Ethical questions under analysis
Learn how abandoning the Christian faith leads to a loss of dignity. It is a return to time before the birth of the Christian faith
This text discusses human value and worthiness. It is something that is also widely talked about in the Bible as well, although this topic is often ignored by modern people. They seem to think the opposite, in the sense that the more people abandon God, the more progressive society will become intellectually and morally. They regard notions based on Christian theism as old-fashioned and faulty, but that freeing an individual from the God-deception will elevate society in terms of knowledge, justice and sophistication. They do not think that abandoning Christian faith affects the way people interpret human value and worthiness.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN THE PAST? When reflecting on the human value, a good starting point is the world from 2000 years ago, when Christianity first began to influence people. These days many people criticize Christian faith, but the reality is that it positively affected the position of many different groups, like women, children and the disabled. There were several injustices in the antique world, but as Christianity spread, the state of many people improved. We are first going to look at the position of women.
The position of women. It is good to first bring up women’s position. Extreme feminists’ claims about Christianity’s detriment to women and their position does not hold in the historical measure. On the contrary, during the antique period, before Christianity, the state of women was in many ways rather poor, but with Christianity came improvement. For instance, Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion, has studied the growth and success of Christianity and analyzed the role of women in the spread of Christianity. According to Stark, the state of Christian women was good from early on in Christianity. Their situation was better than their fellow Roman sisters, who, on the other hand, had it much better than Greek women. It affected the success and spread of Christianity in the Roman empire.
An example of the antique world is the negligence of baby girls. In the Roman empire, it was common to practice family planning by neglecting newborn babies; a practice that was especially fatal to baby girls. Because of this, the ratio of men to women became distorted, and it has been estimated that there were only 100 women for every 130 men. Christians’ ban on abortion and the killing of newborns improved the state of women and changed the ratio between men and women.
Another example is child marriages and marriages arranged at a young age. In the antique society, it was commonplace to force girls to marry whilst still in their puberty or even before that. Greek Cassius Dio, who wrote the Roman history, stated that a girl is ready to marry as early as at 12 years old: “A girl wed before her 12th birthday becomes a legal partner on her 12th birthday.” Christian faith impacted in a way that allowed women to marry later and choose their own partner.
Our third example concerns female widows, whose situation was poor in the antique world (like in modern day India, where female widows have even been burned alive). They represented one of the most vulnerable and less fortunate groups, but Christianity improved their lives too. The community was compelled to take care of the widows as much as they were compelled to care for neglected children. This affected the spread of Christianity in the Roman empire. The Acts and Epistles, e.g., bring forth the state of widows (Acts 6:1, 1 Tim 5:3-16, James 1:27)
The state of children.
Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shalt thou kill it when it is born (Epistle of Barnabas, 19, 5)
You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born (Tertullian, Apologeticum,9,8:PL 1, 371-372)
Secondly, Christianity improved the human rights of children. Above, we expressed how the negligence of unwanted newborn babies was a common practice in the antique society. It was commonplace in all social classes, and the general practice was to let the father of the family decide during the first week of the newborn’s life whether he or she would be allowed to live. If the child was a girl, disabled, or unwanted, he or she was often neglected. Some abandoned children were sometimes later brought up to be prostitutes, slaves, or beggars, which showcases their vulnerable position.
Christianity improved the state of children. As a result, people began to abandon their habit of negligence, and children became viewed as people with complete humanity and complete human rights. Abandoned children were collected from the streets and were given a new opportunity in life. Eventually, legislation was changed as well: in 374, during the time of emperor Valentinian, negligence of children became a crime.
Slavery. Christianity not only improved the position of women and children, but also the position of slaves and, eventually, it had an impact on the abolition of this practice. Slavery was common in the Roman empire, and 15 to 30 percent of the members in Greek city states were slaves without any civil rights. But Christianity brought change. Many criticize the Middle Ages as the dark period in history, but it was during that time slavery vanished in Europe, apart from a few secluded peripheries.
