.  In both Old and New Testaments, God tells us generally and specifically that the answer is yes.  I could list numerous passages wherein the Bible specifically addresses homosexuality.  However, if you decided to discard those, there is the issue of sexual immorality in general.  Looking at the Westminster Catechism, we learn in questions 137-9 that the Seventh Commandment, which forbids adultery, also forbids "fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts."  The Heidelberg Catechism similarly tells us in questions 108-9, "That all unchastity is cursed by God... he forbids all unchaste acts."  In general, if I need to know what God's opinion is on a topic, and what true Christians believe, I would look to the Scriptures before a GLAAD press release.

As far as the second statement, it is important to understand what is meant by discrimination.  In one sense of the word, it means simply to recognize and understand the difference between one thing and another.  As Christians, we are in all cases to discriminate between good and bad, between things that are sin and not sin, between the things of God and the things of this world. We cannot look to popular culture or even our laws to do this.  Although murder and theft are illegal, adultery and dishonoring our parents is not; indeed, our government, its system of transfers, and political electability is now largely based on encouraging one group of people to covet another.  The Christian uses his Bible, not popular opinion or statutes, to aid him in discriminating between right and wrong.

In the other sense of the word, discriminate means to take unfavorable action against those with whom we do not favor.  The Christian is enjoined not to do so.  James tells us in 2:1-13, "My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit in here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"  Phil Robertson did not discriminate against anyone by treating them unfavorably; he was discriminated against.  All he did was speak the truth from the Bible as he knew it. 

As Christians, we are not to treat poorly those who hold beliefs differently than our own.  However, we are not to passively let the world and popular culture dictate what we believe, either.  That same world and culture will oppose us vigorously.  The Word of God is no longer popular currency among those whose morality is not shaped by it but who seek to shape it in a form that suits them; rather, the currency that shapes their morality is often of the green paper kind.  We are never right to deny what the Word of God instructs us, and we are never wrong to proclaim it. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Serpents of Today

I grew up in a medium size town in North Carolina called Wilson, with a population of around thirty thousand back in the early 1960's.  My family and I went to church there, and there were the usual church activities for children available for us, such as Cub Scouts and youth choir. Outside of church, there were the sporting leagues for football and baseball, sponsored by the city recreation center.  All-in-all, as children we were around adults much of the time from Scout leaders to choir directors to coaches to Sunday School teachers and so on. 

Looking back, we uniformly respected our elder adults, and this was certainly a part of the culture at the time.  We respected their knowledge, experience, and appreciated their concern for our well-being and development. One thing in particular is noteworthy, as I recall growing up in this environment.  We never had any reason to doubt that these grown-ups were ever less than completely honest.  As children, we experienced the fibs and falsehoods of other children, but I cannot remember an adult telling me a lie.  (The only exceptions were Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.)

As I grew older and went to college, my experience was similar, with professors and coaches being honest people.  Then came medical school and residency for my career, which was another twelve years.  Those years were spent basically living in the hospital, with not much exposure to the real world of buying houses and cars and dealing with businesses.  And in those years you pretty much believed another's word; deception was not part of the culture in those institutions, either.  In many ways we were sheltered from the harshness of everyday reality. 

It really wasn't until I got out into the real world, in my thirties, that I found out that people will lie to you.  At first, it was dealing with an unscrupulous homebuilder here or car dealer there, but it was quite surprising given my previous experience.  I later worked along side people who had little integrity, and it was always a sad thing to discover.  I have often wondered why these things seemed to appear in my later life, and I guess things like this were always going on around me as a young man, but I simply didn't see them.  Lying wasn't just invented yesterday-- the serpent started in Genesis chapter three.

As Christians, we try to be humble, and Paul advises us in Philippians 2:3, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."  We try to esteem others as better, and this often leads us to be very trusting and giving others the benefit of the doubt.  In fact, I wrote earlier on this in an article, "Doubting the Benefit."  The problem arises when those others in fact are dishonest, because nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to be gullible. 

As children, we are taught to respect our government and its leaders, and that same Bible does command us to pray for them.  I Timothy 2 tells us, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority..."  This is easy to do when our leaders are trustworthy men of integrity.  But God, who appoints all authorities (Romans 13:1) sometimes sees fit to appoint leaders who are dishonest and lack integrity.  His sovereign will, for reasons that are not clear to us, decrees that we who are Christians will at times live in a country governed by those who would lie to us. 

