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Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for the ‘commentary’ Category

 

Is Premeditated Targeting of an Unborn Child Murder?

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

8-month-fetus-model-with-pl

by guest blogger, Erica Graham

Should personhood be ascribed based upon whether or not the person is wanted?  If this seems like a strange question, consider the following case.  This past week in Longmont, Colorado a 26 year old woman who was 7 months pregnant went to an apartment to pick up baby clothes she’d seen advertised on Craigslist. The woman was stabbed and beaten upon entering the apartment.  The assailant then cut the unborn child from the victim’s womb and fled the scene. The mother-to-be survived but the child did not. The suspect brought the deceased child to the hospital where the victim was being treated, claiming the baby was her own miscarriage. The suspect was apprehended and is now facing charges. Prosecutors, however, are uncertain if murder charges can be filed. In the State of Colorado, a murder charge cannot be pressed unless the child was alive outside the womb.

Our hearts break when we hear this story. A mother is bereft of her child, and the justice system may not allow the suspect to be charged for murder. The prosecutors are working around the question of how long a baby has to live outside the womb to be considered “alive” and thus considered “murdered”.  So, where do we draw the line?  Is one breath outside the womb sufficient? One minute of breathing? When is an unborn child a human person? When do they deserve human rights of their own? Are they just a part of the mother’s body?  Is this grisly attack murder, or merely assault?

Most people would say there was an obvious loss of life here. The expectant mother’s child was violently killed. That fact seems obvious. But what makes a 7 month old fetus different than an 8 week old fetus? And why are we ok with killing one but angered when the other is killed? The only difference is whether or not the mother desires the child.

This horrific Colorado crime shines light on the ugly reality that we let other people decide whether or not someone is valuable enough to live.

 

We let children be killed only when the pregnant woman decides it is permissible. How can we offer justice to a woman who had her baby literally stolen from her womb when we cannot acknowledge her child was even alive?  Should we follow an ethic that allows such injustice?

I believe this potential failure of justice should make us rethink how we legally define life. For the sake of justice we should declare the child alive at conception. This allows expectant mothers to defend their babies’ lives before they are born. Our gut tells us this baby was murdered and I think we should listen to our instincts here. Unborn children can be murdered just any other child can, and they deserve the same rights to justice.

CNN Article describing the case above

The Coming of Medical Martyrdom

Monday, March 16th, 2015

caduce

Do you remember a time when folks talked about a doctor’s oath, something that dictated his or her ethics? Most don’t realize that this originally came from Hippocrates in about 400 B.C., but they assumed that healthcare was guided by professionalism and compassionate care.

Today, the New Medicine is no longer concerned with the Hippocratic Oath, and we no longer hear much about doctors as healers. Now it is all about individual choice, about radical autonomy run amok. In this modern world of consumer health care, the customer is always right.

So what about those who refuse to play along? What about those doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who refuse to cooperate with patient demands for abortion or for drugs to help them kill themselves? In more and more cases, they are censured by their professional societies, and may even be subject to lawsuits. In Belgium, in the Netherlands, in Australia, in Canada, and now increasingly in the U.S., the highest priority is placed on an individual patient’s choice, and these strictures are increasingly finding their way into our laws.

Wesley J. Smith, a moral philosopher and commentator for the Discovery Institute, puts it this way:

If these trends continue, twenty years from now, those who feel called to a career in health care will face an agonizing dilemma: either participate in acts of killing or stay out of medicine. Those who stay true to their consciences will be forced into the painful sacrifice of embracing martyrdom for their faith.

 

With such assaults on health care rights of conscience, the newest martyrs may be those who wear a white coat.

Wesley J. Smith Commentary

Remembering Spring in the Midst of Winter

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Spring

 

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

Just days ago, much of the nation was facing wind chill advisories and subzero temperatures.  But walking around my neighborhood yesterday, I heard the sounds of rushing water as the snow melted, the song of birds, and the honking of geese.  The sun was shining, and the smell of spring was in the air.  We knew it was coming.  For weeks now, folks I’ve encountered, whether in line at the post office or ringing up my groceries at Wal-Mart, have been encouraging each other with the hope that “spring is on its way”.

