It’s Wednesday, August 2, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to look at additional lessons we dare not miss from the life of Charlie Gard. We’re going to look at the moral reality of conflicts of interest, especially in the case of medical decisions. We’re going to look at the question of futility as medically and morally defined, and we’re going to look as one major minister in Great Britain denies the faith in a whole new way.
Who defines futility? Charlie Gard and the debate over parental rights
The tragedy of little Charlie Gard requires us returning to this situation to ask some fundamental questions about what actually happened and why, but it also raises some very interesting even excruciating issues. Just remember the fact by the way that after Charlie’s parents had acknowledged that they had run out of appeals to try to gain medical custody of the baby in order to try to gain medical treatments for him, at that very point they then made an appeal to the medical authorities and to the courts that they be allowed to take little Charlie home to die there in their presence in care. That too was actually denied both by the Great Ormond Street Hospital’s medical staff and backed up with the court authority, a final indignity in the life, an all too short life of a child who rightly has our attention.
The tragedy of Charlie Gard is also made very clear in terms of an analysis that has appeared in the United States. And by the way, one of the interesting things that is taking place here in United States is that even as there is a great divide in this country over questions of the sanctity of human life, there are a couple of things that become very clear. There’s a vast cultural consensus in this country that everything that can be done should be done on behalf of a child. There’s also a consensus in this country that parents should be the ones who make the decision. Writing in Time Magazine, Alice Park raises a very, very interesting question in this. And that comes down to who decides when the point of futility has been reached. That word futility in the medical context is not just an innocent word. It has a certain finality to it. When futility is invoked it means that there is no need for or justification for the continuation of a treatment or an attempt to try to achieve some kind of medical situation or to save a life. So when the word futility is employed in the case of Charlie Gard, it is a decision that basically means whether he’s going to be allowed to continue to fight for his life or whether the life support is going to be turned off.Show Full Transcript
But writing for Time Magazine this article by Alice Park includes the fact that futility is defined differently depending upon who’s doing the defining For example, she says in the United States medical authorities often define futility in terms of some kind of calculus about a medical treatment that could be inhumane or ineffective. Now, we all understand inhumane is playing into this. But ineffective, that’s a word that also requires some further pressing. Ineffective says who. Ineffective, who decides? But futility is as is defined here in this article understood differently by parents. As the article states,
“Parents apply a very different emotional calculus to the notion of futility.”
Margaret Moon who is a pediatrician from Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics makes the points,
“For some,” according to the article, “there is no such thing as futile medical care, given that their only priority is keeping their child alive.”
That paragraph continues,
“others, like Charlie’s parents, the threshold of futility is reached only when they have exhausted every possible treatment option, however uncertain the outcome.”
But as Charles Krauthammer, I invoked yesterday, said the question is who gets to decide who gets to speak for little Charlie since he is a less than one-year-old infant who cannot make the decision for himself cannot speak for himself. And the Time Magazine article says,
“In the U.S., such conflicts are generally resolved in favor of the parents.”
When doctors don’t feel medically and ethically able to continue futile treatment for a child, they might offer the parents the opportunity to find other hospitals that would. David Magnus director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University said this,
“In the U.S. we have created a culture where everybody should get whatever health care they want. As long as neither neglect nor abuse is involved, we give parents tremendous latitude in making decisions for their children.”
Now let’s just note that here you have a medical authority saying that parents are given this vast latitude, but actually we need to recognize that latitude belongs to parents. It’s not just something that is given them by medical authorities or even just recognized by the courts. But we’ve also talked about the fact that the contrast here is between the United States where parents are generally given or understood to possess this kind of authority and the United Kingdom where medical authorities, medical practitioners, and the courts step into intervene. And I mentioned yesterday that at least one factor behind this is the national health system there in Great Britain. But I’m indebted to the fact that Time Magazine makes that point very succinctly. I read,
“That’s not the case in the U.K., in large part because of the country’s single-payer national health system. It’s more routine for the medical community, and the courts, to make decisions about what’s acceptable care, what’s excessive care and even, as in Charlie’s case, when care should stop.”
