October 13, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, October 13, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Opening an irreversible door: New push for assisted suicide in the US raises huge moral concerns
The worldview that increasingly rules in Western secular society is a worldview that idolizes personal autonomy at the expense of everything else. At the top of the hierarchy of ideological values is the claim that every single human being is in effect a universe unto his or herself. It’s this form of personal autonomy that leads inevitably to the cultural push for the acceptance of assisted suicide or euthanasia. It’s the autonomy of every single individual prized to the point that we will demand the right to end our life on our own terms. This demand for personal autonomy, the end of death, has been driven by the cultural elites represented in one dimension by the publishers and editors of America’s leading newspapers.
This week on Monday the editors of the New York Times ran an editorial. The headline,Show Full Transcript
“Aid in Dying Movement Advances.”
The editors celebrate this writing,
“New York, Colorado and the District of Columbia may soon join the handful of states where doctors are allowed to help terminally ill patients die by prescribing a lethal dose of painkillers.”
That, according to the editors of the New York Times, is very good news indeed. Now one of the reasons this is at the center of a good deal of conversation is that this kind of change requires a vote, or at least a major court decision, because the existing traditional laws in every single state make it illegal for a physician to be involved in bringing about death rather than preventing it. One of the most interesting dimensions of this issue is the revolution that is required and demonstrated from the shift from making it illegal for doctors to bring about death to making it legal. That’s not just a moral shift. That is a massive moral transformation of values. Once again, the editors write that,
“Victories in those three jurisdictions,” the states of New York and Colorado and then the District of Columbia, “would galvanize a movement that seeks to give terminally ill Americans a dignified alternative to the dismal choices they face in most of the country. In states where assisted dying is banned, some terminal patients manage to get a lethal dose of drugs from medical professionals under the table, which exposes the health care workers to prosecution. Others are advised to starve themselves to death.”
Now at this point we need to note the central complaint in terms of this editorial. At the very center of this is the complaint about what’s described as dismal choices at the end-of-life. One of the things we need to recognize in humility is that human beings under the curse of sin are always going to face dismal choices when it comes to the end of life. When it comes to death, we are after all granted very few choices whatsoever, and biblically and morally speaking we have really only the choice of accepting the death that our Creator renders unto us on his own timing and according to his own purposes. When we look at this, we come to understand that here we have two very different altars: the altar unto the God of the Bible that comes down to a matter of obedience, and the altar to personal autonomy that absolutely idolizes what not only should not be but actually cannot be.
You know this is an interesting point. We’re talking about the end of life. At the beginning of life, the issue of personal autonomy leads to the celebration of abortion. That’s why abortion is so central to that worldview. But note that for those babies who are not aborted we have absolutely no autonomy about deciding when or, for that matter, even whether we will be born. It’s thus interesting to note that denied the possibility of exercising autonomy at the beginning of our lives, we’ve decided that we must exercise autonomy at the end. As we have come to expect, the editors of the New York Times assure us that adequate safeguards are put in place to make certain that assisted suicide doesn’t become mere suicide. But upon closer look, these protections actually melt away. One of the so-called protections is the requirement that not just one physician must be involved but at least two, and that the patient must be certified as likely to die of a terminal disease within about six months.
Here we simply have to note, how many persons are alive today who received a terminal diagnosis and have been given six months or less to live? This is not only a celebration of the idolatry of personal autonomy, it is also a radical trust in even the most fair-minded physician’s ability to judge whether we will live or whether we will die and on what timetable. Interestingly, the New York Times editors note the fact that the Medical Society of the State of New York officially opposes physician-assisted suicide. The doctors group in the state said,
“Although relief of suffering has always been a fundamental duty in medical practice, relief of suffering through shortening of life has not. Moreover, the social and societal implications of such a fundamental change cannot be fully contemplated.”
But then the editors go on to say that we should set aside that judgment from the main medical society in New York State. How in the world do you say those two things at the same time? We should trust doctors to be able to make decisions about the end of our lives, but we can’t trust doctors in terms of a major medical society in telling us that they do not believe they are well-equipped to do this.
But this takes us to another major editorial published this week. This one’s even more important; it was published on the 11th in the Denver Post. The headline officially from the Denver Post editorial board is this,
“No on Proposition 106: Aid-in-dying measure lacks proper safeguards.”
Now what makes this so significant is that this very same paper in its editorial board had previously supported the adoption of this very legislation. The editors did so in a 2015 form of the legislation, but in 2016 the paper through its editorial board has decided, and I quote,
“After a lot of soul-searching, we are asking voters to reject Proposition 106, a measure that would give patients the legal right to end their life, because we fear the cultural, legal and medical shift that it would create in Colorado.”
The editorial continues,
“The Denver Post editorial board has in the past supported proposed legislation that would have allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to patients with six months or less to live. We came down on the side of personal liberty before the bill failed in 2015.”
Now note the language that is used there.
“We came down on the side of personal liberty.”
