Pro-Life: A Broader Meaning

by D Sullivan in commentary, General


(By Dr. Heather Kuruvilla)

What do you think of when you hear the term “pro-life?” Do anti-abortion protestors come to mind? Do you imagine volunteers faithfully reaching out to women with crisis pregnancies? Do you reflect on lawyers and legislators working to change our laws to recognize the unborn as persons? These are all good and necessary, but being pro-life means much more. A robust pro-life ethic comes from a theological position holding mankind in high regard, created in God’s image.

If we truly believe that all people are image-bearers of God, then this belief involves many ways of “loving our neighbor.” Here are just a few examples:

  • We should reject the “hookup culture” because it devalues human worth and dignity.
  • We should support hospice and palliative care that treats the dying with compassion and dignity until the natural end of their earthly lives.
  • We should search for safe, productive alternatives to the destruction of human embryos for research.
  • We should support sustainable farming practices and wise stewardship of agricultural technologies to adequately feed more of the world’s population.
  • We should provide clean water and increased access to health care for all who lack these resources.
  • We should adopt or provide foster care for the orphans among us, in keeping with biblical commands.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it illustrates the idea that the “pro-life” movement needs people with many different gifts. We need healthcare workers, environmentalists, researchers, biotechnologists, and other committed citizens, united in this common view: human life is precious because it reflects an awesome Creator. A broader definition of “pro-life” means that every member of the body of Christ can uphold these principles, while living a life committed to the Gospel. In fact, many of us are already doing so. May the Lord give us grace to continue.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matthew 25:40).

Ezekiel Emanuel is Wrong

by D Sullivan in Clinical ethics, commentary, end of life

Physician-ethicist Ezekiel Emanuel seems to love being at the center of controversy. One of the architects of Affordable Care Act, he is director of Clinical Bioethics at the NIH and chairs the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at U Penn. He has frequently (and often unfairly) been criticized for pointing out the flaws in our current health care system, which he describes as  “truly dysfunctional” (Wash. Post). Worse of all, many think of him as a real utilitarian pragmatist, and have accused him of trying to ration health care. He has denied this.

So it comes as a bit of a shock to see Emanuel’s latest article in the Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” He claims that he will stop using the health care system at age 75. He puts it this way:

[H]ere is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long . . . renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic (source below).

Emanuel goes on to say that this is no death wish, but he feels that he may no longer be productive and enjoy things at age 75. So he hopes that will be the end. If he has cancer or develops pneumonia, he will refuse chemotherapy or antibiotics. His last colonoscopy will be at age 65. And when he hits 75, no flu shot.

Why this somber navel-gazing with 18 years to go?  What is Emanuel trying to prove? He is implying, I think, that there is no more to life than our contributions to society. He is subtly saying that older patients are selfish to use so many health care resources, and that we should all just forget about living long lives. Ah, but that of course is the ultimate lie that so many functionalists would have you believe. We are valuable because of what we do, not for who we are.

On the other hand, the Christian view of the human person teaches that we are valuable for our own right. Each of us was made “a little lower than God,” and our Creator has crowned us “with glory and majesty” (Psalm 8:5, NASB). The elderly deserve honor; they have the right to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Our value is intrinsic, and does not depend on our age or our abilities.

Don’t let a pontificating utilitarian make you feel guilty for living out the full lifespan that God has allotted you.

Article in The Atlantic

Death Panels Redux?

by D Sullivan in Clinical ethics, commentary, end of life

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine is entitled: Dying in America. Among other things, it documents how poorly Americans understand their options at the end of life. The IoM recommends that doctors get paid for having end-of-life discussions with their patients. This idea was unpopular back in 2009, and led some to accuse the government of trying to establish “death panels,” designed to limit treatment options and to ration health care.

But this is a distortion. According to the IoM report:

The [2009] provision would have reimbursed clinicians for the time spent in advance care planning with patients. Such conversations would have included discussion of the documents that can help ensure that patients’ wishes regarding care are followed in the event they become unable to express them (source listed below).

