August 19, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 19, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Oregon's right-to-die laws destroying trust between patients and doctors
From the beginning, the modern pro-life movement has been heavily focused on threats to the dignity and sanctity of human life at the beginning of human life. But now it is becoming increasingly clear that at the end stage of human life there are growing and urgent threats to human dignity as well. The issue of euthanasia has been on the screen of pro-life Americans for some time. And the issue of euthanasia, however, has been generally considered to be something at a safe remove from the United States until fairly recently. Only a handful of states in the United States have assisted suicide, in particular doctor assisted suicide. The nation of Canada recently also adopted assisted suicide by means of court action. But for the most part, euthanasia and assisted suicide have become increasingly prevalent in Europe, in particular in the nations of Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. But now it is becoming increasingly clear that movement towards the adoption of euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide in the United States are gaining momentum. And legislative effort to legalize doctor assisted suicide in the nation’s most populous state, California, recently faltered but it is sure to come back most ominously there, even though the legislation eventually did not get out of the California state Senate. As the legislation was being debated, the California Medical Association switched its position from being officially against doctor assisted suicide to taking a position of neutrality and that neutrality is deadly dangerous.
Meanwhile, right across California’s northern border, the state of Oregon has had legal doctor assisted suicide for 20 years. That’s what makes an article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal so important. It’s by William L. Toffler who is a professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. He writes,Show Full Transcript
“Since the voters of Oregon narrowly legalized physician-assisted suicide 20 years ago, there has been a profound shift in attitude toward medical care—new fear and secrecy, and a fixation on death. Well over 850 people have taken their lives by ingesting massive overdoses of barbiturates prescribed under the law. Proponents claim the system is working well with no problems. This is not true.”
Now we need to note, once again, this isn’t coming from some dispassionate observer, this is a man who serves as a professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, the state’s major medical school. He identifies himself as being on that faculty and then he says that as a licensed physician for 35 years he has seen firsthand,
“How the law has changed the relationship between doctors and patients, some of whom now fear that they are being steered toward assisted suicide.”
One of the things we need to note immediately here is that this is exactly what we had seen coming on the horizon. This is exactly what we have seen in terms of the pattern in Western Europe. The logic of a right to die quickly becomes, at least even in economic terms, a duty to die. And a duty to die is increasingly what some of these mostly elderly patients are feeling that Dr. Toffler is talking about in Oregon. He says that under Oregon’s law, a patient can request lethal drugs only if he has a terminal illness and less than six months to live. But as a doctor he says,
“It is nearly impossible to predict the course of an illness six months out, and many patients given such prognoses live full, rewarding lives long past six months.”
Then he speaks about doctors saying,
“Some doctors see suicide as a solution to suffering and depression as rational given patients’ circumstances.”
This even as the law requires that patients be referred for psychological testing and examination if the doctor who might be prescribing the massive overdose of deadly drugs believes that there is some reason that the patient may be depressed or be showing evidence of mental illness. And yet he says almost no doctors do what the law here requires, there are very few psychological or psychiatric screenings.
“Last year only three of the 105 patients who died under the law were referred for a psychological exam.”
He also cites a study from the British Medical Journal that examined 58 Oregonians who had sought information on assisted suicide. According to the British Medical Journal, 26 percent, that’s more than one out of four, met the criteria for a depressive disorder. Over 20 percent were diagnosed with something like an anxiety disorder. The economics of the doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia should serve as a very important warning to us, a moral signal in terms of economics that something is dangerously wrong, something subversive of human dignity. In the case of the economics of assisted suicide, we can quickly see how the duty to die develops out of a duty not to be a financial burden to someone else, perhaps one’s closest family members or perhaps generalized to the larger society. Dr. Toffler then writes,
“Also concerning are the regular notices I receive indicating that many important services and drugs for my patients—even some pain medications—will not be covered by the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program. Yet physician-assisted suicide is covered by the state and our collective tax dollars. Supporters claim physician-assisted suicide gives patients choice, but what sort of a choice is it when life is expensive but death is free?”
