Update on Life Issues - Autumn 1991
From time to time the Bulletin will include an
update on the so-called life issues. The aim is to
keep readers informed of some of the more important facts
and trends, particularly from a pastoral perspective.
Church leaders will inevitably have to deal with these
issues – from counselling individuals to instructing whole
congregations. If our people do not understand what is
happening in medical ethics and social morality, how can
they ever think and speak and act biblically?
The latest official abortion
(referring to 1990) for England and Wales were released
this summer by the OPCS (Office of Population, Censuses and
Surveys). The appalling total was 186,912, made up of
173,900 residents plus 13,012 non-residents. That is
equivalent to 600 abortions every Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This figure
was up 1.6% on the previous year and it continues the
apparently relentless increases of recent years. The
grand total since the 1967 Abortion Act came into effect is
now well over 3 million. This has pastoral
repercussions for it means that about 1 in every 10 women of
child-bearing age has had an abortion and many will still be
suffering, perhaps from the physical trauma or the
psychological consequences of guilt, regret and grief –
remember that as you next push your shopping trolley round
Amid the pages of these OPCS statistics it is worth noting
that the number of abortions done in an emergency to save
the life of the mother during 1990 was just 1. And the
number performed because of ‘substantial risk of child being
born seriously handicapped’ was a mere 1,619. The vast
majority (98%) were done for non-medical reasons under the
infamous ‘social clause’, mainly for convenience.
For the full details of abortions carried out where you
live, ask your local librarian for OPCS Monitors AB 91/4 and
AB 91/3. It shows, for example, that 1,139 single
women and 333 married women in the Croydon regional health
authority had abortions last year. And that of the
women from Leicestershire, 873 had NHS abortions, while
another 1,517 went to abortion clinics elsewhere.
The abortion pill RU-486,
developed by the French company Roussel-Uclaf, was
surprisingly granted a licence this summer by the Department
of Health for use in the UK. Known here as Mifegyne,
it will be prescribed to women whose pregnancies have not
gone beyond 9 weeks. Private abortion clinics in the
UK say they will offer RU-486 as an abortion option at the
same price as a clinical abortion – £219.
First, we must understand that it is not a contraceptive;
RU-486 blocks the action of progesterone so that the lining
of the uterus sloughs off expelling the embedded unborn
child too. Thus RU-486 is an abortifacient.
Second, the long-term effects of RU-486 (and the
contraction-causing prostaglandin hormone, which is usually
taken in combination with RU-486) are quite unknown.
Third, it takes up to a week for RU-486 to produce its dread
effect. So the pregnant woman has to live with her
developing abortion and the growing emotional tensions,
which for some may be appalling. Fourth, RU-486 is not
the simple, do-it-yourself abortion pill. Trials in
the UK showed it to be only 94% effective, so 6% of women
had to resort to conventional surgical abortions. In
addition, its administration requires a minimum of three
visits to a doctor and considerable pain and bleeding are
commonly associated with its use. Nevertheless, swept
along on a wave of amorality and perhaps by the thought of
huge financial profits, one of RU-486’s proponents has
stated that it will be, ‘a boon … especially for young women
and teenagers whose sexual activity is very irregular and
In reality, RU-486 takes us one step further down the
slippery slope of human irresponsibility, where men and
women disregard the consequences of sexual relationships,
pregnancy and childbirth – those profound and intimate
aspects of human life that mark us as distinctively ‘made in
His image’ and not just mere animals.
Euthanasia is the next
great challenge to our overall view of human life
– see Citizenship Bulletin No 27. The fact that the Final
Exit, a book on suicide written by the British
president of the Hemlock Society, has recently hit the
best-seller list in the USA, is further proof of this.
Add to that the fact that the House of Commons has now set
up an all-party Parliamentary group to promote euthanasia
legislation, plus the widespread practice of passive
euthanasia just across the Channel in the Netherlands, and
you can see that the assault is mounting.