When Europe later initiated slavery again in the new world, and when the institution of slavery was at its height during the so-called era of Enlightenment, it was again the influence of the Quakers and Methodists, especially, that led to the prohibition of slavery in England and other countries. It improved human rights:
Slavery continued to exist and became more widespread throughout the whole Age of Enlightenment during the four last decades of the 18th century. Only at the very end of the century first bills were made to abolish slavery in major colonies. An abolitionist movement began in England, which was put in motion by two Christian sects, Quakers and Methodists. According to their declarations and verdicts slavery was deemed particularly a sin rather than some sort of human rights violation. (1)
RETURN TO THE PAST. Above, we stated how human value was low in the antique world a good 2000 years ago. For instance, negligence of children was common. Unwanted children, usually girls, were often left to die. As a result, the ratio between men and women became distorted. Similarly, the state of women, disabled, and slaves was poor in the Roman society. It was Christianity that later brought positive change to the lives of people in these vulnerable groups.
The last century also serves as proof of how the human value became diminished during that time. Nazi Germany is an extreme example of that, of course, as human value was determined based on characteristics, instead of existence, back then. People were categorized as more worthy or less worthy based on race, mental and physical ability, and based on other characteristics. This view, known as social Darwinism, was common during the beginning of the 20th century. It was the general belief in many countries. It all started with the Nazis accepting the idea that all lives are not worth living nor as valuable:
Everything started off as the doctors accepted the rudiment of euthanasia movement, according to which some people’s lives are not worth living. In the beginning this was the reaction towards the severely and chronically diseased ones. Gradually it began to include also the socially unprofitable and the ideologically and racially non-wanted people - - But it is vital to understand that the utterly inconspicuous inspiration, where this whole ideology got its momentum, was the attitude towards terminally ill people. (2)
Now that Christianity is fading away in the Western world, we are getting closer to the culture which diminishes human value. We can see the shift in opinions and in practical steps. This poses a threat, especially, to people who are in the beginning and at end of their lives and to those who are not completely healthy. We are going to bring up a few examples.
ABORTION. When going back in time, we will see that protection of life has always been a part of the traditional ethics for doctors. For instance, this important principal to preserve life comes apparent in the Hippocratic Oath, which is regarded as a standard for medical ethics. It asserts: “I will not administer anyone any deadly poison - - similarly I will not administer women substances harmful to the fetus.”
The World Health Organization gave a similar statement in Geneve, 1948, when the unethical practices of Nazi doctors were revealed. This statement said that human life begins at conception, and that it should be valued from that moment on: “I hold human life from conception in the highest regard, and will not use my doctorial knowledge against the laws of humanity even when threatened.”
A major change happened in the 1960s and the 1970s, however, when radical feminists gave up unborn children’s right to live. They began to demand free abortion thinking it was a human right, but at the same time they neglected children’s human rights and womanhood. They began to regard the unborn child as their enemy. J. Budziszewski describes the development of feminist movements. A good cause can turn into bad, even when justified with arguments like the human rights and equality.
A movement fighting for good can also become bad, if it makes peace with something inherently bad. Think about the fate of feminism. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the 19th century feminist philosophy was, feminism was essentially what it claimed to be: an aspiration to protect women from wrongful treatment and to ensure women’s access to more opportunities. It never strove to differentiate a mother’s privilege from a child’s privilege, and it recognized that killing someone the womb brought no privileges to women. Susan B. Anthony called abortion “child murder” and wrote the following: “Guilty? Yes. the woman committing this act is extremely guilty, regardless of whether their motive was a desire to have an easy life, or a will to protect the innocent unborn child from suffering. This signifies her conscience when she is alive, and her soul when she dies. But oh! Threefold is the guilt of the person who drove her into the despair that led her to her crime.” (3)
But feminism was doomed from the day it adopted this spine-chilling malice. All its good intents were turned on their heads, and the movement’s real intent soon became the degradation of everything that is special about womanhood, especially, the bond between a mother and a child. (4)
Why is abortion accepted? How can some people reject the killing of children and other people, but still be pro-abortion? There is a simple reason: They deny that the fetus in the womb is morally equal to a child. Although the fetus has exactly the same body parts, like feet, hands, eyes, mouth, nose, etc., they claim that the child in the womb is not the same as a newborn baby. If they admitted the fetuses’ equivalence to a child, they would also recognize abortion morally to be child murder:
If it is so that a developing fetus is morally equivalent to a child, then abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide. Only a few think that the government should let parents decide on their own, whether they want to be responsible for killing their child… Those, who are willing to defend women’s right to abortion, should make a statement on the argument that a developing fetus is equivalent to a human being, and then try to demonstrate, why the argument is wrong. It is not enough to say that the law should be neutral when it comes to moral and religious questions. Defending the right to abortion is equally as unneutral as demanding to ban it. Both parties await for an answer for this moral and religious dispute, which lies in the background. (5)
Some might justify abortion with claims that the fetus does not feel pain and is merely a lump of tissue in the mother’s womb.
