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 figures (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 Sainsbury's.

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 infrequent.’

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 tragedies.