Even on the coldest day, no one doubted that spring was coming.  We’ve seen the seasons change again and again. The pattern of resurrection is woven throughout the fabric of nature.  For every winter, there is a spring.

The fact that we’re still talking about Brittany Maynard proves that the “winter” of our lives is often difficult.  Brittany  Maynard, diagnosed with terminal cancer, chose to end her life last November rather than face the certain pain that lay ahead of her.  I think any of us who has seen the ravages of cancer can empathize with what must have been an agonizing decision.

Her decision illustrates our very basic, human need for hope; the hope that winter will give way to spring.

As Christians, we hold to the hope of resurrection, knowing that the darkness of Good Friday gave way to the triumph of Easter Sunday.  Christ, then, is our ultimate hope.

 

But a terminal patient needs “short-term” hope, too.  What are some ways we can help suffering persons to embrace hope?  According to Cancer Research UK:

Everyone needs to have some sense of hope for their future. When you are dying, this hope may be that you can visit a place that you love. Or you may hope that you can enjoy being with your family and friends for a time. Some people believe that there is life after death and find that this gives them hope…many people hope for comfort, dignity, friendship and love to surround them in their final days.

 

That means every one of us has the potential to be a hope-giver.  For more information on helping the terminally ill, check out these resources:

Hospice Foundation of America

Get Palliative Care

 

Your 3-person Embryo Questions Answered

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

embryo

 

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

Since Britain legalized the creation of 3-person embryos on February 24th, I’ve been asked a number of questions about this procedure. Below are a few commonly asked questions as well as some resources that I hope will be helpful.

Why is this procedure sometimes called making a “3-person embryo”?  Gametes from three individuals are being used to create one embryo.  The biological mother and father contribute eggs and sperm respectively.  However, in this case, the nuclei of the biological mother’s egg and the father’s sperm will be injected into an enucleated donor egg that has healthy mitochondria.

Whom would this procedure help? The procedure would enable women with mitochondrial disease to bear healthy children who are biologically related to them.  Mitochondria are cellular organelles that are passed down from mother to child.  Therefore, a woman with mitochondrial disease would normally pass diseased mitochondria to her offspring.

Will embryos be destroyed in order to carry out this procedure?  It depends upon how the procedure is carried out.  There are several methods by which 3-person embryos can be made, and not all are embryo destructive.  I’ve linked an article from the Center for Genetics and Society below.  Using their definitions, pronuclear transfer would involve the destruction of embryos, but maternal spindle transfer and nuclear genome transfer would not.  Polar body transfer would not directly result in the destruction of an embryo, but if the polar body were produced by fertilizing an egg so that the polar body could be produced, the resulting embryo would likely be destroyed since it would contain damaged mitochondria.

Is this procedure risky to humans?  The short answer to this question is that we don’t know.  It is a relatively untested procedure, which raises safety concerns.  In addition, the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) mention other concerns, such as violating an EU ban on modifying the human germline, risks to the women from whom eggs were extracted, and potential identity struggles that a person might face once he/she learns of the unusual circumstances surrounding his/her conception.  CGS suggests preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as an alternative to the three-person embryo technology.  However, since PGD generally results in the destruction of genetically imperfect embryos, this alternative cannot be supported by those who believe that embryos are human persons worthy of protection.

For more information: I’ve put links to several helpful articles below.

