Update on Life Issues - Summer 1993

25th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act
1993 marks the 25th anniversary of the implementation of the Abortion Act.  On 27 October 1967, the Abortion Act finally passed through the British Parliament, and it was duly given the Royal Assent.  Then six months later, on 27 April 1968, it came into force and the killing started in England and Wales.  Whatever the high-minded intentions of its proposers, the Act has allowed virtual abortion-on-demand and some 4,000,000 abortions have now taken place under its auspices – some shameful silver anniversary!

When is a Child Not a Person?
A most extraordinary case has been before the courts in Scotland.  It goes back to 1976 when David Watson was born, but died three days later as a result of injuries caused by the forceps used during his birth.  At the end of last year Lord Prosser judged that under the Damages (Scotland) Act 1976, no compensation was due to David’s parents because ’the child was neither actually, nor deemed to be, a person at the time when the injury was sustained.  He was of course a person at the time of his death.  “Personal injuries” meant injuries to a person.  The child had quite simply lacked the status of being a person when the injuries were sustained.’  We often have to argue that an unborn child of 10-weeks, or even 20-weeks, is a person, but we never thought anyone seriously doubted that a child could be regarded as less than a person during his actual birth.  Now thankfully common sense had prevailed; the Court of Appeal in Scotland has allowed the Watsons to sue for damages – apparently David was both a child and a person after all.

Civil Disobedience and Abortion
Within the last few months some American anti-abortionists have come to Britain hoping to stop abortions by acts of civil disobedience.  What should be our response in the light of key passages such as Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17?  Just what is our relationship to government and law?  Firstly, God has commanded us to obey the State.  Secondly, God has not set up authority/law in the State that is autonomous from Himself.  Both civil government and its law stand under the law/judgement of God.  Thirdly, the State is the agent of justice, to restrain evil and the evil-doer.  Are we to obey the State no matter what?  No! (Matthew 22:21).  The bottom line is that at a certain point, there is a Christian duty to disobey the State as the early Christians did when the State insisted that they worship Caesar.  Civil government and its laws are to be resisted, but only when it either commands something forbidden by God, like idol-worship, or it forbids something commanded by God, like praying or instructing our children.

Thus the Bible commands law-breaking when the State requires us to sin.  But the State has NOT required/commanded us to kill the unborn.  Do we then have a mandate to act against say, abortion clinic staff?  No, our duty is not to compel others to do what is morally right.  Can we break into and disrupt an abortion clinic?  No.  The violation of a proper law (trespass) as a means of protesting against a rotten law (allowing abortion) is unworthy of Christian behaviour.  It is the logic of terrorism.  We may picket, debate, leaflet, counsel, write and protest.  But does not the mass killing of the unborn of our land demand exceptional tactics?  Cannot we simply beak in and rescue those being led away to slaughter, based on Proverbs 24:10-12?  No.  This passage outlines an awesome responsibility, not a method.

Euthanasia, the Law and True Compassion
Tony Bland, the brain-damaged Hillsborough victim died on Wednesday 3 March.  At the beginning of February 1993 the Law Lords had ruled that he could be lawfully denied further feeding and ‘allowed’ to die.  Situations such as Tony Bland’s are undoubtedly difficult and complex – that is why they call for extra clear thinking on our part which must then be followed by our compassionate action.  LIFE responded to this awful judgement by writing to the Airedale General Hospital, where Tony Bland was a patient, offering to look after him for the rest of his natural life – the offer was refused.
The following observations about Tony Bland should be noted.  He was NOT dying.  His condition was apparently fairly stable and he was not suffering physical pain.  He was not on a life-support machine, nor was he sustained artificially by high-tech apparatus.  All he needed was food and fluids.  For the Law Lords to decide that feeding was ‘medical treatment’ is lamentable.  What was proposed for Tony Bland was death by starvation and dehydration, which is a horrible, slow way to die.  It seems odd that the law should say that it is permissible to starve an Englishman to death while at the same time we are desperately trying to feed the starving people of Somalia and elsewhere.  This case is a momentous one for our society; this recent decision will be a major victory for the increasingly aggressive euthanasia lobby.  And it is further evidence that the euthanasia issue is going to be decided largely by the courts ruling on such exceptional cases, rather than by rational public debate.

Gene Screening, Gene Therapy and the Clothier Committee
The recent discovery of the gene that causes the most common inherited form of mental illness, Fragile X, has again highlighted the problems of large-scale screening for ‘faulty’ genes.  Should Fragile X be added to the ever-growing number of tests offered to pregnant women?  Some people think that ‘forewarned is forearmed’, but others are aware of the heartaches that such knowledge can bring.  As one mother, whose two sons both have Fragile X, has said, ‘Having the test would probably mean I would not have had a family at all.  But I have two beautiful boys who are very loving.  If I had not had them, my life would be infinitely less rich than it is now.’

As the worldwide Human Genome Project aims to map every one of our 100,000 genes in the near future, these types of decisions will become more common for all of us, and certainly for our children.  For example, the gene for Huntington’s Disease was recently isolated.  Now the way is open for the development of a test that children of an HD parent can find out if they will suffer from an as yet incurable disease, or they can hope that they are among the 50% of children who will not inherit the disease from their parent.

As with all testing for genetic diseases, accuracy is not 100%; a positive result gives no idea of the disease’s future severity; tests done in early pregnancy carry a small risk of miscarriage; and knowing that you may have, or be predisposed to, a disease that will develop 30 year on (like HD) can create anxiety for the sufferer, their family and problems for future employers.

Most testing is done even though therapies are not available.  The British government has recently embraced gene therapy as recommended by the Clothier committee report, published more than a year ago.  Already Britain’s first gene therapy trial has been approved and started for a child with SCID, severe combined immune deficiency.  This type of therapy, somatic cell gene therapy, is considered by a broad consensus to be acceptable, but germ cell therapy, which is passed on to subsequent generations, is not – indeed the Clothier committee said that such ‘germline’ therapy should not yet (!) be contemplated and the government has accepted this recommendation too.  The (!) is mine.

Sex Selection – Choices and Clinics
The reality of choosing to have either a baby boy or a girl has come one step nearer with the opening of Britain’s first sex selection clinic in a terraced house in Hendon.  For £650 the London Gender Clinic will sort sperm – those carrying the Y-chromosomes for boys swim faster than the female X-chromosomes – and then use the enriched numbers of X or Y sperm for artificial insemination.  A success rate of 80% (compared with 50% for the natural method) is claimed.  The operators took the moral high ground by announcing that only married couples, who already had one child, could use the service, and they must give an undertaking not to abort if a child of the wrong sex is conceived.

So what is wrong with a procedure that does not threaten any existing human life?  Some are worried that those communities which prize sons will use this type of service to unbalance the population.  In the Indian sub-continent 7% more boys already exist because of girl infanticide and selective abortion.  In addition, wrong-sex abortions are typically anti-female; not only are the aborted children invariably girls, but the mothers are of course women, and the abortionists are mostly men.  When are women in general, and pro-abortion feminists in particular, going to wake up to these facts?

But reasons for sex selection need not always be frivolous.  For a family with a history of genetic disease, like haemophilia which is transmitted only to males, sex selection may seem like an appropriate alternative to the present scheme of testing and abortion.

The availability of sex selection again present us with an old familiar problem, a well-worn path of ethical dilemmas.  For when a technology exists which can provide a service for which there is a clear demand, what can be done?  Any attempt to ban it is probably futile.  At best, it can be regulated by law.  But sadly, that law is the law of the land, not the Law of the Book.