Our current president is not the first in his office to be dishonest, but a precedent of dishonesty by others does not offer one an excuse for his own behavior.  The sheer magnitude of deceit we have seen in the last few years from this administration, and its supporters in congress,  far exceeds anything I have seen in my fifty-plus years.  I may not be an expert on foreign policy or national defense or agricultural affairs, but I am an expert on our health care system and I believe I have probably delivered more health care than any of the individuals who have devised the newest attempt at government run health care delivery.  And the things that were promised to the American people by this administration were false and known to be false.  I have been asked on several occasions to speak to different groups on health care economics over the last several years, and all of the problems we are now seeing with the Affordable Care Act were known and the consequences foreseen since it was enacted.  The promises that people would be able to keep their insurance, keep their doctor, and that it would all cost them less have always been untrue. The only people who are shocked by what is going on now are the people who believed the lies. 

There are several lessons here for the Christian.  The first is to realize that people really will be dishonest with you in order to advance their own agenda.  God knew that just as sin entered the world through the first lie told by the serpent that lies would be a part of human existence ever since.  The second lesson is that God despises lying.  Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us that God hates a lying tongue.  Leviticus 19:11 commands us not to lie to one another.  And make no mistake about it, making false promises is lying.  Some have said, "Well, all politicians do it.  It is just a political lie."  That is absurd.  It is a lie no matter how many others may do it, and a "political" lie can be just as damaging and harmful as any other.  It teaches us that our government and leaders are not to be trusted, and damages the integrity of these institutions.

Why do people believe lies in the first place?  For one thing, it is easy to swallow a lie if it is telling you something you want to hear.  Eve thought it would be wonderful to be as knowledgeable as God.  And many people who wanted to see our health care system changed wanted to believe that this new program would do what they said it would do.  Secondly, believing a lie is often the easy thing to do, the lazy thing.  When presented with a proposition, it takes actual work to go out and research whether or not the facts are true and the arguments are supported.  It is easier to just say, "Well, that sounds good to me."  The fact of the matter is that not only are people who tell lies not supposed to do that, the people on the receiving end have a responsibility to educate themselves and study what is being proposed before deciding to accept it.  The Bereans in Acts 17 were commended because they "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so."  Christ Himself warned his disciples to not be gullible, to be "wise as serpents" (Matthew 10:16).  So a third lesson is that we are not to take these things at face value, we are to study them, that we may not be easily deceived.

Asclepius was the Greek god associated with healing.  He had a symbol called the "Rod of Asclepius", which had a rod surrounded by a single serpent:

 
 
 

This symbol has long been associated with the healing arts and medicine.  Unfortunately, because people did not study the origins of this symbol, another symbol became accepted into medicine instead, called the "Caduceus":

 
 
 

This symbol is that of the Greek god Hermes, and it associated with "commerce, eloquence, trickery, and negotiation" (Wikipedia).  It is definitely not the symbol of medicine.  Hermes was the patron of thieves and liars. It was a lack of study and diligence that led to the mistaken use of the caduceus to represent many medical institutions. 

The final lesson is that we are to recognize the dishonest for what they are.  When one successfully lies, he is emboldened to continue in this practice.  It becomes easier each time.  Such a person will continue as long as they are able.  We can do what we can to expose their falsehoods, but it is up to God to deal with them, their sin, and lack of repentance.  Psalms 102:6 states, " He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who tells lies shall not continue in my presence."  A person with a pattern of dishonesty is not to be trusted and is to be avoided.  As I was a child and young adult, these warnings would have seemed so unnecessary; as an older and wiser adult, I am saddened that they are.  Just as the serpent deceived with the first lie, the twin serpents of dishonesty and false promises are entwined today around the caduceus of government run healthcare. 


Sunday, November 3, 2013

I'm Okay, I'm Not Okay

Some of you will remember a book from 1969 by Thomas Harris entitled "I'm Okay, You're Okay." In it he used a form of psychotherapy called transactional analysis to try and sort out people's problems so that ultimately they would come to the conclusion that all was well with themselves and others.  It was a phenomenally popular book, with nearly fifteen million copies sold.  However, there is a much bigger selling book that deals with our mental state and its problems, and that book was completed around two thousand years ago.