Now the article began with the importance of the word futility, but it ends by making very clear that the decision about futility in the case of the British system is made by a medical establishment, a socialized single-payer health system, that has every reason to find as many cases as possible that can be declared to be futile.
Lawyer appointed to represent Charlie Gard linked to pro-euthanasia group
Next we also need to understand that the case of little Charlie Gard points to the fact that efforts that come down to euthanasia are never totally removed from this kind of situation. Horrifyingly enough, there’s not even one step of removal in the case of Charlie Gard. This was made very clear in an article published in the Telegraph, a major London newspaper. Here’s the headline,
“Charlie Gard’s parents angry that baby’s lawyer is head of charity that backs assisted dying.”
Assisted dying is a euphemism for euthanasia. And indeed, the lawyer who was assigned responsibility to represent little Charlie Gard, that lawyer who was speaking on behalf of the medical establishment and with court authority there in Great Britain, is the head of an organization that is linked to the defense of euthanasia and euthanasia rights. The Telegraph report tells us this,
“Charlie Gard’s parents have privately expressed their concern after discovering that the lawyer appointed to represent their 11-month-old son in court heads a charity that backs assisted dying. Victoria Butler-Cole, who speaks on Charlie’s behalf in court, is chairman of Compassion in Dying, a sister organisation to Dignity in Dying which campaigns for a change in the law to make assisted dying,” that is to say assisted suicide and euthanasia legal in the United Kingdom.
The closeness of the two organizations, the two charities, as made clear by the Telegraph, they share the same chief executive, the same media team, the same trustees, and they can only sit on the board of one charity, they support the aims of the other. We are then told that this particular lawyer was appointed to the role by the,
“publicly-funded state body … which acts in the best interests of children in court cases.”
Now did you notice the value judgment that was made there? A value judgment that doesn’t belong there at all. We are told that this is the,
“publicly-funded state body … which acts in the best interest of children in court cases.”
It says it acts in the best interests of children. It should say it is assigned to act in the best interest of children. That’s a crucial distinction. Here you have the judgment that this organization has rightly acted in this way. But here you also have the fact that the card deck was effectively stacked as this headline says against Charlie Gard and his parents in the beginning. But just realize what we’re looking at here. The lawyer who was assigned responsibility to speak on behalf of this infant is a lawyer that speaks on behalf and works on behalf of assisted suicide. This is exactly how the logic of euthanasia moves forward, and it gives us a great deal of information about the legal mechanisms as well. At some point it’s not just Charlie Gard, this infant in Great Britain. It is almost everyone reaching a certain stage of life and the potential of a certain condition who can no longer speak for ourselves. At that point, someone else is going to have to speak for us. And who that is, well it turns out that can make all the difference in the world.
It takes no great moral insight or understanding of the conflict of interest to see that this situation in United Kingdom should be absolutely unthinkable. But it’s not. It was all too real. If someone were to make up a fictional story with all of these particulars and include the fact that someone who was an advocate for assisted dying was actually the lawyer who was put in place to speak on behalf of this child, it would be considered an implausible plot. But it’s not fiction. It’s real. And it’s not implausible. It’s just outrageous. It’s immoral. But it actually happened.
Prominent British minister Steve Chalke denies Original Sin. Should we be surprised?
Next we’ll stay in the United Kingdom for a story about a British Baptist minister and author. Bob Allen of Baptist News Global says,
“A Baptist minister and author who shocked British evangelicals when he came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2013 now says Christians talk too much about Original Sin and not enough about humanity’s inherent goodness and worth.”
The report goes on to tell us, and I quote,
“Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, says in a new video resource that the message that humans are inherently bad isn’t the only way to interpret the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden as told in Genesis 3.”
And then the story actually quotes Chalke on the video as saying,
“Jewish scholars throughout the years, through the centuries, through the millennia, have simply said this: This story is about the growing up of humanity.”
That we are told,
“in the first of four studies based on his 2015 book Being Human: How to become the person you were meant to be.”
The report goes on to tell us that Chalke blames Western Christianity’s understanding of inherited sin or original sentence from the writings of the apostle Paul,
“as read for centuries primarily through the theological lens of Augustine of Hippo, an early Christian theologian and philosopher.”