Before the battle begins in earnest, we should settle our
responses to at least three key areas. First, there is
a moral dimension to this issue; what is man?, what is
life?, what is death? But be prepared to be trampled
on for raising such awkward questions. Second,
legalising euthanasia will overturn one of the greatest
precepts of Western medicine, namely, that doctors shall not
harm their patients. Third, there will be enormous
ramifications to legalising this particular form of
deliberately killing human beings. It will be the end
of medicine as a caring and healing profession.
But we must see legalised euthanasia as a logical
development. Once easy abortion (taking the life of
the unborn) has been widely accepted by a society, and once
infanticide (allowing or encouraging the newborn, especially
the handicapped newborn, to die) is practised in our
hospitals, then the next target is inevitably the old and
the ‘unproductive’. And remember, we are all getting
older, it behoves us all to take more than a passing
interest in euthanasia!
When a man turns his back on the creating and
life-sustaining God, he becomes autonomous. He wants
to control everything in life from conception to
death. Instead of dying well (the meaning of the
Greek, eu-thanatos) with thanksgiving before a holy God by
trusting in Christ as Saviour, he will want to rule the
time, place and method of his death, and even that of
others. If his trust is only in technology to prolong
life when life is ebbing away, some other autonomous person
may well decide to pull his plug prematurely. Society
gets the laws it deserves – and yet foolish men still insist
on telling us that, ‘All will be well.’ ‘There is
nothing to fear’, they say. When were you last duped?
There is yet another sinister ‘-ism’ about. It is called speciesism.
This is the term coined by Peter Singer from Monash
University in Australia. Speciesism is discrimination
based on membership of a particular species. What
really irks Singer is giving special status to human beings
simply because they are Homo sapiens. His denial of
man as special provides Singer with a low view of the unborn
(he says they are human non-persons) and the basis for his
zealous campaigning for animals’ rights.
There should be no need in this Bulletin to rehearse the
evidence, biblical and otherwise, for maintaining that man
is special and different from the rest of the created
order. On the other hand, it is worth noting that
Singer’s views are derived from evolutionary thinking plus a
utilitarian concept that sees man as nothing more than an
animal with a better brain. The fruits of such a
philosophy are catastrophic; human embryo abuse, abortion,
infanticide and euthanasia. And if we think of
ourselves as mere animals, then we begin to behave like them
– what do you expect from pigs but grunts? Mere
animals have no moral responsibilities, no creativity, no
concern for forgiveness, no real motivating aspirations and
no hopes of eternal life.
Finally, for something completely bizarre; a grandmother who gives birth to her
grandchildren. It is not the first time
it has happened recently; back in 1987, Patricia Anthony of
South Africa was implanted with embryos derived from ova
from her 25 year-old daughter, Karen, which had been
fertilised in a laboratory with sperm from Karen’s
husband. Nine months later triplets were born.
The most recently publicised case concerns Arlette
Schweitzer and her daughter Christa Uchytil. They too
decided to keep surrogacy in the family, so Mrs Schweitzer
carried test-tube babies created from her daughter’s eggs
and her son-in-law’s sperm. The twins are due to be born
later this year.
Well, what’s wrong with that? After all, babies are
born and childless couples are provided with families.
Readers of the Bible are less gullible. They well
remember the surrogate motherhood pact between Abram, Sarai
and Hagar (Genesis 16). What followed was separation
and broken relationships between all the parties concerned,
particularly among the women. It was a mess!
Though all three subsequently knew God’s grace in most
remarkable ways, the whole surrogate affair brought blight
and discord to each. A price invariably has to be
paid; surrogate motherhood is at least third-rate.
If ancient surrogate arrangements were problematic, their
modern-day counterparts are certainly not without
dilemmas. If a married couple can use a surrogate
mother, why not a single woman or man? What about a
lesbian, or a transsexual, or a homosexual male
couple? Should the surrogate mother be allowed an
abortion? Should she be forced to have an abortion if
the unborn child is handicapped? Should the surrogate
child be allowed to know his genetic and his biological
parents? Can the child inherit their property?
What happens if the commissioning parents divorce?
These are not silly, hypothetical questions. The
courts of the USA and elsewhere are littered with such
unresolved cases. Surrogacy, like other forms of
reproductive intervention, can produce a catalogue of human