Many of us, before we become Christians, feel pretty good about ourselves because we do not see the sin in our lives.  We go forward in life with an opinion about ourselves that say's "I'm Okay."  We get our reference by comparing ourselves to others, and we usually don't rank ourselves all that badly.  I doubt anyone has said to himself, "You know, I really am as bad as Hitler."  And the unfortunate thing about this is that the majority of people also believe that because they are "Okay" they will get into heaven.  They do not see the need to be forgiven of their sin.

Then comes the day that you are moved to accept Christ as your Savior.  You begin to understand what sin truly is, your guilt before God, and the need for forgiveness.  You realize that you are not "Okay."  You read the Scriptures and learn that all have fallen short of the glory of God, especially you.  You cannot enter heaven in your sinful state, because God cannot allow sin into heaven.  You are worse than "Not Okay."  You are doomed.

Yet by accepting God's Son as your Savior, you come to know that you are forgiven of your sins.  They are imputed to Christ, and He imputes his righteousness to you.  You didn't do a thing to earn this transaction or deserve it.  It's a great deal.  All you have to do is turn your life over to Him, and in return you get all your sins washed away, and eternal life in Heaven.  There is nothing on this earth that could compare to that future eternal life.  And so now you come to know that because of Christ's work on the cross, you are Okay with God.

But you continue to sin.  Now matter how hard you try, you cannot stop it.  Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this.  In Romans Chapter 7, verse 15, he tells us about himself, "For what I am doing, I do not understand.  For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do." And verse 19: "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil that I will not to do, that I practice."  He was pretty troubled by that feeling.  Verse 24: "O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?"  I understand the feeling.  I can finish my morning prayer time and have three sinful thoughts before I walk out the door to work in the morning.  So once again, I'm not feeling Okay.  I'm still a sinner who can't stop sinning.

Paul provides us the answer to his question in the next sentence.  "I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!"  We are not only cleansed or our sins in the past by our relationship with Christ, we are forgiven of our ongoing sins, when we ask for that forgiveness.  God still forgives us, because of the work of Christ on the cross, and we are washed clean, even of that sin you committed five minutes ago.  So really you're Okay.

The problem for me as a Christian is that the more I walk with Christ, the more acutely aware I become of how short I have fallen of the glory of God.  I used to be troubled by the bigger sins in my life, but now I repent over the small ones, too, things that would not have troubled me before.  And even though I can go over and pull the Repent lever on the Sin Exchange machine and get instant Forgiveness, it does not relieve me of the awareness that I sinned or of my sin nature. Although I am constantly pointing to Christ and telling God to look at Him, because Christ has taken my sin away, I know who really committed the sin.  Even though I can lay it all on Christ, surely I'm not Okay.

Christians everywhere know of God's love and His forgiveness.  The Sin Exchange machine will never run out of tokens, and for that we can rejoice.  The answer to the dilemma that we face as sinners still rests on Christ's work.  You are Not Okay, but that's Okay.  You are a sinner, and will continue to be a sinner who sins, but God loved you enough to put His Son to death so that you will never be separated from Him.  He loves you, even though you are Not Okay.  And if you are troubled, as Paul was and I am, about continued sinning, there is a promise.  Philippians 1:6 says, "...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."  One day, you will sin no more, for you will be Perfect.  And that's a whole lot better than Okay.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Myocardial Protection

In modern heart surgery, we usually must stop the heart to operate upon it.  Their are chiefly two reasons for this; the first is that it is easier to perform delicate maneuvers on a still heart, and the second is that we must open the heart in cases where we work on the valves or other interior structures.  The heart, a muscular organ, receives its own blood supply from the coronary arteries which arise from the aorta just as it leaves the heart.  So what we do is to place the patient on cardiopulmonary bypass (the heart-lung machine) and drain blood from the heart down to a pump that puts oxygen into the blood.  The blood is then returned to the aorta into the patient's body.  At this point no blood is passing through the patient's own heart and lungs.  We place a clamp on the aorta above the coronary arteries and instill a medicine into the aorta that flows down the coronaries and paralyzes the heart.  Just as you have heard of the terms paraplegia and quadriplegia, this medicine is called cardioplegia, because it paralyzes the heart. 