There is the perverse financial logic of doctor assisted suicide and the very myth of the so-called good death. Here we see that the driving ambition on the part of those who generally argue for physician-assisted suicide is a radical idea of personal autonomy claiming that we have the right to be the masters of our own deaths. But you’ll notice that quickly the argument shifts to economic terms and that’s exactly what Dr. Toffler is writing about. This is an ominous warning coming to us from Oregon. At this point Dr. Toffler also injects an argument that has heretofore not seen much light in terms of the mainstream media, especially as related Oregon. He writes,
“A shroud of secrecy envelops the practice of assisted suicide. Doctors engaging in it do not accurately report the actual manner of death. Instead they are required by state law to fabricate the death certificate, stating that the cause is “natural” rather than suicide. In late 1997, right before assisted suicide was about to begin, the state legislature implemented a system of two different death certificates—one that is public and includes no medical information and another that is kept private by the state.”
He then goes on to make very clear, no one but the bureaucrats in Oregon have any idea what’s really going on in terms of assisted suicide. No one looking at the death certificates available to the public in Oregon would have any idea that any individual or any collective of individuals has actually committed suicide by means of the assistance of a physician.
Finally, Dr. Toffler makes a point about how the messaging in terms of the logic of assisted suicide is getting through to the population, in particular to the elderly. It tells us that he has seen many elderly patients who are openly concerned that they are going to be steered towards assisted suicide when that is not their intention. Dr. Toffler’s final sentence deserves our particularly close attention. He writes,
“The sick and aging deserve better than Oregon’s mistake.”
But of course we need to keep in mind that the state of Oregon does not believe it was a mistake. The state is increasingly invested in the logic of the culture of death and the logic is spreading. It is spreading to other states and it is spreading across the nation as polls indicate that increasing percentages of Americans believe that we have some kind of personal autonomy that should extend to the right of doctor assisted suicide and the logic of the economic dimension is also spreading as well. You can count on that but as much as I appreciate Dr. Toffler’s article, his characterization of Oregon’s law as a mere mistake underestimates the scale of the problem. Instead, we need to recognize the law and Oregon and the result so well documented in Dr. Toffler’s article is the natural and rational outgrowth of the logic of the culture of death, this is where that logic leads.
The Christian biblical worldview and that worldview alone has an adequate grounding for the dignity and sanctity of human life under every circumstance in terms of the entirety of the light spectrum. From the moment of conception until the moment of natural death, regardless of age, disability or any other condition, the Christian worldview based in the fact that every single human being, at every point of development, under any condition is a human being made in the image of God, a fellow image bearer, that is the only worldview which can consistently over time sustain the culture of life. If human beings are not made in God’s image, then eventually human dignity is up for negotiation.
Power of theology and worldview to ISIS appeal to even teens recognized by New York Times
Next, we repeatedly come back to the fact that theology always matters. Even when people think they are operating by a secular worldview, theology still matters, even if it is a very thin theology. But theology in a thick form has been confronting Western modern states in a very big way in recent years, and it’s not coming from Christianity, it’s coming from Islam. In recent weeks, the most influential secular newspaper in the world, the New York Times has been investing a massive amount of reporting energy in terms of explaining ISIS or ISIL, or the Islamic State as it calls itself. And in so doing it’s asking some very basic questions, the articles that are running the paper are absolutely massive, running multiple thousands of words. The investment of this kind of energy by a secular newspaper like the New York Times runs back to the basic question – why? Why such an investment? Why is the newspaper now dealing so explicitly with basic theological questions it has sought for decades at least to avoid?
Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article on the front page about jihad and girl power, explaining how ISIS lured three London girls to leave Western society and join the jihad. Katrin Bennhold reporting from London says,
“The night before Khadiza Sultana left for Syria she was dancing in her teenage bedroom.”
But she writes,
“As it turned out, it was also the carefully choreographed goodbye of a determined and exceptionally bright teenager who had spent months methodically planning to leave her childhood home in Bethnal Green, East London, with two schoolmates and follow the path of another friend who had already traveled to the territory controlled by the Islamic State.”
