Editors note: Pentecostal Evangel News
Editor John W. Kennedy asked three Assemblies of God physicians to discuss
issues related to Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
James L. Blessman, 56, received his bachelors and medical
doctor degrees from the University of Iowa. He ran a family practice,
specializing in pain medicine for 18 years in Des Moines, and has taken
numerous short-term medical trips to Latin America. As a new missionary
associate with HealthCare Ministries, Blessman will be involved in disaster
response and medical team trips. He will continue to oversee the 17
free clinics he has established in Iowa in the past decade that minister
to 10,000 patients a year. Blessman attends First Assembly of God in
Des Moines (John M. Palmer, senior pastor).
Chris Edwardson, 46, has been a family physician in Dallas, Ore.,
since 1983 and Polk County medical examiner since 1984. He received
his bachelor of science in microbiology and his medical doctor degree
from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He has participated in
Convoy of Hope outreaches and is a board member and mens ministry
director of Valley Life Center (Assemblies of God) in Dallas (Bob R.
Swope, senior pastor).
Christina M.H. Powell, 34, received her Ph.D. from Harvard University,
conducting her doctoral research at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber
Cancer Institute. She holds a joint appointment as a research fellow
at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Powell
is a credentialed minister with the Southern New England District of
the Assemblies of God. She is the founder of Life Impact Ministries,
emphasizing the integration of Christianity and science. Powell attends
Calvary Temple A/G in Lynnfield, Mass. (Timothy P. Schmidt, senior pastor).
EVANGEL: Why is abortion a violation of the sanctity
POWELL: At the moment of conception, a new,
unique human life is formed. This human life, while only a single cell,
now contains a new genetic blueprint that is unique from the genetic
blueprints of the mother and father. The typical college textbook in
developmental biology clearly teaches that conception results in the
formation of a new life. The Bible clearly teaches us the value of all
human life, including human life newly formed in the womb. One of the
best biblical passages that illustrates the reasons to respect unborn
life is Psalm 139:13-16. Here David writes, "For you created my
inmost being; you knit me together in my mothers womb. I praise
you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made
in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the
earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me
were written in your book before one of them came to be" (NIV).
These verses show us Gods love for the unborn and His careful
oversight of the creation of each new human life. To abort this new
life is to destroy the handiwork of God and to disregard the plans that
God has ordained for that life.
EDWARDSON: The sanctity of life comes from
our relationship with God. Abortion is a violation because God considers
life precious and valuable. Abortion is taking the life of an unborn
child. I am a doctor for both the mother and child. I cannot choose
one over the other.
BLESSMAN: The issue is black and white. "Thou
shalt not kill" is one of the Ten Commandments.
EVANGEL: Why do many physicians seem to have
no qualms about performing abortions?
BLESSMAN: When I trained for medical practice,
abortion was against the law. But the laws changed and many doctors
thought it became an honorable thing to perform abortions because pro-abortion
groups repeatedly claimed that women suffered terrible complications
in back-office abortions in the late 60s and early 70s.
Of course, pro-life groups deny this claim.
EDWARDSON: Physicians who justify abortion
say they dont believe the fetus is a person yet. They dont
have moral absolutes, such as the authority of the Bible. They feel
free to choose what is convenient to their own lifestyle and its
easy to be influenced by money.
EVANGEL: How can the number of abortions in this
country be reduced?
EDWARDSON: We all have a great amount of
influence on the people around us. Parents need to teach their children
that abortion is wrong and not assume their children will pick up that
lesson automatically. Abortion has become so acceptable in the general
population that there is no shame attached to it. Its not identified
as sin. Girls have heard the messages "Its my body"
or "I have a career." I have arranged for private adoptions
for pregnant single mothers in the past. Some Christian girls had never
thought about abortion until it was presented to them as a convenient
option in an unwanted teen-age pregnancy.
POWELL: Most women who choose to have an
abortion do so because they feel that they have no other choice. Ministries
such as Highlands Child Placement Services and Maternity Home are vital
in reducing the number of abortions because they provide compassionate
alternatives for women experiencing crisis pregnancies. The simplest
way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted
pregnancies in the first place. Unfortunately, crisis pregnancies occur
in Christian homes all too frequently. Parents, churches and educators
must be diligent in teaching adolescents to respect themselves and to
respect each other by reserving sex for the marriage relationship. Contrary
to the image portrayed by many educators, teen-agers are not animals
with uncontrollable urges, but moral beings capable of choosing abstinence.
Teen-agers who live in a home environment that emphasizes love and respect
are less likely to engage in premarital sex. In our homes and churches,
we need to love our teen-agers, stay involved in their lives and model
healthy relationships based on mutual respect.
BLESSMAN: We need to practice our faith and
help more people understand what the Bible says in order to understand
Gods rules and Gods will. Im a member of the Christian
Medical and Dental Society, which is educating physicians.