This is not true, however. Even a tiny fetus can experience pain and retreat to the back of the womb if it senses a threatening danger. This has been observed in cases of abortion upon the metal instrument approaching the child. The child senses the danger and tries to get away from it.
We are also well-aware that aborted fetuses have exactly the same body parts as newborn babies. They have hands, feet, eyes, and a mouth, i.e., they are just like babies on the other side of the womb. Even if they are smaller. We are only fooling ourselves if we try to tell ourselves that children in the fetus state are not human.
I had a doctor colleague in the hospital, with whom I talked about abortion. He defended abortion as a woman’s right, and I, on the other hand, objected it as a violation towards a child’s life. One time in the middle of the night I caught him pale leaning against a wall and I asked if he was feeling ill. He told me that he was just performing an abortion, when a tiny leg detached from the thigh had dropped from the suction machine. He started to feel nauseous and groaned: “This is the job of an executioner.” (6)
Prenatal screening. The cause for abortion is not always that the child is not wanted, but that a certain kind of child is not wanted, like girls. This is prevalent especially in Eastern cultures, where baby boys are valued, but girls are being killed in their mother’s wombs. It has been estimated that consequently, there is hundred million women less in the world. The following news article talks about the situation in India:
More girls are now aborted in India than in past decades
STT-AFP: According to recent population statistics, the number of women in relation to the number of men has reached a record low in India. The relative number of women in the country has never been so low since 1947: there are 914 women per 1,000 men in India.
Abortions based on the gender of the foetus are illegal in India but many mothers still abort their unborn girls. Indian families rely on boys to support them better than girls. Some families consider girls to be a financial burden.
Gender imbalance is a major problem in many Asian countries. According to the UN, millions of girls are missing from the population of the Asian countries.
The census shows that there are now 1.21 billion inhabitants in India, compared to 1.02 billion a decade ago. 2.5 million local authorities participated in the census that took a little less than a year. (Newspaper Etelä-Suomen Sanomat, 1 April 2011)
What about the situation in Western countries? Here, prenatal screenings, which utilizes medical technology in screening abnormalities in the fetus, have become even more common. The screenings attempt to determine whether the fetus has any kind of impairment, like Down syndrome, which could be a detriment to life. If an abnormality is found, it can often be regarded as a sort of victory, but for the majority of mothers, prenatal screenings have increased anxiety. Most mothers may be soothed by the idea that their pregnancy is being monitored and that any possible issues are being handled – because they only want the best for their child – but increased knowledge can also increase anxiety. Before, pregnancy was a positive thing for most women and parents, as they could be happy about the coming baby, but now technology has changed parents’ experiences with pregnancy:
How has women’s perceptions of pregnancy changed with the availability of prenatal screenings? It is not surprising that the overwhelmingly biggest consequence has been increased anxiety. For many women, pregnancy has changed from happy expecting to a time of worry. According to one study, prenatal screenings caused 79 percent of expecting women to feel anxiety, and 20 percent described themselves as extremely worried and upset. Anxiety will often remain, even after the test results have been reassuring, which has been confirmed by many studies… Social scientist, B.K. Rothman, author of the book The Tentative Pregnancy, says that tests during the pregnancy encourage women to consider children as commodities that can be abandoned if detected to be substandard. Because of prenatal screening, many mothers do not form an emotional connection with their fetus before the tests have confirmed the child to be healthy. They want to first protect themselves from pain in case they have to abort the child they have grown to love. Another reason is that they might feel the fetus is not perfect. Pregnancy is unstable; some women do not tell anyone they are expecting before tests show that everything is okay, sometimes even at the 20th pregnancy week or later.