While the heart is still and not beating, it consumes very little energy and requires very little oxygen or nutrition.  And the cardioplegia is usually cold, chilling the heart and reducing its energy consumption even further.  But there is a limit to how long you can do this.  Eventually you must restore blood supply to the heart, for even the best cardioplegia cannot replace the function of blood.  This presents real challenges with difficult operations.  Thirty or forty minutes of stopping the heart is of minor concern.  Three or four hours can result in a very weakened heart.  Therefore, the cardioplegia solution often has other agents in it to give the heart muscle cells nutrition and protection during this period of semi-starvation. And the whole strategy of how we stop the heart with cardioplegia is called myocardial protection. 

We didn't always have cardioplegia.  Modern heart surgery was invented in the 1950's, and cardioplegia didn't arrive on the scene until the late 1970's.  And the first decade or so after that was spent refining and developing the chemistry of myocardial protection.  And early on, occasionally it simply didn't work.  When that happened, the heart was very, very weak at the end of the procedure.  In the worst cases, when the clamp was removed, the heart would contract once into a tight ball of muscle and then never work or beat again.  That condition was called stone heart.  I saw a case of this one time, over twenty years ago, when I was in training.  A stone heart is always fatal.

Yet all of us, in our natural state, have hearts of stone.  The most beautiful message I have read on this was from Charles Spurgeon, entitled, "The Stony Heart Removed," and delivered May 25, 1962.  He describes in great detail the natural qualities of our stony hearts, their hardness and coldness and resistance to change.  The heart of man can be warmed for a while, but then returns to its natural cold state.  As he says, "Such is the heart of man. It is warm enough towards sin; it grows hot as coals of juniper, towards its own lusts; but naturally the heart is as cold as ice towards the things of God. You may think you have heated it for a little season under a powerful exhortation, or in presence of a solemn judgment, but how soon it returns to its natural state!"

We cannot perform open heart surgery upon ourselves.  Likewise, we cannot change our hearts of stone by our human efforts.  Only God can do this by Christ's work through the Holy Spirit.  As God told Ezekiel in 36:26 (and similarly in 11:19), "I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."  To quote Spurgeon again, "But while such a thing would be impossible apart from God, it is certain that God can do it. Oh, how the Master delighteth to undertake impossibilities!"

The person who has received Christ as their Savior is assured of getting this operation.  And as I have done thousands of heart operations, I have seen hearts in all sizes and shapes, and all conditions, with some operations easy and some difficult.  While God could instantaneously soften the heart of all believers, in His sovereign will He takes longer with some than others, and the pain and recovery will be difficult in those cases.   I am one of those, and daily heart surgery is no fun. 

We must also, along with the Father, attend to our myocardial protection.  As the prophet Jeremiah tells us in 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"  Our natural hearts tend towards sin and lusts, and we must protect our hearts from such things.  Proverbs 4:23 advises us, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."  These same sins and lusts that the heart desires damage it, scarring it and leaving it cold and callous.  We must pray diligently for God to work with us to guard our hearts and protect them from temptation. 

In heart surgery, a stone heart is incurable.  Not so for God and our hardened hearts. He can and will cure us.  The coronary arteries that provide blood and nourishment for our hearts encircle it like a crown, and that is where the name "coronary" comes from, from the Latin word "corona" or crown.  When we give myocardial protection into that crown of arteries, we are able to perform life-saving heart surgery, the gift of physical life.  And if we protect our hearts from sin, what happens?  James tells us in 1:12, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation,; for when he is approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him," the gift of spiritual life. 



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Subscribing by E-mail

I have heard that some of you are not getting the posts by e-mail after attempting to subscribe, and as I check the subscription lists several of you are "unverified". 

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Monday, September 16, 2013

O.K. You're Human. So What?

We have spent the last several weeks looking at what it means to be human and the lethal consequences when society declares a person or group of people "not quite human".  In the case of Nazi Germany, the declaration of the Jew as "sub-human" led to the slaughter of over six million people during World War II.  Because many have declared the fetus to be not quite human, over fifty million abortions have been performed in the United States in the last forty years.  Still, the truth of humanity cannot be suppressed forever.  In horror, people look back on the Holocaust and wonder how the Jews could have been thought of in that way.  And it is getting harder and harder to look at the unborn child and say that it is not human. 