To the credit of the New York Times and several other major world newspapers, including the Times of London, there is an increased understanding that something beyond sociology is going on here. There is something more basic, we know that that is theology. This is a belief driven behavior, the Islamic State is making that increasingly clear. The propagandists of the Islamic State are sending a message to teenagers all over the Western world, young men and boys and girls and young women inviting them to join the jihad in order to fulfill an Islamic driven vision of the future of the world and of their personal future. The thing that befuddles so many modern secularist is how in the world middle-class young people, both young men and young women from cities such as London are leaving behind fairly privileged backgrounds in order to become on the part of these young women, Jihadi wives and on the part of these young men and boys, join the jihad itself.
Furthermore, the article is also very interesting in demonstrating that Western intelligence agencies are now increasingly concerned that it is the girls and young women who may pose the increasing threat, because they are less likely to be killed in combat and more likely to come home, ready to be mobilized for jihad in the homeland. The three middle-class teenage girls that came from a prestigious school in London who joined the jihad actually are now wives of Jihadi soldiers, interestingly, either from North America, or from Europe. This is becoming a very interesting pattern in terms of the Islamic state. But there’s something else in this article, it tells us that young Muslim women and girls in cities like London are increasingly looking for young men and boys who are openly and devotedly religious and that means Islamic. They are looking for a young man who is devoted to prayer in terms of the practices of Islam. In other words, they are looking for someone who shares their theological worldview and they want to be a part of that worldview. The article states,
“Ask young Muslim women in their neighborhood what kind of guys are popular at school these days and they start raving about “the brothers who pray.
“Girls used to want someone who is good-looking; nowadays, girls want Muslims who are practicing,” said Zahra Qadir, 22, who does deradicalization work for the Active Change Foundation, her father’s charity in East London. “It’s a new thing over the last couple of years. A lot of girls want that, even some nonpracticing girls.”
They’re looking for young men who are publicly and openly devoted to Islam, and they are willing to leave behind the comforts of modernity in order to join the jihad alongside them.
Meanwhile, in another massive report the New York Times dealt even more explicitly with a theological issue, even in the headline in an article by Rukmini Callimachi and Mauricio Lima entitled, “ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape.”
“Claiming the Quran’s support, the Islamic State codifies sex slavery in conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool.”
It is another massive article; it is deeply distressing and incredibly revealing. It tells us that the Islamic State is now sanctioning rape when it comes to the people that are conquered, particularly the Yazidi people and others in Iraq and Syria, and they are openly sanctioning Jihadi soldiers using rape as an element of warfare. But the truly astounding dimension of the article is how explicitly the reporters deal with the issue that this is a theology of rape, based upon claims about teachings in the Quran, it is not merely the kind of secular mentality fusing sexual violence and war that was seen for instance, among Russian troops invading Berlin at the end of World War II. This is not merely vengeance, this is a theology and the New York Times to its credit recognizes it, but very clearly it doesn’t understand it. I will not go into the details of this story because they are so graphic, but to the credit of the New York Times, it documents exactly what the Islamic State is doing; pointing to a new 34 page manual that was issued by the group to its soldiers just this summer. It is absolutely horrifying but it is also as the newspaper indicates based in a theological argument drawn from the Quran.
One central issue that comes by looking at these massive articles published by the New York Times and acknowledging that the New York Times is trying to come to terms with the fact that this is a theological argument, one of the things that becomes clear is that the modern secular media, demonstrating the larger reality of the modern secular intelligentsia really doesn’t understand how anyone can take any of this so seriously, any kind of theological truth claim or any kind of theological argument.