Hence, the effect of technology is contradictory, as it encourages mothers to distance themselves from their children. Pregnancy is no longer this unified feeling of affection, which starts at the early stages and grows during the nine months… (7)
What are some other ethical issues with prenatal screening? The following aspects should be taken into account when discussing the matter:
• Although prenatal screenings can reveal some abnormalities, there are only a few treatment options to fix them. The only option might be abortion, which really is just killing the patient, not helping them. In such cases, when something alarming is detected, rarely much can be done to help the child. Instead, the parents might be forced to choose, as if they were in a store making decisions, whether they take the child or not. They cannot be happy about the child beforehand and will only commit to parenthood after knowing the child is perfectly healthy.
Researchers have introduced a new term into medical science: experimental pregnancy. It means that the expecting mother can only be happy about the pregnancy after having followed the development of the fetus, based on which she decides whether it shall be born or not. It is no longer unconditional parenting, since it is like having people in “supermarkets” thinking what kind of product they want and what will do. (8)
• Perfect health is a bad measure for human value and worthiness. It can sometimes be the case in prenatal screenings, but even in everyday life anyone could fall severely ill, contract an infectious disease, or become injured in a car accident. One might become dependent on others, hence suffering and dependence can strike anyone at any point in our lives. Suffering and flaws should be accepted as part of living in this world. The coming kingdom of God does not have sin, illness, or flaws according to the Bible, but those things exist here. Some might be cured, but it does not happen for everybody. We should learn to appreciate people regardless of their capabilities. Valuing only healthy and successful people is wrong. Jacob warned us about such behavior (James 2:1): ”My brothers, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.”
What do prenatal screenings have to do with this? In short, they send a message that disabled children are worthless and unwanted. Only healthy individuals are considered worthy of living. It is the same kind of breeding selection as was done in the Nazi Germany, where the value of people was determined based on their characteristics, and not their existence.
Regarding disability a bigger issue than it actually is, is typical for the situation. For example, Down syndrome, which is the largest contributor to health-based abortions, is not such a big issue in terms of living. Down-children are usually quite happy. Heikki Seppälä, chief executive of Finnish Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (FAIDD), who has worked with Down-adults, has remarked that “there are much worse fates in the world than to be born with an extra chromosome. The expected life of a Down-child can be extremely rewarding.” (HS 30/1/2011).
Handicapped people have also commented on the matter. When amendments were planned on the abortion law, handicapped people spoke for life and began a declaration stating:
“We have a right to live. If we could have decided, we would have wanted to be born.”
• People often talk about love in the modern society, but what is love? Is it wishing that the child is perfect before and after birth, or is it loving the child despite their flaws? When being honest to one’s inner instinct and conscience, many must know the latter to be true. One should always love and appreciate a child regardless of their capabilities, before birth and after it. Prenatal screenings give off the impression that we do not need to do that with every child.
This is a good place to move on to discuss parenthood. Parents who do not commit to their children are far from good parenting, instead, good parents commit to their child no matter their capabilities. Our selfishness can sometimes act as an obstacle to good parenting:
Alastair MacIntyre is one of the most famous moral philosophers of our time. He emphasizes that parents should commit to their children regardless of the qualities the children have (MacIntyre 1999,130). In this sense, severely disabled children’s parents serve as examples of good mothers and fathers. Mac Intyre highlights that human disability and dependence should be unquestioned in society, since everyone experiences disablement at some point in their lives. Biology already sets restrictions to humans in a sense that life will end at some point and everyone must face the decay of their own body and the limitations that come with it. If the fulfilment of human needs were to become the interest of the whole society, confronting weak and vulnerable people would be included in the notion of universal and mutual good, as well as the fact that suffering, effort, and dependence unite all people. Limitations do not, therefore, only concern the people with bodily disabilities. (Vehmas 2005,194.) A person enjoying good health in their youth might later in life get a serious cancer or be injured in a car accident. (9)
• One should also consider the ethicalness of abortion. If prenatal screenings are followed with abortion, it is always a murder, no matter what anyone says. Murderers do not inherit the kingdom of God:
- (Rev 22:14,15) Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and makes a lie.
On the other hand, once abortion is accepted, the next step is the killing of newborn babies, which is returning to the old ways. In some countries, some people have begun to support the idea in public discussions. Besides, newborns may have already been killed or left to die because of a disability – which is something that hardly differs from the racial selection methods of the Nazi Germany. These kinds of people have lost their sense between right and wrong. They might even defend their actions in the name of love, as did the Nazis in their propaganda program for euthanasia.