And of course that’s true. But it’s also true that Western Christianity had embraced this understanding of original sin, not because first and foremost it was taught faithfully by Augustine, but because it was so clearly revealed in Scripture, and not only in specific text but in what is known as the metanarrative of Scripture — that is the big story of Scripture. Without the understanding of original sin, it’s not just sin or even the doctrine of humanity that becomes confused, it’s everything right down to the life and the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the message of the church when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Chalke in this particular presentation made a distinction between historic Christian and Jewish understandings of original sin, but of course that shouldn’t be shocking because of this is a distinction that has been present, not merely in the modern age, but throughout a great deal of rabbinical thinking in which there is no notion of original sin as understood by Augustine. And that’s one of the reasons why the gospel of Christ sounds so absolutely alien to persons who do not understand themselves to be sinners and have no explanation for how they might have become sinners.
The report in Baptist News Global tells us that,
“Chalke also says the common idea that Adam and Eve’s sin brought death into the world ‘can’t be right,’ because the story says the reason God removed the couple from the garden was to prevent them from eating from the tree of life and thereby become immortal, implying that they were going to die anyway.”
Chalke says, and I quote,
“The story of Adam and Eve is what’s called a myth. That doesn’t mean it’s not truthful. It means that it teaches great truth, just like Jesus’ parables, the story of the prodigal son didn’t really happen. No, it’s a great story to teach us great truth.”
Well at this point, I’m not so interested in what Steve Chalke had to say because after all this isn’t a surprise. Years ago he gained a great deal of controversy by rejecting the substitutionary atonement. And of course, as this story indicates, it was in 2013 that he came out in favor of same-sex marriage and was identified as the first major British evangelicals so to do. But of course this tells us that the word evangelical is wrongly applied in all too many cases. If you look at the story of Steve Chalke, it’s clear that at some point that he could have been defined as an evangelical, but there’s no way given his current position that that word fits in any legitimate way.
But there’s a bigger lesson here for all of us. And it comes down to this, we have to understand that our theological worldview is not made up of a basket of beliefs. It’s made up eventually of a rather consistent way of understanding the Bible and understanding the world. So it’s not as if you can just take a doctrine, such as the substitutionary atonement, take it out of the basket and set aside without there being effects on the doctrines that remain. We shouldn’t be at all surprised that two other doctrines are clearly implicated in this most recent announcement having to do with Steve Chalke. It’s not just about original sin. It’s about his previous denial of substitutionary atonement. Those two are very clearly linked. Because if indeed we are not sinners desperately in need of salvation we cannot accomplish for ourselves, then there’s no real explanation for the necessity as for instance the book of Hebrews makes so clear for the substitutionary atonement accomplished by Christ.
But here we have to also understand that biblical authority, the very nature of Scripture, is invoked in the story because we are told here that Steve Chalke points to Adam and Even and says it’s like one of the parables of Jesus. It’s just a myth. It’s not that it’s not telling us something truthful. It’s just not to be taken itself as true. But here it’s not just our commitment to the authority and inspiration of Scripture that serves as a corrective. It’s also just a reading of Genesis 1, 2, 3, and will go on. At no point does it seem that it’s anything other than a straightforward historical account, especially when you’re just thinking about the very focal point here about Adam and Eve in the garden. And when you’re looking at Genesis 3, it’s really clear that we are being given an historical accounts, just as we are in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and furthermore throughout the entirety of Genesis. And so when we’re looking at this, we need to recognize that someone here is denying the historicity, the history nature of Genesis 3 in order to serve a larger point.
And what is that point? It’s the point of arguing that human beings actually aren’t that bad. We aren’t born with inherited original sin. We are rather as Steve Chalke says in this video to give greater attention to the positive nature of humanity, humanity’s inherent goodness and worth. This isn’t new either. And we’re going back to Augustine. That early church father and theologian who is mentioned even in this article. At least Steve Chalke knows it’s Augustine whose teaching he rejects. But of course it was Augustine who helped the church to overcome the heresy of the Pelagians in the early centuries of the Christian church. And what you have here isn’t really new. It made the headlines because it’s shocking, but it’s not new. It’s an old heresy coming back as old heresies always do.