Recent polls have show that the majority of Americans strongly support such discussions, and a growing number have established advance directives for themselves and their loved ones. Nonetheless, a recent Forbes article makes the alarming claim that death panels are “on the rebound.” Why all this suspicion?

The main reason may be that advance directives (e.g., living wills or durable powers of attorney for health care) are not perfect, and they are not always honored. A patient’s prognosis is not always easy to predict. And families are sometimes reluctant to go along with their loved ones’ wishes, even when they are clearly stated.

Yet for all of these concerns, greater clarity in the face of serious illness is not a bad thing. In our technologically-advanced society, we are often able to keep the bodily shell alive, which merely prolongs the dying process. For people of faith, this is unnecessary, for a better life awaits us.

We should all have advance directives – and doctors should be paid for advising us about them.

Dying in America

Forbes Online Article

Slippery Slope: Euthanasia in Belgium (30)

by D Sullivan in Clinical ethics, end of life, Podcasts


Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002, amid reassurances that the practice would be used only under desperate circumstances. In the U.S., where euthanasia is illegal, many feared a “slippery slope” similar to the Netherlands. In this podcast, my special guest is Dr. Douglas Anderson,Professor of Pharmacy Practice. We comment on a disturbing new trend to use terminal sedation as a form of euthanasia in Belgium.

Journal Article


To listen, just click on the player below (click on the Audio MP3 button if the player doesn’t appear).

Religious Freedom Summit Coming to Cedarville

by D Sullivan in , commentary, General

Religious freedom is under assault in our nation today. The battle line has been drawn between a Christian voice in public affairs and a naked public square, devoid of spiritual values. Your personal liberty and rights of conscience are at stake.
An outstanding group of key leaders will discuss this important topic on October 9th and 10th at Cedarville University. Headlining the event is Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby. 

Cold Buckets and Wet Blankets

by D Sullivan in commentary, Research ethics

As many of you know, the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” has gone viral. Folks all over the world are dumping ice water on their heads to raise awareness and money to fight Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). This is a neurodegenerative disease of unknown cause that leads to progressive muscle paralysis. The bucket-dumpers are donating money (or avoiding it), and posting their videos on YouTube and challenging others to do the same.

And it’s working – the Ice Bucket Challenge is fun, millions have participated, and it has greatly raised awareness of the disease. More importantly, the ALS Association has seen a huge uptick in donations, resulting in more than 40 million dollars in new funding.

Hmm, but there are a few caveats. Some people are just shooting a video to get noticed, and have no intention of giving any money. As a pastor friend of mine recently blogged, “if you say you are ‘raising awareness’ of ALS and not giving money to fight it, you are just starring in your own video.” Of greater concern is the fact that ALSA helps to fund at least one research project that destroys human embryos for their stem cells in the search to find a cure. And destroying human embryos destroys human lives made in God’s image. It is the moral equivalent of murder, and our money should not support it.

Yes, but that just adds another dimension to the problem. It seems to me that a lot of pro-life Christians are going to see this as a convenient excuse to do nothing. They may hypocritically choose to keep their wallets closed, all the time sanctimoniously claiming they are defending human life.

So here is my own Ice Bucket Challenge: I am giving $100.00 to the ALS Association, but I will specify that my money not be used for research that destroys human embryos. And I would love for you to do the same: Get involved and give sacrificially to the research cause of your choice. The American Heart Association could use your help, or perhaps the Parkinson Foundation, or the American Diabetes Association. When you do, specify that your donation not be used for immoral research that destroys human embryos.

All of us are suffering under the effects of the fall of Adam. That’s why we all need a Savior. So let’s show our Christian compassion for one another, and defend the sanctity of life at the same time. That seems like a “win-win” situation to me.

Please watch the video – and see whom I call on to join me in the challenge!

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The Pain of Being “Left-Over”

by D Sullivan in commentary, Reproductive ethics


Ever since the first “test-tube” baby in 1978, reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) have led to a host of ethical conundrums. In order to boost success rates, fertility clinics routinely produce many more human embryos than can be implanted. The excess “left-over” embryos serve as a backup plan, and are usually placed in cryogenic storage.

