January 21, 2008
By Alan W. Dowd
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses,” God declares in Deuteronomy. “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
The choice is obviously ours, and God’s preference is just as obvious.
It’s all so clear and unconfused from God’s perspective, and the psalmist tells us why: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” David gasps. “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
In other words, God sees human life the way it really is—as a seamlessly connected story that makes no distinction for trimesters or chromosomes, handicaps or silver hair.
Human life means so much to God because humanity is a part of Him, an expression of His boundless creativity. And that’s why the enemy has worked so relentlessly to destroy life. There’s a reason Jesus called Satan “a murderer from the beginning.” From the Garden to Golgotha, from Pharaoh to Roe, from Haman to Herod to Hitler, hell has taken aim at that divine spark within God’s children.
The world around us unwittingly follows the enemy’s example and chooses death over life. Indeed, we live in a schizophrenic time and place.
-We build mega-stores and entire hospitals devoted to the special needs of babies and their moms (and rightly so). We reward new life in the tax code. Micro-surgery is now, incredibly, being performed inside the womb. Yet as Justice Antonin Scalia has noted “the United States is now one of only 53 countries classified as allowing abortion on demand, versus 139 countries allowing it only under particular circumstances or not at all.” And it could get worse. Some presidential candidates promise to expand access to, and federal funding for, abortion.
-We devote more scientific resources to saving life and preventing death than any nation on earth or in history. Yet after living in a comatose state for 15 years, Terri Schiavo was deemed beyond repair or care, deprived of food and water, and sentenced to a slow-motion death in 2005. In 2007, after “euthanizing” 130 people and serving just eight years in prison, Jack Kevorkian was set free.
Like a midnight flash of lighting that reveals what was once unseen, Kevorkian and Schiavo are representative of many other cases of mercy killers and mercy victims. And these cases indicate that we are headed down the same slope that our European neighbors have traveled. Government studies in the Netherlands—the first country to legalize euthanasia—estimate that so-called “involuntary euthanasia” claims more than a thousand patients each year. Not even children are safe. As the Associated Press has reported, doctors at the now-notorious Groningen Academic Hospital admit that they have been euthanizing infants since 2000. In fact, the Discovery Institute unearthed a study concluding that “45 percent of neo-natologists and 31 percent of pediatricians who responded to questionnaires had killed infants.” This was inevitable. Any place that starts down the slippery slope of mercy killing is bound to distort the definition of both mercy and killing.
-We spend close to $2 billion each year to give life a chance and overcome infertility. Yet in 2004, a major political party showcased someone dismissing human embryos as little more than lab worms because, in his words, “They have no fingers and toes, no brain or spinal cord. They have no thoughts, no fears. They feel no pain.” Is this the new definition of humanness, whether we feel pain or have fingers and toes, whether we have discernable thoughts and identifiable fears? Are we so selfish that we cannot see the danger of using the weakest and smallest among us to make us healthier and stronger?
Congress gave its answer in 2007, when it passed a bill that would use tax dollars to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos in support of stem-cell research. When President Bush vetoed the bill, one member of Congress declared that the president said “no to hope.” In truth, he said no to turning unborn human life into a harvesting field. “Our conscience calls us to pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects human dignity and upholds our moral values,” he explained. The president, in his own way, was restating a timeless truth: Just because we can do something, just because science makes something possible, doesn’t mean we should do it. The entire Judeo-Christian tradition is premised on this notion of moral restraint. And just because new fields of scientific research may help some people, doesn’t make it right to sacrifice other people in the process. Civilization itself is founded and sustained on an unspoken promise that the strong will protect the weak, sacrifice for the weak, even die for the weak. To do what the stem-cell harvesters propose is to turn that millennia-old promise on its head.
The good news is that we don’t have to go down that path. Researchers have found that a patient’s own cells can be “reprogrammed” to function like embryonic stem cells, and that cells from embryonic fluid can provide stem cells. These advances will arm science with the regenerative power of stem cells without destroying the human life frozen in some Petri dish.
Speaking of Petri dishes, never let anyone tell you that frozen embryos aren’t unborn children. A growing number of American families are adopting frozen embryos, carrying these little ones to term, and welcoming healthy babies into the world. In fact, a year ago this month—in an uncanny coincidence with Roe’s anniversary and the political controversy swirling around the stem-cell bill—a baby named Noah was born in Covington, Louisiana. Two years earlier, he was a frozen embryo. He almost thawed to death in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the power went out at Lakeland Hospital in New Orleans. As the Washington Post reported, Noah and 1,400 other frozen embryos were rescued by law enforcement officers two weeks after Katrina. Today, Noah is a one-year-old toddler.
-We worry about the coming crisis caused by a shortage of workers and explosion in the number of retirees. Yet we forget that most of Roe’s victims would be in their twenties and thirties today, earning money and paying taxes to help support America’s aging population.
-We produce films that ooze with cartoonish violence and consequence-free, commitment-free sex. Yet we wonder why or how a young woman could ever contemplate delivering a baby and tossing him in the trash. And then our society has the temerity to throw her in prison while allowing the abortion mills to erase 2,500 unborn children per day.
It’s all a reflection of our moral confusion, which is a consequence of our turning away from God’s moral clarity—which means those of us who believe life is precious and sacred have a lot of work to do.
In this great struggle for life, perhaps we should follow the example set by Moses, who himself escaped death as a newborn and went on to do the Lord’s work. How did he do it?
-He fellowshipped with God. He talked to God and, more importantly, listened to God.
-This gave him the confidence to act for God and to stand up for his people.
-And after some convincing from God, Moses even found the courage to speak out for the voiceless and defenseless, to point the way to a better future, and to write words of truth that changed hearts.
Indeed, it was through Moses’ pen that the author of life declared, simply, “Choose life.” There was no ambiguity or gray area from heaven’s perspective. There was—and is— only right and wrong, life and death.
So, when science promises man-made miracles in exchange for a harvested embryo, choose life. When your baby is imperfect, choose life. When the trajectory of your teenager’s future is changed by a lapse in judgment, choose life. When an unwed mom comes to your church asking for help, choose life. When your wife lingers in that netherworld that borders eternity, choose life. When death and disease stalk your mom, choose life. When grandpa forgets who you are and who he was, choose life.
God says “choose life” because He knows we are incomplete in the womb and as toddlers and teenagers and twenty-somethings. He says “choose life” because He knows we are helpless at birth and at old-age, depending on someone else to feed us and carry us. He says “choose life” because He knows the most powerful form of communication is not smooth-spoken sermons or long essays, but the wordless smiles and sobs at the beginning and end of this life.
He says “choose life” because He knows life is not merely a flat line that connects two points in history, but a wondrous circle that reflects His love and connects us to eternity.