When comparing the modern day to Canaan idolatry, we see a lot of similarities. Today children are being killed in the womb and outside it. Whereas, the Canaan religious practices involved sacrificing children to Molech and Baal by burning them in fire. Is there much difference between these practices? Hardly.
The Canaanites were given a lot of time to repent: “But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." (Gen 15:16). They did not repent, however, and so Joshua later brought the Israelis from Egypt to their promised land. The killing of children, a heavy sin in the eyes of God, however spread among the Israelis as well, when they sacrificed their children to Baal. It resulted in God’s punishment for the nation:
- (Lev 18:21) And you shall not let any of your seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
- (Deut 18:10-12) There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12 For all that do these things are an abomination to the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD your God does drive them out from before you.
- (Ps 106:37-39) Yes, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters to devils,
38 And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.
39 Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.
IN VITRO FERTILIZATION AND OTHER FERTILIZATION METHODS. Issues related to conception can cause extreme pain. One issue is the inability to have children, i.e., infertility. A couple wishing for children can experience frustration and depression if they cannot have children. Adoption might not always be the solution to the problem either, because it can be difficult to adopt children. For example, in England and Wales the number of adopted children has steadily decreased since 1968, when abortion became legal. On the other hand, the number of children in custody has risen at the same time.
How do people fight infertility? One method has been new technology in the form of in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and pregnancy surrogacy. These methods come with a lot of ethical issues, however. The following aspects are especially noteworthy:
Spare embryos. If the pregnancy happens through in vitro fertilization, the first issue is posed by spare embryos. For in vitro fertilization, it is common for extra embryos to form that cannot develop into children.
The issue lies in the difficulty, or impossibility, of drawing the line where personhood begins. There is no phase in the development of the fetus, where it could be determined to have changed from something like an animal to a human. Conception is certainly the most crucial moment, since that is when the gametes of a man and a woman unite, and the fertilized egg receives the genetic code and material that enables life outside the womb later on. There is no other clear moment that could be appointed as the starting point of human life. This was also recognized in Geneve in 1948, when the World Medical Association gave a statement after the disclosure of the Nazi doctors’ unethical procedures. According to this statement human life begins at conception, and that it should be valued from that moment on: “I hold human life from conception in the highest regard, and will not use my doctorial knowledge against the laws of humanity even when threatened.”
When is in vitro fertilization ethically justified? The best option is to have a married couple, who will not produce spare embryos. This is the most unproblematic solution ethically.
Identity problems. Some TV shows depict a situation where a child is looking for his or her missing biological parent. For instance, if the divorce took place when the child was very young, he or she might have grown up completely without the other biological parent, which can trigger a deep need to find the missing mother or father. The shows can depict touching moments of the child finally finding his or her missing parent.
Similar identity problems can be created when a child is brought into the world through artificial methods (pregnancy surrogacy, sperm banks, donated eggs, in vitro fertilization), in which a child is separated straight away from one of his or her biological parents. For instance, the problem with pregnancy surrogacy is the fact that the mother has to give up the baby she has been carrying. It is how surrogacy works. Women are expected to suppress their feelings for the child and receive payment for it. She is selling her rights to the child who she may never meet again. However, this may have been a little too much for some women’s maternal instincts. That is why they have asked to break the surrogacy contract. These women have come to realize that they love the child inside of them, which has caused them to change their mind.
Moreover, pregnancy surrogacy is problematic for children as well. That is, when a mother gives up her rights to her child, the child can experience it as abandonment. He or she might have questions about why their mother sold them for money and did not care. For example, Alana Newman’s website, AnonymousUS.org, tells about the experiences and feelings of such children.
Frank Litgyoet, who lives in a homosexual relationship, tells an honest account about a similar situation. He tells about his adopted children who missed their mother. It was difficult and painful for the children to understand why their mother had abandoned them in the first place:
The situation of a “motherless” child in open adoption is not as simple as it seems, because they have a mother who gave birth to them but left. And when the mother is not physically present – as is known based on the stories of many former adopted children, now adults – she is still there in the children’s dreams, imagination, longing and worry. - - Having a mother become a part of our children’s lives can often be a miraculous experience. It is more difficult for the children when the mother leaves, not only because it is sad to say goodbye to someone you love, but also because it raises a difficult and painful question of why did she leave her child in the first place. (10)
What about the ethicalness of sperm banks and fertility treatments? They work on the basis of men voluntarily giving their sperm for fertilization, in which case these men do not have to suffer from similar difficult emotions that are involved in pregnancy surrogacy.