That’s the expression of personal autonomy. In this case personal liberty means the claimed liberty to end our own lives. But in terms of the current legislation, the editors wrote,
“But we worry the present measure fails to include specific reporting requirements for what must be reported similar to the way in which Oregon has enacted its rules for the law that Colorado’s initiative draws from, and that Proposition 106 would entice insurers to drop expensive treatments for terminal patients even when medical advances might add months or years more to a life that a patient may wish to take.”
That’s stunning language. Here you have the editors of the Denver Post officially calling on the voters of that state to vote down an assisted suicide measure stating that in their analysis there could actually be a financial incentive to insurers to try to encourage assisted suicide rather than for a patient to continue costly medical treatments. The editors write,
“Already doctors struggle to discuss end-of-life options like quitting treatment and going into hospice, or programs designed to control pain and suffering instead of trying to cure underlying illnesses. Under Proposition 106, the burden of counseling patients about suicide rests on the shoulders of the doctor who would be prescribing the fatal drug.”
The editors then write,
“We don’t have unfettered faith in all doctors’ ability to handle that responsibility.”
From a Christian worldview perspective, we shouldn’t have confidence in any single physician or in a multiple of physicians’ ability to fulfill that responsibility. That is not a proper medical responsibility in the first place. But it’s very telling that the editors of the Denver Post recognize that the current legislation pending in Colorado celebrated by all the advocates for the right to die movement, they understand that this is a major problem that creates a financial incentive to kill people rather than to extend their lives and also puts physicians in the position of deciding who shall live and who shall die, and when.
“We worry,” write the editors, “that the top reasons physicians give for a patient ending a life are easily influenced by those around them and by the care they receive in their final days.”
Once again, extremely revealing. Here you have the editors recognizing what so many others will not. It’s a very vulnerable position that these patients are in, and they are highly open to suggestion from those around them. How in the world do we know that that’s not what’s happening in so many cases in Oregon and in other states where physician-assisted suicide has become legal? In European nations like the Netherlands and Belgium where assisted suicide has become legal, it’s clear that the logic has shifted from a right to die to a duty to die. We can quickly see how that happens in which a so-called right to die that celebrates personal autonomy is replaced with a duty to die that argues that it is our responsibility, if we’re using up too many precious medical resources and perhaps threatening the financial wealth of our family, to end our lives and exit the situation.
“In the end,” write the editors, “despite our desire to support an individual’s right to make this decision, we cannot support a law that would so easily open an irreversible door.”
The only problem with this editorial is the apparent confidence of the Denver Post that a change in the legislation would change the morality of the situation. It’s the entire practice of physician-assisted suicide that is, to use the moral wisdom of these editors, “opening an irreversible door.”
In religious liberty crackdown, China to "protect" children from religious influence of parents
Next, the issue of religious liberty is a very live and urgent issue virtually everywhere in the world today. But, ground zero of the issue of religious liberty could well be the nation of China. The New York Times reported on Saturday,
“Xi Acts, and China’s Tough Rules on Religion Get Even Tougher.”
Ian Johnson reports that,
“The finances of religious groups will come under greater scrutiny. Theology students who go overseas could be monitored more closely. And people who rent or provide space to illegal churches may face heavy fines. These are among the measures expected to be adopted when the Chinese government enacts regulations tightening its oversight of religion in the coming days, the latest move by President Xi Jinping to strengthen the Communist Party’s control over society and combat foreign influences it considers subversive.”
Now at this point, we have to note that the most subversive of all the so-called foreign interest and influences that the Chinese Communist Party now fears is religion, and that religion is centrally, in terms of their fear, Christianity. But it also includes Islam, and when it comes to China, that vast geographic country does include regions that have a very heavy Muslim population. But the biggest issue in China is the growing influence of Christianity, Christian churches, and Christians throughout the entire nation. It is now known that there are more believing Christians in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party. And at this point, there are so many Christians in China that it is estimated that China is actually the nation with the largest Christian population on earth. The Chinese Communist Party revealed something of an openness towards Christianity, or at least a look-the-other-way position, over the last couple of decades. It did so, at least in part, because it wanted to impress the West and its expanding consumer markets that it was not repressing religious liberty. But evidently the rules have now changed. And that means the law is about to change. The Communist Party has decided to crack down on Christianity and on Islam.
One of the most interesting of the many headlines about this in recent months is the crackdown in some provinces of China even on the visibility of steeples where the Communist Party has ordered the destruction of steeples on churches as a way of ending even a visual representation of Christian influence in the society. But the repressive crackdown of the Communist Party has been building over the last several months. We’ve talked on The Briefing about stories from major media around the world in which the Communist Party has begun to define Christianity as a foreign influence, the kind of foreign influence it claims the responsibility to protect the Chinese people from. Now at this point, we need to note that it is probably too little too late in terms of expunging Christianity now that there are so many millions of Christians in China. But this does tell us something about how a Communist autocratic state led by a Communist Party understands full well that Christianity and the transformational power of the gospel and the reality and cogency of the biblical worldview offers a direct threat to its own authority and pretensions and repression.
