Can We Learn from Peter Singer?

by D Sullivan in commentary, General

by guest blogger Tyler John, senior philosophy major

In a recent Cedarville University chapel message, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler spoke at length about human dignity. He rightly criticized Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, for saying that some pigs should have more rights than some human infants. This of course raises serious objections from a Christian viewpoint. But maybe there is something Dr. Singer can teach us, or at least remind us of.

In his book The Life You Can Save, he argues that if we fail to donate money to the poor, we do something morally wrong. He makes an argument on the basis of a thought experiment:

On your way to work, you pass a small pond. As you get closer, you see that there is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. The child is unable to keep his head above the water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown. Wading in is easy and safe, but you will ruin the new shoes you bought only a few days ago, and get your suit wet and muddy. What should you do?

From here, Singer argues that many of us are in this actual situation every day. We are able to donate money to save dying children if we simply give up a nice pair of shoes or a luxury car or something else we might want. Consequently, we ought to give up these things for the sake of others.

It seems striking how atheist Peter Singer’s argument resonates with two ancient concepts from the Christian tradition: the Tithe, and the Good Samaritan. In this case, Singer asks us to do just what Jesus asks us to do. We should stop to help the poor, offering up a portion of our income so that others might live.


CedarEthics Online: Latest Student Papers

by D Sullivan in , Clinical ethics, commentary, General

The Center for Bioethics is happy to announce the latest edition in our online journal of outstanding student bioethics papers. For example, honors student Michelle Frazer asks the intriguing medical ethics question: “Should a desire for converts influence end-of-life ethics?” She writes:

Does a person have hope of salvation right up until the moment of death . . . or does that hope disappear earlier? In addressing this question, I am working from the assumption that there is no chance of salvation after death. Therefore, the issue becomes the following question: “When can a person no longer communicate with God?” For example, can an individual in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) who presumably has no autonomous brain function, still communicate with the divine? Does allowing one in PVS to die (say by starvation), interfere with the possibility of a change in his or her eternal destination?

You can read Michelle’s fascinating discussion of this idea in her paper:
End of Life and Saving Souls: Should a Desire for Converts Influence End-of-life Ethics?

This and other excellent papers, as well as winners from earlier years, are available at the website: CederEthics Online.

Keeping the Dream Alive (29)

by D Sullivan in General, Podcasts


In his recent Chapel address on Martin Luther King Day, criminal justice professor Patrick Oliver gave a powerful exposition on God, government, and freedom. Borrowing from such diverse sources as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the writings of Abraham Lincoln, and the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Professor Oliver wove a tapestry of balance between “the law of nature and the law of nature’s God,” between natural and general revelation, and between the evangelical and cultural mandate of Matthew 28:18-20.

In ethics, it is worthwhile to consider how we can impact the culture. Is it only through preaching the word of God, or is it also through confronting moral evils? Do we honor God in advocating for the sanctity of human life, defending traditional marriage, or confronting civil inequalities? What is the role of civil disobedience?

Listen to Professor Patrick’s penetrating analysis of these moral questions about our civil society.

[Letter from Birmingham Jail]

Legal Personhood for Chimpanzees?

by D Sullivan in commentary, General


by Elisha Injeti, Center for Bioethics Fellow

On December 2nd of this past year, the definition of a “legal person” was officially challenged in a court of law in the United States. In case you are wondering if this is part of an immigration issue, you are wrong. Three lawsuits filed in New York courts, by an animal rights group called Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), attempt to convince the judges that chimpanzees are legal persons.

NhRP has spent 5 years in preparing for this case, with a goal of getting cognitively advanced animals like chimpanzees, elephants, and dolphins their rights as legal persons. According to NhRP, keeping these animals in captivity is tantamount to slavery. So they are determined to prove their personhood. Founder of NhRP and animal rights attorney Steven Wise says:

No matter how these first cases turn out, we’re going to move onto other cases, other states, other species of animals. We’re going to file as many lawsuits as we can over the next 10 or 20 years.

The National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) is already fighting any attempts to grant personhood to chimps. Frankie Trull, the president of NABR notes that these animals are important models for behavioral research, as well as for developing vaccines against viruses such as hepatitis C. She says assigning personhood status to animals would have chaotic results for the research community. One lawyer proposes focusing on animal welfare rather than on animal rights. He claims:

Both humans and animals would be best served by placing a strong emphasis on human responsibility for humane treatment of animals rather than creating an artificial construct of animal personhood.

For now, the judges have thrown out these petitions. But the debate on legal personhood for animals has just begun. As experts in law, philosophy, and science make their case in the media and the courts, I hope the biblical view of man and creation will not be left out of the discussion.

CNN Link
Science Magazine Article


Quick Decision to End Life Support: Cause for Concern?