However, the issue with fertility treatments like this is that they bring on the burden of being fatherless onto children. Artificially produced children can have a really hard time with the fact that their mother has purposefully put them in a position where they cannot know their father. Tapio Puolimatka reports on a study on the matter by Yale professor, Kyle Pruett, (Kyle Pruett: Fatherneed, New York, Broadway, 2000). It is difficult for children to live in a limbo-kind of state without a relationship with their biological father:
Yale professor, Kyle Pruett, (2007) concludes on the basis of his research that artificially conceived children, and children who grew up without a father, have an insatiable “hunger for a father’s permanent presence”. His studies corroborate with research on divorce and single parenthood, which bring up the same need for a father. Pruett’s study also brings forth that children born as a result of artificial insemination, who have no knowledge of their father, have deep and worrisome questions about their biological origin and family. These children do not know their father or his family, and hate living in a kind of limbo without a relationship to their biological father (Pruett 2000:204-208) (11)
Alana Newman sheds more light into the matter. She herself was a product of artificial insemination by an anonymous donor. She strongly opposes the practice that allows children to be deprived from a chance to form a relationship with their own biological parents and to grow up in their care. Because of her own experiences, she suffers with identity problems and a hate towards the other gender. In her written statement to the Californian legislative representatives, she wrote the following:
I became to life from an unnamed donor’s sperm through artificial fertilization. Although my mother’s intend was good and she loved me very much, I am very much against this kind of practice. - - Even though it is benevolent to respect different families, this kind of respect sometimes goes directly against children’s rights: a child has the right to create a bond with his or her biological parents and to grow up in their care. A child has a right to not be sold or to not be an object of trading or that they will not be given away if that is not the utmost necessary thing to do. By definition every child of a single parent or same sex couple is denied a relationship with at least one of his or her biological parent and that is why it is a human rights violation…
… I suffer from mental stability weakening identity crisis, lack of confidence and anger towards the opposite gender, feelings of winding up as an object – as if I existed solely to be other people’s toy. I felt as if I was a scientific experiment. (12)
EUTHANASIA. As expressed, preservation of life has always been a part of traditional doctors’ ethics. An overview of the medical history in Western countries reveals that the Hippocratic Oath, traditions built around the oath, and ethical thinking arising from Christian perception of humanity, have had an immense effect on medicine. These things influenced in a way that brought respect to human life starting from conception. The most important principles have been to save human lives and alleviating suffering as much as possible.
What about the current situation? Another difficult area of ethical concern that arises from time to time is about human suffering and death, especially, the question revolving around justification of euthanasia. We should never be emotionless towards people battling with this issue and towards those who it concerns, but what is the right Christian solution to this matter? The following aspects should be kept in mind:
Fear of dependence and pain. When asked why some people support euthanasia, one major reason is the fear of losing independence and dignity. It is something that cannot be overlooked. It can be difficult to have to be depended on other people’s help. Everyone has experienced it, of course, as a baby, but a similar fate can feel unbearable for an adult. We do not wish to be a burden to anyone else.
What is the Christian solution? It is coming to terms with the fact that suffering cannot be entirely avoided in this life, but we can carry the burdens of our neighbors and help those in need; for one, we are urged to do so. The same principle and ideology have prevailed in medicine for decades when people used to aspire to hold on to the ethics outlined by Hippocrates.
- (Gal 6:2) Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
- (1 John 4:21) And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also.
One unique aspect in this area is the fact that even though many, when healthy, express how they do not wish to be resuscitated back to life if they were to lose their mobility, they might think otherwise in an actual case of paralysis. The following example of quadriplegic patients is an example of this. Most of them wanted to live. Usually, it is not illnesses that take away people’s will to live but depression. Even physically healthy people can suffer from depression.
