April 19, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, April 19, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this isThe Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Feminist irony: Supporting a woman's right to abort a baby because it is a girl
The issue of race- or gender-based abortion is back in the headlines. This time the headline comes from NBC News. It has to do with an act pending before the United States Congress that goes by the acronym PRENDA—that is the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. It is legislation that would criminalize any abortion that is undertaken for the sole reasons of the race or gender of the unborn child.
As Frances Kai-Hwa Wang reports for NBCShow Full Transcript
“On Thursday, Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), as well as advocates for Asian-American, Latino, and African-American women spoke out against H.R. 4924, also known as the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), which they characterize as racist and anti-choice, according to Chu’s office.”
On the same day, the report from NBC tells us the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on the bill.
At this point, NBC seeks to define the bill. We look back to the fact that in recent days we have talked about similar legislation adopted by the legislature in Indiana and signed into law by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. But now you have the case that this is a federal piece of legislation, and the controversy is incredibly revealing. Here you have three democratic congresswomen who have held a press conference and are now publicly opposing federal legislation that would outlaw abortion solely on the basis of gender or race when it comes to the unborn child. Now as we saw in the case of Indiana, opposition to this legislation is itself the most telling issue, but now we’re talking about it at a national level.
We need to notice the accusations against the bill. The bill would outlaw any abortion solely for the reasons of killing the baby because it is of the unacceptable gender or unacceptable race. The background of this has to do with the fact that sex-selection abortion is something that is a major factor worldwide, so major that population experts indicate that there may be as many as 300 million missing women and girls because of sex-selection abortion and infanticide, mostly in Asia. Now there comes the story telling us that these three congresswomen have come out accusing this bill—remember what the bill does; it simply outlaws abortion for the sole reason of the race or gender of the child—as being itself racist and, of course, here comes the term, anti-choice.
Here you see a society that worships at the altar of personal autonomy and choice to the very extent that it will oppose legislation that might save the life of a baby singularly targeted in the womb because of the issue of race or gender. What we’re looking at here is a total moral meltdown at the civilizational level. Even though these are just three Democratic congresswomen, the very fact that they felt the need to stand before the American people and oppose this legislation, and the very fact that they accused it of being both racist and anti-choice tells us that it is the choice issue that is now so predominant that it can only be described as a certain form of idolatry, now becoming increasingly common in America.
As NBC and other members of the major media cover the story, they tend to look at the opposition to the bill, and they also cite as an open question whether or not sex-selection abortion is really a big problem in America. Remember just in recent days on The Briefing, unrelated to this development in the United States, we went to the Toronto Globe and Mail and documented the fact that medical authorities in Canada are now increasingly concerned that sex-selection abortion is something that is going on there in that country, primarily from immigrants coming from Asian communities.
Explicit in the Canadian conversation is raising the question as to whether or not it is appropriate to deal with this issue, because it raises issues of racial stereotyping. Yet on the other hand, there is no question that worldwide, when we talk about sex-selection abortion, it is a geographically and ethnically concentrated problem. It is concentrated primarily in countries, including China and India, that exhibit a radical preference for sons rather than daughters, and the numbers there are irrefutable. These are longstanding problems, but they have been exacerbated by modern technology that now allows the identification of the unborn child by gender and the possible targeting of that unborn child for abortion simply based upon the gender identification.
The Christian worldview trains us to ask a very important question, and that is this: How far can you press an argument? What we now see is that the argument for human autonomy, the argument that underlies the entire edifice of abortion, is now pressed to the point that when you ask the question: Does that extend even to defending abortions undertaken solely for the reason of the race or gender of the baby? The answer to that coming from these three Democratic congresswomen, evidently, is yes. That leads to one of the major quandaries of our time. In the name of women’s rights, modern feminism is more committed to abortion than to the lives of baby girls. That is difficult to explain, and even more difficult to comprehend.
Canada moves to legalize assisted suicide despite disastrous results in the Netherlands
Next, we go back across the northern border to Canada, where that nation’s government is trying to establish how they will legalize assisted suicide, in particular, physician-assisted suicide. As Ian Austen reports for the New York Times,
“The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation on Thursday to legalize physician-assisted suicide for Canadians with a ‘serious and incurable illness,’ which has brought them ‘enduring physical or psychological suffering.’”
Notice even before we go any further the fact that here both physical and psychological suffering are cited as adequate rationales for physician-assisted suicide.
“The proposed law limits physician-assisted suicide to citizens and residents who are eligible to participate in the national healthcare system and effort to prevent a surge in medical tourism among the dying from other countries.”
That’s very interesting. As a matter of fact, the front page of the section of USA Today covering the story included this,
“Canada unveils death bill.”