But at the same time, it’s also clear that the Communist Party is willing to tolerate religion that it can use to its own ends. For that reason, the Communist Party is going to be cracking down especially on churches and religious groups that are outside the Communist Party’s control. It does understand the utility of having religious groups that are obedient and subservient to the Communist Party, and thus Christians in China among others are going to face the challenge of understanding that they can very easily be co-opted by the Communist Party to its own ends, or they will risk possible arrest and certain repression in terms of denials of religious liberty.
But yesterday, a very interesting story appeared in Reuters, the international press service. The headline,
“China targets parents in new religion rules for Xinjiang.”
The story that Reuters moved yesterday says,
“Parents and guardians in China’s heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang who encourage or force their children into religious activities will be reported to the police, the government said on Wednesday while unveiling new education rules.”
So these are not the religious repression rules that we were expecting. This is a set of education rules in which there is, no surprise, religious repression. Now it might be tempting for Christians to look at this and say this is a law that is at this point primarily aimed at targeting Muslim parents, not Christian parents. But this is where we must be reminded that the denial of religious liberty to anyone is a subversion of religious liberty for everyone. And even as it might be Uyghur Muslim parents who are being targeted now, it could just as easily be Christian parents who are targeted tomorrow. As Reuters makes very clear, China officially guarantees freedom of religion but minors,
“are not supposed to participate in religious activity and authorities have cracked down on underground Muslim religious schools, or madrassas, in Xinjiang in recent years.”
Now here Christians need to pay particularly close attention. If we were a repressive regime, an atheist and secular regime like the Communist Party in China, and we wanted to snuff out religious belief, how will we most effectively do that? It’s hard to come up with anything more diabolical and potentially more effective than making it impossible to transmit the faith from parents to their own children. This is reminiscent of what happened in terms of the Soviet experiment in Russia where the Soviet Union explicitly sought to separate children from their parents. One of the unknown footnotes in terms of the history of the Soviet Union is that the last premier of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, was married to a woman who had written her doctoral dissertation on how grandparents were a threat to communism because they had an unchecked religious influence upon their own children. Raisa Gorbachev wrote that dissertation back decades before the fall of the Soviet Union. It serves now as a largely forgotten historical footnote to the history of the Soviet Union, but for us it serves as a reminder of just how determined secular, atheistic Communist regimes are to expunge religion, and in particular Christianity, and to separate children from their parents and ultimately also from their grandparents, and any religious influence they may have.
Finally, for Christians, there’s an urgently important issue here. This particular set of regulations comes addressed in an education package for schools and explicit in the instruction to the schools is that they are to fulfill a role in separating children from the religious beliefs of their parents, even protecting children, according to this worldview, from the religious influence of their parents. That points to the importance of any educational institution, and in particular it points to the importance of school in the lives of children. Those who control the schools eventually have a major say, if not the dominant say, in what children understand to be truth and reality, how the worldviews of children and adolescents are formed.
But before leaving the story, let’s remind ourselves that the denial of religious liberty for anyone is a subversion of religious liberty for everyone, and let’s also remember something else. It would be very tempting to say that this is a story about China, which after all is dominated by an atheistic Communist Party; there’s no take home here for us as parents in the United States. But there is. Note especially the fact that these are rules for schools, pointing to the fact that if you are in control the schools you are seeking to control the hearts and minds of children. If Christian parents don’t recognize that, they might as well be in China.
Pres. Reagan to 7th grader: Don't ask government to do what you should do for yourself
Finally, history reminds us there once was a day when people received letters and then wrote letters back, and that included the President of the United States. A letter that was received by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 was written by a seventh grader,
“Dear Mr. President, My name is Andy Smith. I am a seventh grade student at Irmo Middle School, in Irmo, South Carolina. Today my mother declared my bedroom a disaster area. I would like to request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room. I am prepared to provide the initial funds if you will provide matching funds for this project. I know you will be fair when you consider my request. I will be awaiting your reply. Sincerely yours, Andy Smith.”
President Reagan was famously an advocate of limited government and of personal responsibility, and you won’t be surprised by how he responded to Andy the seventh grader.
“I’m sorry to be so late in answering your letter but as you know I’ve been in China and found your letter here upon my return. Your application for disaster relief has been duly noted but I must point out one technical problem; the authority declaring the disaster is supposed to make the request. In this case your mother. However setting that aside I’ll have to point out the larger problem of available funds. This has been a year of disasters, 539 hurricanes as of May 4th and several more since, numerous floods, forest fires, drought in Texas and a number of earthquakes. What I’m getting at is that funds are dangerously low. May I make a suggestion? This administration, believing that govt. has done many things that could better be done by volunteers at the local level, has sponsored a Private Sector Initiative Program, calling upon people to practice volunteerism in the solving of a number of local problems. Your situation appears to be a natural. I’m sure your Mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster. Therefore you are in an excellent position to launch another volunteer program to go along with the more than 3000 already underway in our nation—congratulations. Give my best regards to your Mother. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.”
And thus we note on an end of personal responsibility for a seventh grader whose mother has declared his room a disaster area. Upon the authority of the President of the United States, this isn’t a government responsibility. He said to Andy, in effect, go clean your room. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan. This too is an important moral insight. Don’t ask government to do what you should do for yourself.