In one study, healthy young people were asked, whether they wished to be revived back to life through intensive care if they became permanently immobilized due to an accident. Almost all of them answered that they would rather die. When 60 youngsters with quadriplegia, who had been suddenly disabled, were interviewed, only one of them said he wished that he would have not been revived in the results. Two of them did not know, but all the rest wanted to live. They had found a meaningful life despite them being paralyzed. (13)
What about pain alleviation? Many are afraid of pains that come with old age. However, these days we have many possibilities to remove the pain or alleviate it, at least. This is a considerable improvement on people’s condition. We have the means to help them significantly:
Modern hospice is not a place of gloomy death and shadows, but a place of hope and laughter as much as it is a place of tears and pain; a place where people live before they die. And palliative care keeps crossing over to homes, mainstream hospitals and to medical clinics. It is more of a concept, a treatment, than an institution. The other pioneer of the movement, Robert Twycross, has written: “Palliative care was developed to bring a solution to the attitude: ‘We cannot do anything to help you.’ It is never true. You can always do something.”
Can all pains be managed? According to experts, in 95 percent of all cases, the pains can be removed completely, or it can be considerably alleviated with the right expertise. In reality, physical pain in illnesses leading to death is only rarely a major issue for the nurses these days. Pains that cause problems often include spiritual, and emotional pain, as well as pain that comes from relationships. (14)
One step leads to another. As noted, many philosophical groups want to bring down the good and safe principle that has dominated medicine for centuries. The first step towards this shift was the demand to legalize abortion. The medical sector did not demand it, as it were the supporters of selfish enjoyment culture. They thought that a child can be killed if he or she is in the way of the parents’ plans. Today, almost all abortions are done due to social reasons, and not, e.g., due to the mother’s life being in danger. In India and China baby girls are being killed in abortions, in Western countries both genders.
Where is this development going headed to? It is likely that after accepting the killing of a baby in the womb that it will lead the same being accepted outside the womb. People might think logically that if killing a child in the womb is justifiable, why should there be a difference doing it outside the womb? In some countries there have already been talks about ending the life of newborn handicapped babies, coma patients and severely disabled people. The same justifications that were used to support abortion, are also being used to defend euthanasia. Once the discussion moves further, it is possible the lines get more blurred in terms of what is meaningful life. Philosophical circles shifted the development and dialogue towards a place where the unconditional value of human life loses its significance. The right to die might even become a responsibility to die. For example, in Holland, where the practice is the most far gone, more than ten percent of elderly people stated that they were afraid their doctor is going to kill them against their will . Thousands carry a card stating that they do not want to be killed against their will, in case they end up in a hospital in the Netherlands. Albert Schweitzer has stated:
When a person loses their respect towards any form of living, they lose their respect for life in general. (16)
The current development is not new or a modern phenomenon, as the same atmosphere existed in Germany even before the Nazis took over. Hitler was not the one who created their ideology, as it came from the philosophers. One crucial factor was, especially, psychiatrist Alfred Hochen and judge Karl Bilding’s book that was published in the early 1920s, which talked about worthless people and life that is not worth living. That and Nazi propaganda made it possible that people would accept the idea of life that is less worthy of living. It all started out small, with critical thinking towards people with uncurable illnesses:
It became clear for the people researching war crimes that this widespread killing started from slight changes in attitude. In the beginning the doctors’ approach underwent only a slight change. The notion of life not worth living was accepted. Initially this concerned only chronically ill people. Slowly, the scope of people, who were deemed killable, widened to socially unprofitable ones, those who had differnt ideologies, racially discriminated ones and eventually to all non-Germans. It is imperial to understand that this way of thinking started from a slight change in the attitude towards fatally ill ones, who were considered lost despite all efforts. This tiny change in the attidudes of doctors is then worth keeping an eye on. (17)
Ending unnecessary treatment. When dealing with treatment for the dying, it is important to distinguish between euthanasia (purposeful mercy killing) and ending unnecessary intensive care. Ending unnecessary care and ending a life are two very different things. That is, there can sometimes be a situation when no treatment will work, but only bring strain and detriment to the patient. The harm is greater than benefit, and that is when it can be justified to end giving treatment that no longer benefits the patient. Instead, in such cases we can take care that the patient is comforted to the best of our abilities. These kinds of measures have been common and accepted throughout centuries, which brings us face to face with palliative care for dying patients. The following quotation relates to the subject. Joni Eareckson Tada (18) tells about the choice his family had to make when there were no treatments left that would help his father:
My fathers death taught my family to look for wisdom. We wished to help our father to live until the end and to let him die, when the time comes. Providing food for the hungry and water for the thirsty ones are the fundamentals of humanity. Although, it was quite clear that my father was closer to death, we wanted to make him as comfortable as possible. God’s wisdom includes compassion and remorse. Taking care of neighbors is one of the absolute commands in the Bible.