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


Timothy Bowers was 32 years old, and enjoying life. The Indiana mechanic was recently married, and he and his wife were expecting a baby. All of that changed suddenly, tragically, and permanently on November 2nd, when Tim fell from a tree stand while hunting. The 16-foot drop left him with a crush injury to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th cervical vertebrae of his neck. He was suddenly and severely paralyzed, unable to move his arms or legs, and unable to breathe without a ventilator.

As is common after a severe injury, Tim was surrounded by family in the hospital, where he was heavily sedated. When the family learned of his prognosis, that made the unusual request to immediately discontinue the sedation, so they could apprise him of his injuries, and so Timothy could make his wishes known. When he awoke and learned his diagnosis, according to his sister:

“We just asked him, ‘Do you want this?’ And he shook his head emphatically no.”

And so the medical team agreed to discontinue Timothy’s ventilator. Surrounded by family and friends, he died later that afternoon, one day after his accident.

Even Arthur Caplan, the celebrated director of medical ethics at New York University, seemed a bit conflicted about these events. On the one hand, he said:

Patients often change their minds after they have had time to meet with spiritual advisers and family.

On the other hand, Timothy had previously made his wishes clear to his sister about not wanting to be machine-dependent if ever he was in such a debilitated state.  So this decision appears to be in line with his values.

Nonetheless, I am worried about the rapidity here. What’s the rush? In Ohio, there is a law dictating a 48-hour waiting period before removing life support in hopeless cases. Are we so utilitarian in our thinking that we must urgently forgo a few days of further counsel, therapy, and prayer?

I am all in favor of patient autonomy, but I wonder if Timothy Bowers was pushed to make such a monumental decision on short notice.

CNN News Report
Fox News Report

Proposed Ban on Human Cloning and Animal-Human Hybrids

by D Sullivan in commentary, Research ethics, stem cell research


State Representative Andy Thompson of 95th District in Ohio has just introduced H.B. 308, a ban on the practice of human cloning and on the laboratory creation of animal-human hybrids. This will actually be the third recent attempt to pass such legislation, with two previous tries held up in various committees.

Why should we have such a bill? Aren’t the ideas of human cloning and animal-human hybrids simply in the realm of science fiction? Unfortunately, this is very real. For example, a team of scientists from Oregon has recently reported success in the creation of human clones, for the purpose of providing stem-cell lines for research (see “Cloning Report” below). Even more disturbing, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the United Kingdom has (since 2008) approved the creation of hybrids and chimeras. As reported in the U.K.’s Daily Mail:

[There are] 155 ‘admixed’ embryos,containing both human and animal genetic material, . . . created since the introduction of the 2008 Human Fertilisation Embryology Act. This legalised the creation of a variety of hybrids, including an animal egg fertilised by a human sperm; ‘cybrids’, in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell; and ‘chimeras’, in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.

One research institution, Warwick University, has experimented with animal-human hybrids for the past three years. Such efforts have ceased at present due to a lack of funds, but scientists are still enthusiastic about the work. Lord David Alton of the British Parliament has said:

I argued in Parliament against the creation of human- animal hybrids as a matter of principle. None of the scientists who appeared before us could give us any justification in terms of treatment. Ethically it can never be justifiable – it discredits us as a country. It is dabbling in the grotesque.

At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail. Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells – not embryonic ones. On moral and ethical grounds this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too.

Lord Alton has said it well. There is no legitimate scientific rationale for human cloning or for animal-human hybrids. Leading the scientific testimony on the Ohio bill will be Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council (Washington, D.C.). I will also play a role to testify in favor of the ban.

ALL human life is sacred. No one should be permitted to create human embryos for the mere purpose of scientific experimentation. Whatever the perceived benefits, there are simply other more ethical ways of accomplishing these goals.

Cloning Report by Tachibana and Colleagues

Animal-Human Hybrids in the U.K.

Ohio Christian Alliance Article


Euthanasia: Is the Reality Worse than Fiction?

by D Sullivan in commentary, end of life, General

By guest commentator Michelle Frazer:

In his recent commentary, writer John Stonestreet has described a new development in Europe as “worse than fiction.” Some patients suffering from certain unbearable disorders have asked for euthanasia, coupled with organ donation to save the lives of others.

Now don’t be carried away with the redemptive value of euthanasia until considering the following facts. At last May’s 21st European Conference on Thoracic Surgery, a paper by a group of Belgian doctors described “Lung Transplantation with Grafts Recovered from Euthanasia Donors.” The abstract describes something unheard-of here in the United States: six patients who received new lungs from euthanized donors between January of 2007 and December of 2012.

According to the European Institute of Bioethics, euthanasia is a common practice in Belgium, with over 5000 cases since 2002, and a steadily increasing number each year. What could be the implications of promoting organ donation in such a context? Peter Saunders, writing for LifeSite News, sees an ugly future:

I wonder how long it will be before elderly people who have ‘already had a good life’ start being eyed up by those with organ failure who are not yet ready to die and being accused covertly, or overtly, of selfishness for being unwilling to hand their fresh healthy organs over.