EVANGEL: Other than declaring that they are pro-life,
what are some practical ways in which Christians can take a stand against
POWELL: Partner with a crisis pregnancy center
in your area and throw a baby shower in your local church for a woman
experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. By providing emotional and financial
support to a woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy, a church can prevent
abortion one woman at a time. What a joy to see a baby who would have
been an abortion statistic dedicated to the Lord in a church service.
This ministry works well in churches of all sizes and financial resources.
Other options include starting a Baby Bootie Club to raise money for
Highlands and promote awareness of the sanctity of human life in your
BLESSMAN: Be bold about letting our family
and neighbors know where we stand. Its more effective in one-on-one
contacts than in the political arena.
EDWARDSON: One mother at a time. Love them
and reach them.
EVANGEL: How is euthanasia becoming more acceptable
in this country?
POWELL: In 1994, citizens of Oregon voted
for Ballot Measure 16, which permits physician-assisted suicide for
the terminally ill under limited conditions. Despite a ballot initiative
in 1997 trying to repeal the law, the Death with Dignity Act withstood
all challenges. The distinction between assisted suicide and euthanasia
is found in whether a third party or the patient performs the last act
that intentionally causes the patients death. For example, giving
a patient a lethal injection would be considered euthanasia, while it
would be assisted suicide if a patient pushes a switch to trigger a
fatal injection after the doctor has inserted an intravenous needle
into the patients vein. In 63 percent of the deaths reported in
the third annual report on deaths under the Oregon assisted suicide
law, fear of being a burden was expressed as a reason for requesting
assisted suicide. Emotional, financial and psychological pressures,
however subtle or even unintended, can become overpowering for depressed
or dependent people. Proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide capitalize
on the natural fear people have of suffering and dying. If euthanasia
became classified as a medical treatment option, it could become a way
of reducing medical costs.
EDWARDSON: I live in Oregon, which is the
place to watch the slippery slope to euthanasia. Any time we diminish
the value of human life we then establish reasons why someone should
be allowed to live. Is it only because they contribute to society? If
so, do we want mentally retarded or old people anymore? If people cost
a lot to take care of maybe we shouldnt keep them around. Pretty
soon its, "We have too many girls, lets just allow
boys to live."
BLESSMAN: As a pain specialist this issue
is dear to my heart. So many people are fearful of pain and discomfort
but not necessarily of dying. We now have capabilities in medical
science to alleviate a great deal of suffering.
EVANGEL: What can Christians do to battle the
impression that "quality of life" should determine whether
an elderly person or someone with a severe disability "deserves"
BLESSMAN: One reason that people put trust
in their physician is that we are against taking a human life. Quality
of life is extremely important, but its not something one person
should make a judgment about concerning another person. Its not
up to us as people to determine when a life should end. Thats
Gods role. Its up to us to alleviate pain and suffering.
We need to let God do what God does.
POWELL: God loves us in the midst of our
physical imperfections and values each life. God is also capable of
enabling each person to live beyond his or her physical limitations.
In Exodus 4:11,12, when Moses expressed concern over his speech impediment,
the Lord replied, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or
mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."
There is hope for each life to have meaning until the time when the
Lord calls the person home.
EVANGEL: How is treating the poor with dignity
in line with Jesus teachings on the sanctity of life?
BLESSMAN: I take the Book of James very seriously
in that Christians are to be people of works as well as people of faith.
Its extremely important that we reach out to the poor. The Bible
says the poor will always be with us, so its an unending task.
But that shouldnt deter us from trying.
POWELL: All lives have equal value in the
eyes of God. He judges each by the condition of the heart, not the extent
of material wealth. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:2, "So when you give
to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do
in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men." Jesus
did not say, "if you give to the needy," but "when you
give to the needy." Furthermore, we are to meet those needs in
a quiet way that preserves the dignity of those receiving assistance.
EVANGEL: What are the implications of stem cell
POWELL: Stem cells are cells that have the
ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and give rise to
specialized cells. Four days after conception, the cells of a human
embryo form a hollow sphere of cells called a blastocyst. The outer
layer of cells in this sphere go on to form the placenta and the inner-cell
mass cells go on to form virtually all of the tissues of the human body.
Stem cells are derived from this inner-cell mass, and thus have the
ability to develop into a wide variety of human tissues. Thus, isolation
of this type of stem cell would involve the destruction of an embryo.
Current human embryonic stem cell lines were derived either from the
use of frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics or from fetal
tissue obtained from abortions.
However, there is another type of stem cell derived
from adult tissue such as bone marrow. Thus, when we consider the ethical
implications of stem cell research, it is important that we differentiate
between embryonic stem cell research, which involves the destruction
of human embryos (and thus unique human lives) and adult stem cell research,
which uses tissue from a patients own body.
While adult stem cells hold genuine promise and
do not violate the sanctity of human life, there are some significant
limitations to their use. First of all, stem cells from adults have
not been isolated for all tissues of the body. For example, researchers
have not located adult cardiac stem cells (important for the treatment
of heart disease) or adult pancreatic islet stem cells in humans (important
for the treatment of diabetes). Second, adult stem cells are often present
in only minute quantities and are difficult to isolate and purify.