That’s the headline and the subtitle is,
“Assisted-Suicide Legislation would Exclude Americans.”
As Bacon explains,
“The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is concerned that the legislation, if it did not include disqualification, could entice thousands of Americans to look to Canada as the destination for euthanasia or assisted suicide.”
Holding these articles in the New York Times and USA Today also points to one of the moral contradictions at the heart of the story. As John Bacon of USA Today reports,
“People with psychiatric problems also would be excluded and no advanced consent would be allowed.”
Meanwhile, Ian Austen, reporting in the New York Times tells us that,
“The law would efficiently authorize assisted suicide for those enduring either physical or psychological suffering.”
Perhaps you see the moral contradiction here. On the one hand, you have USA Today saying that people with psychiatric problems would be excluded. On the other had, you have the New York Times saying that people who are enduring psychological suffering would be included.
What’s the story? The story is this: If the person’s psychological or psychiatric problem is defined as a suffering, they might be candidates. If indeed they are judged to be not psychologically or psychiatrically stable to make the decision, they would be excluded. What’s the point here? The point here is the inherent subjective determination of which is which. What we are watching here is a slide to assisted suicide that cannot possibly stop where this legislation seeks to draw the line in Canada. It hasn’t held the line elsewhere, and it certainly will not hold the line in Canada.
As a matter of fact, the Canadian legislation seems to be aware of problems that have occurred in European nations that have legalized physician-assisted suicide, but the Canadian legislation offers absolutely no objective barriers to Canada following in the very same direction. You’ll recall that when physician-assisted suicide is usually defended, it is defended in the face of what’s defined as a terminal illness. As the New York Times tells us,
“Officials in Canada said that a patient would not have to have a terminal condition,” citing an example of someone with an immune system deficiency which leaves them vulnerable to lethal infections.
Rather than limiting assisted suicide to those who are diagnosed with so-called terminal diseases, the Canadian legislation would anxiously offer physician-assisted suicide when patients are defined as suffering intolerably or facing a foreseeable death. Just to note the obvious, to be human is to face a foreseeable death. What this really gets to is the inherent subjectivity in these guidelines. Once you accept the fact that people have the right to bring about their death and to request a physician to assist them, once you bless doctors not only to heal but to kill, the ultimate issues become so subjective that it is simply a matter of which doctor will make the determination under what conditions to bring about euthanasia.
As we have seen many times before, the great worldview divide is particularly apparent on an issue like physician-assisted suicide. That was made clear in a recent article in a London newspaper, The Guardian, when Anne Newman asked the question,
“Is physician-assisted suicide humane or sacrilegious?”
That does reveal the dividing line very clearly. I would not choose under normal circumstances use her terminology, but it does work. The two words—humane on the one hand and sacrilegious on the other. Those who were arguing for a physician-assisted suicide argue that it is a humane option, but we need to know what that requires.
It requires abandoning the biblical worldview that says that human dignity is based upon the fact that every human being is made in the image of God rather than moving to some other definition of human dignity that grounds it into something inherently subjective. It is going to be forever a moving target. Meanwhile, the word sacrilegious implies the fact that it would be morally and theologically wrong to take the act. Why? The word sacrilegious points to a holy authority, and that is the authority of God alone to determine when we shall live and when we shall die.
We saw human autonomy taking on idolatrous dimensions in the story of abortion, and we see it repeated again now. In the name of human autonomy, we will demand when we will end our lives and on what terms. Newman’s article makes very clear the great worldview divide by stipulating that the only powerful arguments against the physician-assisted suicide are inherently theological. They are coming from the Christian church or, at least, from the Christian Church that still believes in the authority of Scripture and in the fact that every single human being is made in the image of God.
To this point, we have to bring in an incredibly important story from an unexpected source. The Christian Century has been the flagship masthead of liberal Protestantism for well over a century. As a matter of fact, the very title of the magazine, coming from the early decades of the 20th century, harkens back to the triumphalism of Protestant liberalism in the early decades of that century. As we come to the story today, the cover story in the Christian Century is a story that offers incredible cautions about physician-assisted suicide, coming in a magazine that generally approves of the idea of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and has run articles supportive of those issues ever since the 1970s and ’80s.
Now we have Theo A. Boer writing this cover story from the Christian Century telling us that the slippery slope is slippery indeed. He says this,
“In the Netherlands, five regional review committees, each consisting of a lawyer, a physician, and an ethicist, were charged with keeping an eye on the practice and assessing (after the fact) whether a case of assisted dying complied with the law.”
In this article, Theo Boer makes very clear that he has been not only a proponent of physician-assisted suicide, but he served on one of these review panels. What did that experience teach him?
