Update on Life Issues - March 1996

There can be little doubt that abortion is still the keystone issue in the battle to defend and uphold respect for all human life.  Now, after almost three decades of ‘easy abortion’, are there some pro-life cracks appearing in this touchstone of the secular humanist's worldview?  Some months ago, Norma McCorvey (alias Jane Roe), the woman at the centre of the historic 1973 Roe vs. Wade case, which effectively legalised abortion in America, reported that she had found God, left her job at an abortion clinic in Texas, and turned pro-life.  Then Naomi Wolf, darling of the US feminists, who recently gave birth to a daughter, has said that the experience has caused her to rethink her pro-choice rhetoric.  Apparently in the midst of morning-sickness, she realised that the "fetus-is-nothing" argument was untrue!  On the contrary, she realised that the pro-life slogan "abortion stops a beating heart" was incontrovertibly true.  She now thinks that abortion is "a moral iniquity".  And, finally, Dominic Lawson, as editor of the Spectator, has, after his wife gave birth to Domenica, their daughter with Down's syndrome, made a brave and eloquent stand against aborting the disabled by challenging the prevailing negative attitude of the NHS towards such children.

Perhaps these are just tiny drops, albeit welcome, in that vast ocean that is our Western world’s unthinking mix of secular humanism and political correctness.  Nevertheless, the abortion figures, at least, for England and Wales, have been very slowly declining over the past few years.  Even so, the recently published official annual total, for 1994, is still a huge 166,876 abortions (which, on the basis of a 6-day working week, is still well over 500 every day).  And the decrease is very, very small - only 1,835 less than the previous year.  So, perhaps these are just tiny cracks in an otherwise seemingly impenetrable pro-choice wall.  Can anything of significance happen in this area until men and women come to appreciate their true worth and dignity, as well as that of their offspring?  Can anything, other than a robust understanding of the Biblical doctrine of man, so completely and satisfactorily supply this?  Indeed, it is an awesome responsibility to recognise that ordinary Christians should have a greater insight into these problems (and their needed answers) than almost all unbelieving men.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK watchdog of IVF and human embryo experimentation, has just published its 4th Annual Report, though if you have seen a copy, you are doing well - it took me three phone calls before mine was sent, and I'm still waiting for another of its publications I asked for.  Could the HFEA be incompetent?  With 21 part-time members and 22 full-time staff, you would hope not.

Yet, beneath some bland statements on p. 21 of its Report, there lurks a shambles of unknown proportions concerning the storage of frozen human embryos.  When the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act (1990) was drafted the time-limit for storing these tiny human beings was five years.  The first five-year period runs out on 21 July 1996 and the HFEA is faced with thousands (nobody knows the exact number, though tens of thousands have been mentioned) of ‘orphaned’ embryos.

Why are they ‘orphaned’?  Because reports from the infertility clinics reveal that labels have dropped off embryo storage vessels, and additional records have been lost, or not updated so that some of the embryos’ parents, who have divorced, died, or simply moved house, cannot now be traced.  It is disturbing to learn that these parents, who went to so much expense and trouble to beget them, can now so easily forget them.  And anyway such a freezing process (which can never be a proper way to treat human beings) will have hopelessly damaged and killed many of the embryos already.  It's all an ethical and administrative nightmare.

How can a body, which is given the task of regulating such profound and contentious activities as IVF and embryo experimentation, be so myopic and incompetent?  Well, I suppose it’s quite easy really.  But can you believe, as its remit states, that the HFEA is seeking "to ensure that treatment and research using human embryos are undertaken with the utmost respect and responsibility"? 

What should be done?  We are faced again with a dilemma created by a procedure that inevitably involves the trivialisation of human life, but the answers here are very difficult and very few.  Perhaps the best solution available is that these embryos should be unfrozen and reverently buried.  But surely, the long-term answer is to make the creation of such surplus embryos illegal.  Incidentally, the HFEA’s answer to this dilemma is to get Parliament to recommend an extension of the storage period - there’s nothing like "putting off until tomorrow" is there?