Where I think we may be headed is an even darker place than the land of untruth.  It is the land of uncaring.  It may be that modern society recognizes the unborn as a real bona fide human being, but then sees no problem with killing them.  When we last looked at late term abortions, we discussed the partial birth abortion, where an unborn child is partially extracted from the womb and then killed before fully removing it.  That practice has been illegal since the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.  But late term abortions are still performed.  The law said you could not extract a live fetus.  It didn't say anything about killing the fetus and then extracting it.  The current procedure now is to use a long needle and inject digitalis into the unborn baby's heart, killing it, and then it is dismembered, removed, and discarded.

If you remember our discussion in Part III, we talked about the Nazi euthanasia program, Aktion T4.  The Nazis decided that the "unfit" did not deserve to live and they began putting "defective" infants to death in 1939.  This was expanded to older children and then adults.  Over 70,000 German citizens were killed in this program.  When the German public at large became aware of what was going on, there was an outcry and the protests forced the Nazi leadership to officially abandon the program, although it was continued in secret for several more years.

Today, euthanasia is making a comeback in the modern world, and there is no secrecy and no protest.  To be clear in our discussions, we must make a distinction between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.  In the latter, the physician gives to the patient the fatal medicine, and the patient takes it himself.  In euthanasia, the physician actually administers the lethal poison to the patient.  Both physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are now legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg; all three countries were defeated in World War II by the Nazis and opposed them.  They are now embracing Nazi euthanasia ideology.

On this side of the Atlantic, Quebec seems likely to be the first to blaze the euthanasia trail, as they have considered legalizing it with Bill 52.  We do not have euthanasia in the United States, but physician-assisted suicide is legal in Washington, Oregon, Vermont, and essentially in Montana.  We have not yet caught up with Europe, but there is still time.

Well, what if someone is suffering and wants to die?  Why should we care if someone submits to voluntary euthanasia?  They are only harming themselves, and they should make the decision about how and when to end their life, right? 

What if the euthanasia, like the Nazi T4 program, was involuntary?

I am sure that you think that such a thing does not exist.  I would like to refer you to the Groningen Protocol from the Netherlands.  It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and is referenced below.  It describes in great detail the selection process for putting infants to death in that country.  It requires a very smart and dedicated team of physicians and health care workers who evaluate the infant and determine that it should be euthanized.  Belgium liked the way the Dutch were doing things so much that they took the Protocol and fashioned a bill to take to their parliament last November, and it now seems close to passing.  The Belgians are likely to expand euthanasia to those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that already nearly a third of euthanasia cases in that country do not involve a patient request.  According to the British Medical Journal, a fifth of cases in the Netherlands do not involve a patient request.  Although involuntary euthanasia is currently illegal in all countries (with the exception of the Groningen Protocol babies), it continues to be practiced, not prosecuted.  The right of a human to put himself to death or to request to be put to death becomes the right to put the human to death.

Personal choice, not God's sovereignty, seems paramount these days.  Someone has to choose in these matters:  the mother aborting her child, the patient requesting assisted suicide, or the doctors practicing involuntary euthanasia make a choice. The fetus whose heart is being injected with digitalis, however, does not get to choose, nor does the baby being examined by the doctors under the Groningen Protocol or the patient with Alzheimer's who is euthanized.   What happens when the state starts making the choice?  Under China's One-Child Policy, three hundred and thirty-six million abortions have been performed since 1971, many of which were forced.  And in Western Civilization, we have the National Health Service in England and its Liverpool Care Pathway.  Although it is not euthanasia, it involves withdrawing food and water from patients the NHS health care team decides are not long for this world.  It turns out that of conscious patients, half are not told this will be done to them.  If I recall correctly, the choosing of the time of one's death is to be done by God. 

So we try very hard to get these people recognized as human, and even if we succeed, it won't matter because human life is becoming devalued.  We can convince a society through evidence and reasoning that these people are human, but we cannot force a society to value human life.  We talked last week about the "collapse clause" in the Roe v. Wade decision, where it was stated that if the fetus could be shown to be a person, the argument for abortion would collapse, and the fetus would be protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.  That Amendment states that no one may be deprived of life without "due process of law".  Well, look at the Groningen Protocol and the Liverpool Care Pathway, and there is your due process.

