As if the world of medical ethics were not convoluted and strained enough, our technology allows us to continue pushing boundaries while raising moral questions that were not even on the radar screen 100, 50 or even 25 years ago. Thankfully there are those who still ask the questions begged by various procedures–but such voices seem to be crying alone in the wilderness at times.
For example, I checking my RSS feeds today and came across this piece via Touchstone’s “Mere Comments” blog.Â It seems that California courts have determined that it is illegal for doctors who perform in vitro fertilization procedures to refuse their services to homosexuals.Â Don’t import your (private) ethics into your (public) work, the message goes.Â Of course, the real question is, as James Kushiner rightly notes, why these Christian doctors (and evidently those protesting universal access to fertility and conception services are Christians of some variety or other) are performing such procedures in the first place, “Artificial insemination should never been accepted by Christians doctors in the first place,” he says “so the moral issue here lies further downstream.Â On the face of it, the court decision might force Christian doctors to reeducate their consciences by learning what real Christian medical practice is.” (read his complete comment here)
But this wasn’t the only ethical quandary lurking in my blog-reader today and the second issue hits somewhat closer to home.Â It seems that some doctors up in Denver have just released the findings of their government funded research in which they experimented with removing the hearts of severely brain-damaged babies shortly after their hearts stopped beating, but before total brain-death was pronounced.Â As the article puts it:
Surgeons in Denver are publishing their first account of a procedure in which they remove the hearts of severely brain-damaged newborns less than two minutes after the babies are disconnected from life support, and their hearts stop beating, so the organs can be transplanted into infants who would otherwise die.
It just so happens that a family with close ties to St. Francis Church has a child who is in the hospital as we speak awaiting a viable heart transplant match.Â What is one to say to this family, hoping against hope that prayer and modern medicine work together to bring their child a long and happy life.Â The task to even think about this topic almost becomes too heavy a burden when one has not been in their situation, praying for one’s own child.Â But is it their hope that puts this situation into a moral gray area, or is it the eagerness of doctors who, in their desire to save some may be depriving others of their lives (and it is murder to take life, even a life that would otherwise have ended minutes or seconds later without interference).Â Again, from the Washington Post article:
Critics, however, are questioning the propriety of removing hearts from patients, especially babies, who are not brain-dead and are asking whether the Denver doctors wait long enough to make sure the infants met either of the long-accepted definitions of death — complete, irreversible cessation of brain function or of heart and lung function. Some even said the operations are tantamount to murder.
I don’t have an answer to every question, but I do wonder sometimes why we as Christians avoid such important issues and instead find ouselves locked in heated battle over what color the carpet in the foyer should be.Â I’m not certain Christians would be as divided as we are on moral and ethical issues if we actually talked, as Christians, about them.Â As it is, we are divided about large issues because we focus on and become defined by much smaller differences of opinion, so that we are no longer schooled in the Christian tradition that is meant to form us as followers of Christ.Â As Kushiner says “Isn’t it time to establish an alternative, and moral, traditional Christian medical practice around the country? The fault line is already there, but we’ve got Christian doctors standing on both sides of it.”Â That pretty much describes the relationship of Christians to every moral issue out there.Â There is no unanimity among Christians on these topics.Â And without a willingness to approach them, there never will be.
So here’s the hard question for us: what lengths are available to us from a Christian perspective in the creation of life, or in the preservation of life.Â What are the legitimate actions to take so that a child might live.Â Are we prepared to say that another must die–even if only a bit sooner than otherwise.