“For a decade and a half this system”—that is, the system in the Netherlands that supposedly put limitations or boundaries on physician-assisted suicide, he said this system “seemed to provide a means to stabilize the number of cases and prevent the expansion of grounds for seeking assisted dying. We told delegations from abroad that the Dutch solution was robust and humane. As recently as in 2011 I assured a European ecumenical audience that the Dutch system was a model worth considering.”
Then he writes this,
“But that conclusion has become harder and harder for me to support. For no apparent reason, beginning in 2007, the numbers of assisted dying cases started going up by 15 percent each year. In 2014 the number of cases stood at 5,306, nearly three times the 2002 figure.”
But that conclusion has become harder and harder for me to support.”
As Boer summarizes,
“With overall mortality numbers remaining level, this means that today one in 25 deaths in the Netherlands is the consequence of assisted dying. On top of these voluntary deaths there are about 300 nonvoluntary deaths (where the patient is not judged competent) annually.”
Notice here you have a member of a legal review committee in the Netherlands telling us that the practice of euthanasia there has now extended not only to so-called voluntary euthanasia, but to involuntary euthanasia. That means at least 300 cases in which the patient did not ask to be killed, but nonetheless was.
Continuing his article, Boer writes,
“A shift has also taken place in the type of patients who seek assisted dying. Whereas in the first years the vast majority of patients—about 95 percent—were patients with a terminal disease who had their lives ended days or weeks before a natural death was expected, an increasing number of patients now seek assisted dying because of dementia, psychiatric illnesses, and accumulated age-related complaints. Terminal cancer now accounts for fewer than 75 percent of the cases. Many of the remaining 25 percent could have lived for months, years, or even decades.”
Boer has not completed with telling us of his concerns. He goes on to say that an increasing number of cases of assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands take place because the suffering “largely consists of being old, lonely or bereaved”.
Then almost like a bolt out of the blue, Theo Boer gets right to the worldview issue that’s so apparent in the Canadian example. Boer writes, and I quote,
“The issue now is autonomy, the patient’s right to a swift death brought about by a doctor.”
Again, he says the issue is autonomy, but then in even more striking language he goes on to write,
“In a way, the shift toward autonomy is natural. With societies becoming more secularized, why not claim a right ton decide about one’s own death?”
That’s exactly the issue, and it’s exactly what is always at stake when the issue is physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. It is the claim of autonomy. It is a claim of autonomy of individual human, personal autonomy that only makes sense if there is no God—we are not creatures of a holy God, but rather some kind of cosmic accident. As cosmic accidents, we would simply affirm in ourselves a total autonomy. After all, there is no Creator who defined us and made us in His image, and thus we would claim the right to decide when we will end our lives on on what terms. You will notice the inherent limitations to the secularized worldview of human autonomy.
It’s one thing to say, “I will decide when I will die.” But not a single one of us gets to decide when we are born, nor to whom we are born, nor where we are born, nor the circumstances of our birth. There are inherent limitations on human autonomy against which the modern secular worldview is pressing as hard as it can. All this has led Theo Boer, who has been a member of the review committees, having been a supporter of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, to reconsider his position and to argue that no state, no government, and no doctor should be in the position of bringing about human death.
Boer concludes his article with a profoundly counter-cultural but morally urgent message when he writes,
“Societal involvement should be directed in providing high-quality care to all and protecting the lives of vulnerable people. Any law,” he says, “making assisted dying possible should stay clear of the impression that a society is ready to organize the killing of its citizens even at their request.”
What do Bernie Sanders and the Pope have in common? A recent political photo op.
Finally, we were faced over the weekend with a very unusual photograph. The photograph was of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with Pope Francis. What in the world is that all about? Those who are thinking from a Christian worldview need to look at it very straightforwardly and come to understand that of course it was no accident. Bernie Sanders claims to agree with the Pope on many economic issues, but of course he is at great difference with the Pope and with the Catholic church on issues related to gay rights, same sex marriage, abortion, and any number of other issues. Clearly, he saw political gain in the midst of the campaign for the New York primary in having a photograph taken with Pope Francis.
What do we need to learn from that photograph? We need to learn that politicians do political things. We need to expect that when a politician leaves a presidential race at this point and goes to the Vatican to have a photograph made, it is because the candidate believes that he needs to. Of course, here you have the irony of the secular socialist Bernie Sanders standing with Pope Francis, but it raises a host of questions that we need to ask when a politician shows up at our own church. What exactly does that mean?
Here’s where we need to think just as carefully as those looking at the photograph of Bernie Sanders and the pope. When a politician comes to our church and poses for a picture, does that mean they’re standing with us on the totality of the Christian faith? At the very least, we ought to be asking the question.