Doctors, however, told my family that in some cases feeding and giving water to a patient, whether it was done via mouth or via tubes, is pointless and, on top of that, painful for the patient. Rita Marker from an international anti-euthanasia working committee says:
When a paptient is very close to death, they can be in such a state that liquids increase their discomfort, because their body can no longer use them.
Food does not digest either, when the human body starts to “close” when the process of dying has begun. A moment comes, when it can be said that the human is really dying. (19)
HOW TO MEASURE HUMAN VALUE?
- (Matt 12:11,12) And he said to them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Why it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
This text has gone over some difficult ethical issues, as well as human value. It was stated that human value can be diminished if looked at from a materialistic and evolutionist worldview. From that perspective it can be difficult to see the significance of a singular human life.
And how does the Bible determine human value? It deviates from the modern public opinion. That is, when modern society values highly things like achievement, skills, beauty, fitness, and wealth, these are not so important from the biblical viewpoint. The reason is simple: Humans are eternal beings and the former things are only temporary. They can be good on their own but cannot grant eternal life. We can only receive it by turning to God and accepting His love that came through the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ. He, Jesus Christ, came to this world and beared our sins so that we could have our sins forgiven and have eternal life as a gift. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19), so that we could have these things. You should not reject the love of God but accept it.
- (John 3:16-18) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Well-known Finnish preacher, Niilo Yli-Vainio, talked about human value decades ago in his preach on a horse-riding track. Humans are valuable, because we are eternal beings and because we were created to be with God. No amount of money will ever amount to the value of a human soul:
“For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?”
Here, Jesus brought up how valuable one person is. How valuable one single human is to God. How valuable the soul of one human being is to God… One human is more valuable to God than all the treasures of the world combined!!
Oh, the kinds of listeners I have here tonight! Think about it, all the gold reserves in the whole world do not amount to this little boy sitting here… It was Timo, this handsome boy, right? …Glory to God!!
I speak to distinguished people tonight. Think; all the material in the world is not as valuable as you are; as one single person in this rotating globe! That is the kind of value God has for your soul. (20)
1. Pekka Isaksson & Jouko Jokisalo: Kallonmittaajia ja skinejä, p. 77
2. Leo Alexander: New England Journal of Medicine (1949), 241:39-47
3. Susan B. Anthony: The Revolution 4:1 (8 July 1869), 4
4. J. Budziszewski: Tätä emme voi olla tietämättä (What We Can’t Not Know. Aguide), p. 267
5. Michael J. Sandel: Oikeudenmukaisuus (Justice. What’s the Right Thing to Do?), p. 283,284
6. Päivi Räsänen: Kutsuttu elämään (?), p. 146
7. John Wyatt: Elämän & kuoleman kysymyksiä (Matters of Life and Death), p. 118
8. K. Honkanen: Kasvun vuodet – isyyspäiväkirja, p. 246
9. Mia Puolimatka: Minkä arvoinen on ihminen, p. 249,250
10. Frank Litgvoet: “The Misnomer of Motherless Parenting”, New York Times 07/2013
11. Tapio Puolimatka: Lapsen ihmisoikeus, oikeus isään ja äitiin, p. 43,44
12. Alana Newman: Testimony of Alana S. Newman. Opposition to AB460. To the California Assembly Committee on Health, April 30, 2013.
13. Päivi Räsänen: Kutsuttu elämään, p. 106
14. John Wyatt: Elämän & kuoleman kysymyksiä (Matters of Life and Death), p. 241
15. Richard Miniter, ”The Dutch Way of Death”, Opinion Journal (huhtikuu 28, 2001)
16. Marja Rantanen, Olavi Ronkainen: Äänetön huuto, p. 7
17. Pekka Reinikainen, Päivi Räsänen, Reino Pöyhiä: Eutanasia – vastaus kärsimyksen ongelmaan? p. 38,39
18. Joni Eareckson Tada: Oikeus elää, oikeus kuolla (When is it Right to Die?), p. 151,152
19. Rita L. Marker: New Covenant, tammikuu 1991
20. Mauno Saari: Saarnaaja, Niilo Yli-Vainion taistelu, testamentti ja päiväkirjat, p. 176,180
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life
Grap to eternal life!