Perhaps too much has already been written about the UN World Conference on Women held recently at Beijing.  Undergirding the whole proceedings, of course, was political correctness.  So, for example, gender was viewed as being a matter of choice, rather than biologically constructed; motherhood was rarely mentioned; fathers and husbands were never mentioned.  In addition, many wanted the word 'abortion' expunged because it was seen to have connotations of denial; instead, it was suggested, it should be called 'menstrual extraction', because that would make women feel better! 

Nevertheless, not all was so depressing.  During the informal meetings this PC veneer was dropped and women animatedly asked each other about their children, husbands and brothers (was he married yet?), and so on.  Above all, the African women were superb to hear talking about the wonders and delights of fertility and motherhood.  For us, it can only be a matter of deep regret that in the last thirty years we have allowed a few misanthropes to squeeze out Christian values and Christian teaching from our schools and replace them with so-called sex education, or, as it is referred to in Whitehall, 'teenage fertility management'.  Now, a girl's fertility is seen as a curse of nature that only contraception, backed up by abortion, can control.  This is not sex education, it's antinatal education.  You tell me, when are chastity, fidelity, motherhood, and so on, ever mentioned positively in our schools?

Euthanasia is not just for the elderly.  The pro-euthanasia lobby is still busy making steady progress by highlighting specific cases, even though we all acknowledge that "bad cases make bad laws".  Two of their watchwords are ‘pain’ and ‘cost’.  If patients are in pain and their care is costing large sums of money, then both problems can be immediately solved by "letting them die".  Pain is so often a red herring, as shown by the cases reported below.  And anyway we should be aware of the massive strides made by the hospice movement in palliative care and the use of analgesics, which have, by and large, removed the problem of pain for most people.  But we should also realise that there is a real and growing economic drive for legalising euthanasia.  Most Western countries already have a top-heavy population structure, not only because the elderly are now living longer, but also because abortion has ‘taken away’ millions (at least 3 million in the case of the UK) of our youngsters.  Recent figures from the USA show that 50% of a person’s lifetime health-care costs are spent in the last 12 months of life - in our economically-driven society, can you think of a more compelling argument for legalising euthanasia?

The parents of two-year old, Thomas Creedon, have applied to the High Court so that their son can be allowed to die by stopping him from being tube-fed.  The main reason given by Thomas’ parents for this request is that Thomas, who was brain-damaged in the womb, is in continual pain.  This theme was picked up by much of media, which portrayed Thomas as "a child in agony".  However, one key aspect of the case, not reported by the BBC and most of the quality newspapers, was the judgement by Sir Stephen Brown, president of the High Court’s Family Division, that Thomas "does not suffer significant pain or distress".  Indeed, doctors caring for Thomas opposed the High Court application.  Much of his apparent distress is caused by his age and his frustration at not being able to communicate effectively.  Others have since reported that many children like Thomas reach adulthood and lead "contented lives".

Of course, none of us can consider this an easy case.  But what is our answer?  If you ever met them, what would you say to Thomas’ parents?  In the meantime, what can we do?  Perhaps not much as individuals.  However, LIFE has offered the Creedons accommodation for Thomas at Zoe’s Place, the first and only UK hospice specifically designed to look after newly-born disabled children, located on the outskirts of Liverpool, but the parents refused.  A similar offer has also be made to, and refused by, the parents of Ian Stewart.  He was born with only one artery leading to his heart, and an unsuccessful corrective operation has left him brain damaged, deaf and blind.  “Why”, his mother has asked, “when abortion is legal, when a mother has a right to end a perfect life, can I, as his mother, not end this damaged one?”  That is a perfectly reasonable question.  But it shows what a tangled web of medical ethics we have woven for ourselves.  And it also comes as a warning of how easy it is for Christians to adopt the mores and thought-patterns of our sad, unbelieving world.  Without a clearly thought-out, Biblically-derived ethical platform, we can so easily drift with our society on its tide of humanistic secularism and offer it no resistance, no critique, and no proper charity.  What huge responsibilities we have to ourselves, our children, our churches and our watching world.