BBC Article on 3-person embryo

Center for Genetics and Society Article

 

The Legacy of a Pro-Life Pioneer

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

JCW2

Dr. Jack Willke has passed away at age 89, the great patriarch of the pro-life movement. Here is how he is remembered in the pages of the National Review:

[Dr. Willke] and his wife Barbara dedicated their entire lives to defending the unborn. They were publicly speaking and writing about abortion well before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. During the late 1960s and early 1970s the Willkes advised pro-life activists who were trying to block various state-level efforts to expand access to abortion. In 1972, their advice to Michigan pro-lifers to show pictures of aborted babies was crucial to the defeat of a referendum that would have legalized abortion in Michigan. The famous Willke slides of fetal development are still used in pro-life presentations to this day. . .
Dr. Willke’s impact went well beyond the numerous books he wrote and the presentations he made. He was a father figure to many and inspired countless people to become pro-life activists. He was the founder of the International Right to Life Federation and made countless overseas trips to advise and train and motivate pro-lifers in other countries. Here at home, he did important behind-the-scenes work in getting various factions of the pro-life movement to collaborate.

I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Willke, and worked beside him during my years on the board of Ohio Right to Life. Among other things, he taught me how to testify in support of pro-life legislation before House and Senate committees in the Ohio Statehouse. He was a godly man with a humble and charitable spirit. But he fought hard on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.

He was one of my personal heroes, and I will miss him greatly.

National Review Article

Center for Bioethics Launches New Academic Journal

Monday, February 16th, 2015

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The Center for Bioethics is launching a new peer-reviewed academic journal entitled Bioethics in Faith and Practice: Exploring the Moral Dimension in Healthcare.  From the journal website:

 

Bioethics in Faith and Practice is a new peer-reviewed professional journal, through the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University. The focus of this new journal is Health Care Ethics, but it will also include articles of a more theoretical nature. Though it will emphasize Judeo-Christian values, we will be open to a large variety of voices, including secular ones. We hope to publish the first issue by July of 2015. After that, it will appear online twice a year.

 

The journal is now open for the submission of new manuscripts.  We are accepting submissions of papers from a variety of perspectives on healthcare-related issues, and hope to represent a diverse spectrum of academic disciplines.  Both applied and theoretical topics are welcome.  For more information on the journal, as well as the “Instructions for Authors”, please follow the link to the journal website below.

We are excited about this new journal, and hope it will serve as a valuable resource to practitioners and academicians alike.

Bioethics in Faith and Practice

 

Is Gene Therapy Playing God?

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Nucleosome1

 

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

It was near the end of the class period, and I was trying to explain the difference between regulating gene expression–how genes get turned on and off– and replacing genes.  “It is possible to modify gene regulation biochemically, using a drug to influence gene expression.  Some chemotherapy drugs work this way.  However, if the gene itself is defective, the most efficient way of fixing it would be to insert a functional copy of the gene into the genome, using some type of vector to get the DNA into the nucleus.  Clinical trials are underway…”

Hands go up.  A few of the expected questions are asked.  How do viral vectors work?  What are the risks of such vectors?  And then a question I hadn’t expected:

“If you fix a broken gene, isn’t that playing God?”

 

It was a good question.  But answering it would’ve deprived my student of an opportunity to think.  Instead, I asked him, “What if someone was born without a limb? Would it be ‘playing God’ if we made that person a prosthesis?”

“No,” answered the student.

“What if it were a biochemical defect? We had a drug that could help return the patient to to normal function, and we gave that to him.  Would that be playing God?”

“No, I’d be fine with that,” he said.

“What if you had the ability to simply replace a defective gene?  It was broken, and you fixed it.  You restored function to your patient.  Assuming that your patient won’t be harmed by the procedure, would gene therapy be any different than the first two scenarios?”

Another student raised his hand.  “When Jesus healed, He restored sight, and made the lame walk.”  Certainly, Jesus restored souls.  But restoring whole persons was an integral part of His ministry.

Restoration belongs to the Creator.  But He has allowed us to steward this gift.  Does it matter whether the tools we use are anatomical, biochemical, or genetic?

 

If Jesus were walking around today, and healed a cancer patient, wouldn’t you expect the mutations in their cancer cells to be gone?

Perhaps medicine will soon be able to do the same thing.  You can read more about gene therapy clinical trials here.

Asking the wrong question?