Finally, the use of stem cells from a patients
own body for treatment would require that stem cells isolated from the
patient be grown in culture in order to obtain adequate quantities for
treatment. For some acute diseases, the patient may die before sufficient
quantities of cells are grown in culture. However, our desire for new
treatments and medical advancement cannot cause us to violate our ethical,
moral and biblical regard for the sanctity of human life.
EDWARDSON: Stem cell research is a part of
the field of regenerative medicine that holds promise in curing or reversing
devastating diseases such as Parkinsons disease or amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis. The question is not that stem cells are able to do
good; thats unquestionable. And we need to be compassionate with
those suffering diseases and not forget that they are suffering.
The ethical question has to do with where the stem
cells originate. Adult tissue does not pose an ethical dilemma. The
problem is embryonic cells are mostly coming from fertility studies.
If we allow those embryos to be used as replacement parts, we can easily
cross the line where one persons life becomes more valuable than
BLESSMAN: Im in favor of stem cell
research on fetal tissue that is naturally made available through spontaneous
miscarriages. This is a scientific process that may be helpful to our
grandchildren. But I understand well how motivation works and I would
not want the desire for stem cell tissues to increase the probability
of abortions occurring.
EVANGEL: Despite a congressional ban, does cloning
pose a threat in the near future?
POWELL: In March 2001, Italian fertility
specialist Severino Antinori, famous for helping a 62-year-old woman
give birth, announced his intention of cloning (producing a genetic
duplicate) of a human in the near future. At the same time a company
called Clonaid was planning to clone a human using genetic material
from a dead child. However, the general consensus of the scientific
community is that cloning human beings is morally and ethically wrong
as well as fraught with unacceptable risks.
For example, experience in animal cloning has demonstrated
that cloning is much more likely to produce deformed babies, miscarriages
and early deaths than a healthy baby. Cloning would also endanger the
life of the mother. As demonstrated in the cloning of five mammals,
in most cases, the animal clone grows abnormally large, often threatening
to tear the womb that can also become swollen with fluid. As a result,
almost all clone pregnancies spontaneously abort. The first mammal clone,
Dolly the sheep, was the one success in 247 pregnancies. The cost in
human suffering necessary to produce a human clone is unthinkable.
EDWARDSON: Gene mapping is a real quandary
thats going to get bigger. Its very important that we have
a clear idea of what is acceptable in the sight of God and what is not.
BLESSMAN: I believe that cloning does pose
a real threat and that in spite of the ban, some members of the scientific
community will proceed with human cloning experiments and that they
will soon have success in doing so. This will proceed in the interest
of "medical progress" and could potentially provide life-saving
organs for transplant and numerous other yet-unidentified medical miracles.
The central question that we are going to have to answer is whether
or not a clump of human cells that scientists are growing into a life-saving
heart or kidney for transplant are just cells or a living human being.
If these cells are indeed a human life then we are playing God and sacrificing
one life for another.
I believe that the Christian community has settled
the issue that a two-week-old fetus is a human being. We now urgently
need some of our best Christian thinkers to wrestle with the issue of
whether or not a group of human cells developed in a laboratory for
the specific purpose of growing tissue or specific organs only, represents
a human life. I do not have the answer but I certainly hope that we
as Christians begin to search the Bible carefully and come up with solid
answers to this question before the scientific community establishes
what will become our cultures values on this important issue.
EVANGEL: What other medical ethics questions
that seemed unthinkable a few years ago are lurking in the near future?
POWELL: The sequencing of the human genome
and the resultant genetic technologies present a variety of medical
ethics questions that seemed unthinkable a few years ago. One example
is the potential problems associated with gene testing. Gene tests include
prenatal diagnostic testing, newborn screening, presymptomatic testing
for predicting adult-onset disorders such as Huntingtons disease
or for predicting the risk of developing certain cancers or Alzheimers
disease, and forensic identity testing. While gene tests can be useful
in clarifying a diagnosis and directing a physician toward appropriate
treatments, one limitation is that not all people who carry a disease-associated
gene actually develop the disease. The potential of gene tests for provoking
anxiety and becoming a cause for discrimination and social stigmatization
may outweigh any benefits derived from testing in many situations.
Any genetic testing of the unborn returns us to
the ethical questions involving the sanctity of human life. The possibility
of gene testing resulting in the abortion of babies who have been diagnosed
as having the potential for developing a serious disease is a grave
concern. Again, we must avoid placing ourselves in the position of judging
the genetic worthiness of a child developing in his mothers womb.
As we read in Isaiah 44:24, "This is what the Lord says
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who has made
EDWARDSON: Cryogenics freezing people
and bringing them back when theres a new technology to extend
their lives is not a new concept but those with a humanistic
viewpoint still dream about it. The Bible says there is an appointed
time to die. God does not intend this to be our home. Heaven has been
prepared for us. The sting of death is swallowed in victory.