What to do with these excess embryos has always been a deeply troubling and highly divisive problem. Should they be stored indefinitely, discarded, donated for research, or implanted? Do they have any rights? Are they persons or property?

Our Christian pro-life intuitions tell us that we can somehow “rescue” this situation by adopting them. Childless couples can have frozen embryos implanted, giving these tiny beings a chance at a normal life. This is a noble impulse, but there are still problems.

Gracie Crane is a normal teenage girl growing up in the U.K. Take careful note of her story:

Gracie, who is mixed race, was one of the first children in Britain conceived from a donor embryo, which means she has no genetic link to either of her parents. As she was born in 1998 — seven years before amendments were made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act allowing children born through donor conception to trace their genetic parents — she has no right to find out who her biological parents are. Or even whether there are any hereditary conditions which may affect her in the future. . .

Having reached 16, and with the support of her clearly devoted parents, Gracie is speaking out because she wants anyone contemplating such a decision to understand just how difficult her life has been, despite being raised by a couple who adore her.

[She says,] ‘There are times I’ve wished I’d never been born — as much as I love my parents, it’s just so sad not knowing who I am and where I came from.’

(source below)

Clearly, the impulse to adopt embryos should continue, and we should do our utmost to help young men and women such as Gracie. But all of this technology comes at a price. To help childless couples to conceive is not inherently wrong, but our mass-production, throw-away culture seems to perceive children more as product than person, more like a commodity than a fellow human being given to us by God. And donor gametes (egg and sperm) mean that a young child conceived by IVF might never know her biological parents. This can be marginalizing and very upsetting to those we are trying to help.

These are some of the unintended consequences of the reproductive revolution.

London Daily Mail Article


Some Final Thoughts on Gosnell

by D Sullivan in commentary, Reproductive ethics

baby feet

The verdicts are all in, and the sentences have all been laid out. Last month, the last of ten co-defendants was sentenced in the grisly murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. In the raid on his Philadelphia clinic, body parts and fetuses were found dating back thirty years. According to pro-life advocacy group Operation Rescue:

[The] jury found [Gosnell] guilty of 3 counts of First Degree Murder, 21 felony counts of illegal abortions beyond the 24 week limit, 211 misdemeanor counts of violating the 24-hour informed consent law, numerous conspiracy and corrupt organization charges. He also pled guilty to Federal charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, including oxycodone, alprazolam, and codeine; distribution and aiding and abetting the distribution of oxycodone; and maintaining a place for the illegal distribution of controlled substances.

Dr. Gosnell avoided the death penalty by agreeing not to appeal his sentences, which included three consecutive terms of life in prison with no possibility of parole. His co-defendants received varying prison terms, community service, and probation. Several received more lenient sentences by testifying against Gosnell.

The spin cycle has worked furiously, with pro-life groups quick to point out the ugliness of abortion, while pro-choice advocates claim that Gosnell is a monstrous exception, making clear the need for “reproductive care” that is safe, legal, and more sanitized than Gosnell’s clinic.

OK, if the goal is to make legal abortions safer, let’s improve safety and health standards at abortion clinics. Doesn’t that seem like a good idea? But efforts to do just that have been met with widespread opposition. For example, Ohio law requires that all ambulatory surgical facilities have a transfer agreement with area hospitals to cover emergencies. Last January, Ohio Health Director Dr. Theodore Wymyslo ordered the abortion clinic in Sharonville to close, due to a lack of such an agreement (the clinic is run by Dr. Martin Haskell, famous for promoting the now-illegal “partial-birth abortion” procedure). On July 10th, a Hamilton County judge finally ordered the clinic closed, but it has remained open, because of perceived “safety concerns” with it not being available.

So here is the bottom line: Many abortion clinics are unsafe, but magistrates and judges are complicit to keep them open, afraid to interfere with perceived “rights” enshrined by Supreme Court precedent since 1973. The result is many abortion centers that threaten the health of women and prey on the vulnerable.