Thinking of these things as medical "procedures" seems to make them so much more acceptable, and even dignified.  As I mentioned in an article earlier this year ("What's Your Life Worth, Anyway"), I am unable to find anywhere in the Bible a passage on death with dignity.  It is interesting that often those who are proponents of death with dignity are also supporters of abortion.  I cannot think of a less dignified way to die than to be scraped and torn apart in the womb.  The Jew facing the brutal Nazi gas chambers declares, "I am not a sub-human!"  The fetus inside its mother pleads "I am human!"  The Chinese mother facing forced abortion cries, "My baby is human!"  The elderly person with dementia implores, "I am still human!"  And before the fatal procedure is administered, the last thing they hear is "You're absolutely right.  But we don't care."

1. Verhagen, E, and Sauer, JJ. The Groningen Protocol--Euthanasia in Severely Ill Newborns.  New Eng J Med 2005;352:959-62.

2. Chambaere, K, Bilsen, J, Cohen, J, et. al. Physician Assisted Deaths Under the Euthanasia Law in Belgium: A Population-Based Survey. CMAJ 2010;1-7.

3. van der Wal, G, and Dillman, RJ. Euthanasia in the Netherlands. British Med J 1994;308:1346-9.

4.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255054/60-000-patients-death-pathway-told-minister-says-controversial-end-life-plan-fantastic.html.





Sunday, September 15, 2013

Not Quite Human, Part V

We have spent the last several weeks looking at what happens when a society declares some of its members "sub-human" or "non-human", as in the case in Nazi Germany and the Jews in World War II.   A mood of anti-Semitism that had been present for many generations was transformed into a new truth over the course of only a few generations by continuous teaching and preaching-- that Jews were not human.  This led to the slaughter of over six million people that were previously acknowledged by the Germans to be human and certainly following the Holocaust are clearly known to be human today.  The horrible abuse inflicted on the Jews will never be forgotten, even by the Germans, where denying the reality of the Holocaust today is actually a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment for three months to five years.

We would think that something as simple as the definition of a human being would be straightforward and not open to change or debate.  Yet we saw an entire country change the meaning of human being for several decades and then change it back.  Something so simple as a change in definition lead to the deaths of millions.  Today, we have over a million abortions performed in the United States, in part because the fetus is not defined as a human being. 

Most people would agree with the following premise: 

                 An innocent human being must not be killed

The qualifier "innocent" is used here because the state has the authority to take the life of someone who is found guilty of a capital crime.  Furthermore, if it is established that the fetus is human, it clearly is innocent.  Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, we will leave out the term "innocent."

All arguments against abortion must destroy both halves of this premise, which can be restated as:

                   If it is a human being, it must not be killed.

Either half of this premise can be attacked.  You can argue that the fetus is not a human being. Or, you can argue that it is acceptable to kill human beings.  In fact, both sides of this premise are regularly assaulted by its pro-abortion opponents.  Today, we will look at the attacks on the fetus as a human being; next week we will study the other half of the premise.

For many decades now, it has been argued that the fetus is not a human being.  In fact, this was one of the foundational definitional issues in the Roe v. Wade decision made by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1973.  In fact, the decision has within it what is known as the "collapse clause", which states, "If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course collapses, for the fetus' right to life would be guaranteed specifically by the (Fourteenth) Amendment."  It was the interpretation of those Justices that voted in favor of the decision that the fetus was not a person or human being.  In fact, they noted that "...the law has been reluctant to endorse any theory that life, as we recognize it, begins before live birth..." (emphasis mine).

If you are secure in your knowledge that a portion of a premise is false, there is no need to attack the other portion.  In fact, to do so makes it appear that you may not really be so certain about your position.  If it is absolutely true that the fetus is not a person, then there is no need to make any attacks on the portion of the premise that states that "it must not be killed."  In other words, if a fetus is truly not a person, then there should be no issue whatsoever in destroying it.  You do not need to make any arguments about women having a right to choice, women having the right to control their own bodies, or women having the right to "reproductive rights."  Likewise, if it is acceptable to kill human beings, based on women's choice, control, or reproductive rights, then there is no need to spend so much effort claiming that the fetus is not human. 