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

health-care-md

 

(by guest blogger: Erica Graham)

How do we, as a society, decide when someone is mature enough to make their own healthcare decisions?  Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that 17 year old Cassandra C. must undergo chemotherapy to treat her Hodgkin’s lymphoma, even though she does not wish to receive treatment.  While waiting for the court’s decision, Cassandra was taken into state custody, and confined to a room at Connecticut Children’s Medical center with a guard posted outside her door to prevent her from leaving.  This clear violation of Cassandra’s autonomy has sparked dialogue about when a teen is mature enough to make end of life health care decisions. Currently, teens can legally make some healthcare decisions, like whether or not to get an abortion, without parental consent.  Most of the discussion surrounding Erica’s case has focused on her age and maturity level. Personally, I know 17 year olds who are mature enough to make this decision, as well as some who are not mature enough. Maturity is not simply a matter of age.

So how should maturity be determined in cases like these? I propose an analysis of her reasoning, not her age, should be used to determine her level of maturity. Cassandra’s main reason for not wanting to receive chemotherapy, even though the odds of successful treatment in her case are high, was because she didn’t want to put poisons in her body. Her reasoning, not her age, shows her lack of maturity to make this decision. Her reasoning is not founded on carefully considered risks and benefits like that of a mature adult. It appears her reasons are built on fear and her lack of understanding of a treatment that will most likely save her life. While not every adult is mature enough to consider risks and benefits carefully, the law has the ability, in the case of a teenager, to prevent them from making poor decisions that they may not fully understand.

Certainly some adults refuse chemotherapy, but Cassandra’s case is a different set of circumstances. By undergoing chemotherapy she has an 85% chance of living for many more decades. Basic logic dictates that this benefit overrules the pain and inconvenience of chemotherapy treatments. Despite the fact that this decision violates Cassandra’s autonomy, I am glad the court can intervene when a lack of mature reasoning and logic is evident in a teen. I agree with the court’s decision on the grounds that Cassandra didn’t demonstrate mature moral reasoning.

CNN Article

NBC News Article

CedarEthics: New Student Papers

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

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The Center for Bioethics announces the latest edition in our online journal of outstanding student bioethics papers: : CedarEthics, Volume 14, Number 1. The new issue features the following interesting papers:

Virtue Ethics and Abortion, by Jacob Countryman

A Grounded Natural Law, by Benjamin German

Charity as a Moral Duty, by Erica Graham

 

In addition, Erica Graham has written a special, longer article entitled: A Biblical Approach to Cadaveric Organ Transplants

 

All of these papers are available full-text at the Cedarville University Digital Commons: http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cedarethics/

NOTE: In the next edition of CedarEthics, we plan to open up for student submissions from across the Cedarville University campus, as well as from all of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. For more information, contact the Editor, at sullivan@cedarville.edu.

Persons Created in the Image of God

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

image of God

(by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla)

Lately, I have been asking myself an important question: do I truly believe that human persons are created in the image of God?  Or am I merely giving intellectual assent to this pivotal truth?

In the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture, our status as beings created in God’s image is foundational to our theology. It provides the foundation for rightly relating to our Creator and to our fellow man.  Far from being theoretical, our belief that human persons are created in God’s image should impact our daily lives in many practical ways.

  • It undergirds the Golden Rule and makes sense of the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.
  • It causes us to protect the defenseless among us, including the poor, the oppressed, the infirm, and the unborn.
  • It implores us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

If I truly believe that my fellow humans are created in God’s image, my soul must not be content with holding life-affirming ethical views. Wholehearted belief should result in soul transformation.  My whole being should shrink from gossip, slander, or mistreatment of another human being, seeing these as insults to the Creator Himself. And as long as I live in this fallen world, I will continually wrestle to carry out this conviction, believing it to be God-given truth; truth that gives life and sets people free.

 

Believing that humans are persons created in the image of God should not only inform our ethical decisions. This truth, if acted upon, has the power to change the world.

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