Given that one third of euthanasia cases in Belgium are already involuntary, I wonder if any patients have yet had their organs harvested without their consent because someone had ‘greater need’ of them?

Organ donation could add even more complexity to the already-difficult subject of terminal illness and ethical decision-making. The debate certainly highlights a marked contrast between Christian and humanist worldviews. Christians believe that every life has dignity and equal worth, while humanists place relative value on life due to its perceived quality or potential for longevity.

Furthermore, giving one’s life for another is a very Christian thing to do, modeling Christ’s sacrificial love. On this basis, organ donation after euthanasia might seem justified in this self-sacrificial way, but only if one freely decides to give up his life for another. But currently, organ donation is seemingly just an added benefit of euthanasia, not its goal. If organ donation becomes a standard purpose of euthanasia, then will it be a free act of self-sacrifice or a result of utilitarian pressure?

Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over life, not doctors or even patients. And the Christian and humanist worldviews differ in how one finds worth and happiness. The desire for euthanasia suggests that maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain are the supreme considerations. From a Christian perspective, worth comes from being a child of God and finding joy in Him, sacrificially loving others as we wait for eternal life in a better world.

(Michelle is a senior physics major at Cedarville University)

European Institute of Bioethics report

BreakPoint Commentary

LifeSite News Report

A Dangerous New Expansion of Abortion

by D Sullivan in Clinical ethics, commentary, General, Reproductive ethics


In a move sure to anger pro-life advocates across the nation, a new California law now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. AB 154 will open the door for a variety of non-physician healthcare workers, such as nurses and midwives, to perform early medical and surgical abortions. Pro-choice groups and Planned Parenthood of California have sponsored the legislation, despite polls showing that two-thirds of Californians oppose the measure. It is almost certain that the governor will sign it.

In pushing through this aggressive agenda, Planned Parenthood and its allies are ignoring a number of significant facts that make this a very bad idea:

  • Abortion clinics have fewer regulations than for any other type of minor surgical procedure.
  • Complications from abortion are serious, and can be fatal if not recognized and treated early by a physician. These include infection, bleeding, and perforation of the uterus.
  • The training available to non-physicians in California is not even established by physicians; it is set up by the Board of Registered Nursing.
  • Physician supervision is very limited — The new law does not require a doctor to be present, or even available on site.

All of this, according to Brian Johnston, Executive Director of the California Pro-Life Council, means that women’s rights are trivialized:

The California Business and Professions Code prohibits abortions being done on animals unless the abortionist is a trained and certified veterinary surgeon. If 154 is made law, a mother dog will have more dignity in the eyes of California law than a vulnerable young mother talked into an abortion by a Planned Parenthood staffer.

These developments make it crystal clear that Planned Parenthood is not at all dedicated to helping women. They are more interested in profiting from increased revenue in this era of ObamaCare. And it further promotes a national culture of death.

MaxNews Article

LifeNews Report

CedarEthics Online: Latest Student Papers

by D Sullivan in commentary, General

The Center for Bioethics is happy to announce the latest edition in our online journal of outstanding student bioethics papers.

CedarEthics Online 12:2 (from spring, 2013):

Emily Delk has written a careful ethical review of a new reproductive technology:
A Kantian Ethical Analysis of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis

Leanne Dykstra has provided an insightful essay on the new technological ways to conceive children:
Having Babies: Personhood or Product?

Tyler John takes a classic moral argument in favor of abortion rights, and turns it on its head:
The Singer and the Violinist: When Pro-Choice Ethicists Are Out of Tune

To read these excellent papers and winners from earlier years, go to the CederEthics Online Website.


Are Placebos Ethical?

by D Sullivan in Clinical ethics, commentary


What would you think if you found out the pain medication you had been taking for the past few months was a placebo instead of a “real medication?” Research has shown that some people get better, not because of the pharmacologic or physiologic effects of a pill, but because they believe they will benefit from it (i.e., the placebo effect). Some believe it is unethical for a health care provider to prescribe a placebo treatment, since it deceives the patient and therefore violates patient autonomy. However, a recent study by Hull and colleagues (2013) asked patients what they thought about placebo treatments, and the results may surprise you.

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey of 853 patients in the Kaiser Permanente health system, asking their thoughts about placebo treatments. Over 76% of those surveyed thought it was okay for health care providers to prescribe a placebo if it caused no harm, and nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated they themselves would take placebos! Yet, respondents also valued honesty, believing if patients questioned the medication, the health care provider should disclose to them that it was a placebo.

The clinical treatment of patients is complex. Health care providers often face a difficult choice: to prescribe medications which could also have harmful side effects or to prescribe placebos which could violate a patient’s autonomy. Perhaps, as these authors suggest, health care professionals should engage their patients in these ethical discussions to decide the appropriate place of placebos in therapy.

British Medical Journal article

Guest article by Dr. Aleda Chen, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice