And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.
Luke 16:26 (NLT)
Earlier this week, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a “thought-provoking” paper titled After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? I’d encourage leaders in the disability ministry community to read the paper in its entirety. If we’re going to leverage influence in our society during a time of great upheaval, we have to fully understand the issues and conversations into which we must speak. Shannon Dingle wrote a thoughtful response to the paper in her blog yesterday.
I was equally troubled by a companion article written by Julian Savulescu, explaining why the Journal chose to publish the paper. I’ll comment on several excepts from his article…
As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.
There’s a very good possibility that the “most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world” and those who publish and review the academic literature rarely come in contact with or develop friendships with people who share a traditional view of Christianity. The notion that some would take issue with the idea that infanticide is a “well-reasoned argument based upon widely accepted premises” might seem absurd to someone living and working in a culture in which they never experience people with divergent views.
However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.
In my experience, I’ve encountered very few people in academic medicine who would ascribe to the notion that “the Truth,” or any absolute standards of right and wrong exist. This is especially true within my medical specialty. I’ve shared the story before on this blog of attending a research review committee meeting at which the other attendees were astounded to discover the extent of my involvement in and commitment to a traditional Christian belief system. One person commented that it was the first time in thirty years in academic medicine that they’d ever worked with someone of my beliefs.
What is disturbing is not the arguments in this paper nor its publication in an ethics journal. It is the hostile, abusive, threatening responses that it has elicited. More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.
Those in positions of influence within the Christian community need to take great care to respond with grace when responding to articles such as this one. John Knight made the point in his blog post that we shouldn’t grant the authors greater credibility through the nature of our response. From personal experience, one way in which people in the academic community will seek to dismiss the arguments of those operating from a foundation of traditional values is to single out comments that suggest people who hold opposing views are simple-minded fanatics clinging to our religion. That’s a lot harder to do when the people making the arguments are respected friends and colleagues.
It’s very easy for those of us who are students of the Bible to observe what’s going on around us in the world and get scared. Time and time again, we see throughout Scripture the consequences when society abandons absolute standards of right and wrong and progresses to the point where everyone “does what is right in his own eyes.” I know I’m afraid…for my future, for my patients, for my family and for a world in which people who share the value system of the authors of papers such as these wield great influence. So…what should we do?
First, we as Christ-followers need to be intentional in cultivating our influence and relationships wherever God has positioned us. I can share from personal experience that the academic world does respect excellence. We need to reflect excellence in everything we do in order to establish our credibility within the centers of influence in our culture. Think Daniel in Babylon.
Second, we need to be prepared to defend our values and beliefs when opportunities arise. It doesn’t do us or the Kingdom any good if we only talk about right and wrong with people who are inclined to agree with us. We need to speak out…but we also need to do the preparation necessary to follow Peter’s instructions:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Finally, we have to fight smart. We are in a fight, whether we want to admit it or not. Having aligned ourself with Christ, we’ve become part of Jesus’ mission to re-establish his Kingdom on Earth. There’s a chasm that separates those of us who see the evil in practices derived from “well-reasoned argument based upon widely accepted premises” from those in platforms of influence who propagate ideas such as those described in the Journal of Medical Ethics. I’m going to make the argument in a future post that those of us in disability ministry have a unique, missional opportunity to bridge the chasm. This chasm is nothing like the chasm that will exist after Jesus comes back in victory. No one is bridging that gap.
Let me let you in on a little secret…the other side is waaaay more afraid of us than we are of them.