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.

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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.

Can the Unborn Feel Pain?

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

Month 7

The past few months have seen an increase in state bans on late-term abortion, at 20 weeks or later. No one claims that such bills will have a huge impact, since the majority of abortions are in the first trimester (up to 12 weeks). So why this emphasis on the later stages?

For one thing, this is an incremental pro-life strategy. Just like 48-hour waiting periods and bills requiring an ultrasound before abortion, such measures may cause women to think twice and carefully consider their options before making a decision they may later regret. For another thing, it is increasingly clear that 20 week-old fetuses can feel pain. Here’s some of the evidence:

  1. Pain receptors are present throughout the unborn child’s entire body at 20 weeks of development.
  2. Nerves link these receptors to the brain’s thalamus and sub-cortical plate by no later than 20 weeks.
  3. The connection between the spinal cord and the thalamus starts to develop from 14 weeks onwards and is finished at 20 weeks.
  4. From 16 weeks’ gestation pain transmission from a peripheral receptor to the cortex is possible and completely developed at 26 weeks’ gestation.

It seems amazing that many oppose such measures because “the evidence isn’t all in,” or because “we need more discussion.” In fact, neuroscience and developmental biology are very clear on these  scientific facts. It seems to me that being pro-choice at this stage of development is to be pro-torture.

World Magazine article
Doctors on Fetal Pain


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