Verdict Details Summary
News Source for Sharonville Clinic Closure Order
Source for Decision to Keep Clinic Open

The Hobby Lobby Victory and Conscience Rights

by D Sullivan in commentary, Reproductive ethics


The wait is over, and one of the most hotly-contested debates of our modern day has been resolved. By a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Hobby Lobby (and Conestoga Wood) cannot be forced by the Affordable Care Act to provide certain contraceptives to its employees. If you have been confused by the intense discussion, here are some implications of this latest ruling.

What types of birth control did the companies object to?

At issue were not just contraceptives in general (for example, Romans Catholics object to most forms of birth control on the basis of natural law). Specifically, the two companies  oppose the use of Plan B and ella, the two most common forms of “emergency contraception,” as well as the copper IUD (intrauterine device), a common  long term birth control method. The reason for their opposition stems from their view that protectable human life begins at conception. After fertilization in the fallopian tube, it takes 6-1/2 days for a new embryo to travel down the tube for implantation into the uterus. The three methods cited may act, in part, to prevent implantation. This makes them immoral from a pro-life standpoint.

Is this objection based on scientific facts?

This is a complex question, and the answer is clouded in rhetoric and obfuscation. First of all, FDA-approved language on websites and in drug inserts would imply that prevention of implantation is a possible mechanism of action of the methods in question. Now, the actual evidence is disputed, and some recent studies imply that the concern about Plan B may be misplaced. Nonetheless, even if this is not scientifically true, the government seems to believe it as well, and doesn’t care. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius said in 2011, “The Food and Drug Administration has a category [of drugs] that prevent fertilization and implantation. That’s really the scientific definition.”

What rights are at stake here?

The ACA mandate to cover contraception tramples on the rights of religiously-informed employers to act in ways consistent with their values. This is a religious-liberty issue, and has widespread implications for many other conflicts over conscience rights, including the right of healthcare professionals to refuse to participate in abortion, or for pro-life pharmacists to refuse to dispense drugs for assisted suicide.

What does the future hold?

Despite this victory, look for further attempts by the government to encroach on freedom of conscience and freedom of religious expression.

AAPLOG Statement

Source for Sibelius Quote

Physicians and Lethal Injection

by D Sullivan in Clinical ethics, commentary, end of life

This 29 February, 2000, photo shows the "death cha

Our justice system is embroiled in controversy in recent years, over a procedure that a majority of Americans support: the death penalty. Older methods, including firing squad, electric chair, or gas chamber, have been supplanted by lethal injection. This is thought to be more humane, and therefore less in conflict with the Eighth Amendment proscription of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

But the use of lethal injection has brought with it a whole new set of issues, as revealed by several “botched executions” in recent months. In Ohio last January, Dennis McGuire’s execution took 25 minutes, called by one defense attorney “a failed, agonizing experiment.” In April, Clayton Lockett’s lethal injection procedure by Oklahoma officials lasted 43 minutes, and only ended when the condemned suffered a massive heart attack.

Most Americans support the death penalty in the United States, though the margin has become much smaller in recent years. In 1996, 78% were pro-death penalty; in 2013, that had dropped to 55% (Washington Post). This is a huge shift in public opinion, and these recent events may have a further impact.

In response, there has been a renewed call for physicians to get involved. After all, properly applied professional medical judgment could ensure that the condemned prisoner is truly unconscious before injecting agents to stop the heart or suppress respirations. This would greatly reduce fears of violating Eight Amendment safeguards. A recent legal committee on death penalty reform has recommended that “Jurisdictions should ensure that qualified medical personnel are present at executions and responsible for all medically-related elements of executions” (source).

But this is a truly dangerous recommendation. For over 2400 years, the Hippocratic tradition in medicine has expressly forbidden participation in killing, and this violates the codes of ethics of both the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association. Even the practice of assisted suicide is forbidden in both codes, and at least that has the goal of relieving suffering.

No, healthcare professionals should strongly resist this idea, and refuse to have anything to do with state-sanctioned killing. Regardless of concerns about the comfort of the procedure, the death penalty is not intended to be therapeutic. For all of the recent controversy, this is not a problem that doctors or nurses can solve.