The primary problem faced by the pro-abortion crowd today is that the fetus is increasingly being recognized as a human being.  Advancing medical science has demonstrated several things in this regard.  Over and over again it is shown that the fetus has a functioning heart within six weeks of conception, brain waves can be detected at eight weeks, fetal breathing movements at ten weeks, and body movement begins at twelve weeks.  It is difficult to claim that this is not human life. 

For the vast majority of people, their death, when they cease to be a living human being, will be determined when their heart stops beating.  For a few who are kept alive by life support devices, their death will be determined by when their brain waves cease, or "brain death."  As a cardiac surgeon, I am very well acquainted with the beating and still heart and occasionally have been involved in brain death cases, usually where issues of organ donation for transplantation were involved.  If it is accepted that cardiac standstill or brain death denotes the death of a human, it would stand to reason that evidence of a heartbeat or brain waves indicates that human life is present.

The second area where advancing medical science has changed the whole notion of life has to do with the changing notion of viability.  Premature infants less than twenty-two weeks gestational age are now surviving.  The law may not recognize life until after live birth, but these small infants, that could fit into the palm of your hand, are clearly not recognizing the law. The Supreme Court, in 1973, thought viability was established at twenty-eight weeks, a difference of a month-and-a-half from current viability.  You cannot incorporate the concept of viability into the definition of a human being when you do not know when that viability occurs.

When does this human life begin?  The notion of a "trimester" is a man-made creation; we arbitrarily take the 39 weeks of gestation and divide it into 13-week thirds.  The developing fetus does not recognize this systematic nomenclature.  From the time of conception until the baby takes its first breath and cries, there is a seamless and undivided progress from embryo to fetus to child.  There is no point where you can say that this is not a human life today and then say it is a human life the next day.

We have been looking at the development of the fetus in a forwards direction; let us now do so in a reverse manner.  To do so will involve some gruesome and explicit terms, but this is what has been done and is being done in this country.  Most people would agree that to murder an infant is illegal, immoral, and unacceptable.  However, the United States had to actually pass a law, in 2002, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, to give legal protection to live babies that had survived abortions. 

Yet up until 2003, it was legal to perform partial birth abortions, medically known as "intact dilation and extraction."  In that procedure, an infant yet to be born was turned around in its mother's womb until the feet were grasped and the infant is pulled part of the way out of the vaginal canal.  The infant is extracted until only the head remains inside.  At that point the base of the skull is punctured and the brains are suctioned out, killing the infant and allowing the skull to collapse.  The dead child is now delivered.  The key component here was the abortion doctor's thumb, which held the skull inside the vaginal canal while it was punctured and suctioned.  If his thumb slipped, the head would be delivered and he would now have a live baby in his hands.  The six inches of the vaginal canal, the distance the head would travel, changed the definition of the child from unborn fetus, which seemingly was not yet human and had no rights, to that of live infant, with all the rights of any human.  Today, although partial birth abortions are illegal, late term abortions are performed up until 35 weeks of gestation.

What the fetus doesn't know can kill it.  The twenty one week old fetus doesn't know that if he can hang in there just one more week he might be viable and therefore human in the eyes of some.  The late term fetus undergoing a partial birth abortion, feeling the cool air on his body, arms and legs, didn't know that while his head was warm and still inside his mother that his skull was about to be punctured because he wasn't quite human yet. 

The Bible does not talk about "viability" and "trimesters." Psalm 139:13 says, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."  Even further, in Jeremiah 1:5, we are told that God said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you."  God knew us as people, as humans, from the very moment we were conceived.  He doesn't say that He only knew us after we became viable or exited the birth canal.  Everything that makes us human, every gene and chromosome, is present from the moment of conception. 

However, being a human may not be enough.  There are many who do not believe human life is sacred.  As we began this series, we looked at Genesis 9:5-6, "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning, from the hand of every beast I will require it and from the hand of man.  From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man."  Man's life is special and belongs to God alone.  Man plays God when he decides who gets to be human and when, and he plays God when he decides which life should be ended and when.  The latter we will look at next week.

By defining Jews as not quite human, Germany was able to justify killing six million of them.  By defining the fetus as not quite human, America has been able to justify killing over fifty million babies since 1973.   Just as the Jews reclaimed their humanity from their horrible suffering, our unborn children may yet one day reclaim their humanity after losing millions of their unborn brothers and sisters.