Chattanooga gunman discovered to have been motivated by need to have sin forgiven
But the New York Times ran an article just a few weeks ago that is even more revealing, not so much about the newspaper or even about Islam, but about the human heart and our hunger for redemption. Writing back on July 22 of this year, reporters Michael Schmidt and Jodi Rudoren were writing about the young Islamic gunmen in Chattanooga, who killed five American service members in that city. Mohammod Abdulazeez, the 24-year-old Islamic young man who was the shooter in this case is now believed to have been radicalized during a visit to the Middle East last year. Speaking of this case, one American intelligence analyst said,
“This case appears to be much more like the old model, where he was interested in radical Islam and sought to learn more about it online by looking at videos and readings. It’s slower moving, it’s less social media and more seeking out things online and getting radicalized.”
The most important section of this article from a Christian worldview is actually its beginning, something that hasn’t gained much attention in terms of the secular media or evangelical conversation. Here is the opening paragraph of this article,
“Counterterrorism investigators have uncovered evidence the gunman who killed five service members in Chattanooga, Tenn., searched the Internet in the days leading up to the attack for Islamic materials about whether martyrdom would lead to forgiveness for his sins, like drunkenness and financial debt, according to law enforcement officials.”
Now we have an article that tells us that what this young man was seeking in terms of the information he was searching on the Internet from Islamic sources was about whether or not committing this act of martyrdom, he died in a shootout with police you will recall, whether this martyrdom would lead to the forgiveness for his sins and the sins in particular that were listed included drunkenness and financial debt. What he was looking for was forgiveness of his sins and what he was willing to do for it was to shoot dead four American service members and to mortally wound another, who died shortly thereafter. Here you have a man willing to die and before dying to kill five Americans in uniform. A young man who is willing to be mobilized in what is now believed as one of the feared lone wolf attacks in terms of Islamic State terrorism, but a young man who was looking for a way out of his predicament and the predicament was his sin and the urgency that he felt was an urgency to be forgiven his sins.
The Christian worldview affirms the fact that this is not something unique to this young man in terms of the desire to be forgiven our sins. It is something that reflects the fact that once again we are made in God’s image. And as we are made in God’s image, there is a knowledge of our sin that is internal to our consciousness. It is implanted within us, we know and we cannot not know that we are sinners, and even the most secular among us are also seeking redemption, the forgiveness of sins, even if they don’t believe in sin and even if they do not know themselves to be seeking redemption. The modern triumph of the therapeutic and the rise of the New Age movement, the pseudo-spiritualties of the age, they all point to the fact that all of us are looking for something. We know we have a problem and of course the Christian worldview says we not only have a problem, we are the problem.
One of the things that Americans knew or at least knew for a short time in terms of the September 11, 2001 attacks, is that you had young men in that case who were willing to commit the most horrifying attacks upon Americans, flying jetliners filled with people and with fuel into the skyscrapers and the Pentagon because they believe that in so doing they would earn by their martyrdom the assured mercy of Allah and by their martyrdom they would enter into paradise and be forgiven their sins. One of the things very quickly we need to note about Islam is that other than by means of martyrdom there is no assurance of receiving the mercy of Allah. That is very different than the mercy that is assured to us in the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament is very clear, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. The Bible is very clear that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believeth in him might not perish but have everlasting life. These things are written, says the apostle John, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. That is a fundamental theological difference expanded to a fundamental worldview difference between Christianity and Islam.
But one of the things we need to note in terms of the Christian worldview is that the opening paragraph of this story, long forgotten by most Americans if read at all, tells us that there is in every single human being, a deep innate urgent desire and hunger for redemption for the forgiveness of sins. This young man found a horrible outlet based upon a horrifying theology in order to try to achieve the forgiveness of sins. His internet searches we now know in the days before his horrifying act reveal the fact that he was looking for the forgiveness of sin. So, as the New Testament tells us, are we all and that, if nothing else, should add incredible energy and commitment to our understanding of why our teaching and telling and taking of the gospel is so important and why ultimately we’re not fundamentally dealing with a clash of worldviews, but with a clash of theologies and the gospel of Jesus Christ takes on a whole new urgency when we recognize that it is the only message that truly leads to the forgiveness of sin. In Luke 1:76-77, Zechariah said to his son known to us as John the Baptist,
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”
If you lack urgency in terms of the gospel of Jesus Christ, just consider these headlines and what they tell us.