Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Sometime ago when I was discussing in this series of articles the evil of abortion, I mentioned the fact that in some places aborted fetuses were being used for experimental purposes. Some called into question whether this was really being done. Just today I was reading an article which appeared in the October 12, 1987 issue of World (Vol. 2, No. 19) in which an aspect of this matter is reported. I thought it worthwhile to interrupt our discussion of euthanasia to quote at length from this article. It carries the title: “Aborted Fetuses—Spare Parts for the Living?”
Sufferers from the brain disorders of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s disease, as well as diabetes patients, may soon experience relief and in some cases complete cures from implants of cells taken from aborted fetuses, say medical researchers at Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center in Nashville.
And neuroscientist Timothy Collier, who joined 500 medical researchers recently in a symposium at the University of Rochester in New York, said he hopes soon to freeze and store fetal brain tissue for such implants. Already the procedure has been used successfully in Sweden.
Though he admits it “opens up a Pandora’s box,” Dr. Antonin Scommengna, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Michael Reese Hospital, Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune that he foresees “growing fetuses some day for spare parts,” Scommengna could riot be reached for further comment. I
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director of the University of Minnesota Center for Bio medical Ethics, is concerned that use of fetuses for medical purposes could generate an industry of selling unborn infants . . . .
Caplan commented in an interview . . . that he doesn’t “feel any different about” using a fetus in a medical treatment than using an organ from a murder or suicide victim in a transplant. . . .
But Dr. Franklin E. Payne of the department of family medicine, Medical College of Georgia, argues that fetal transplants are not only wrong but unnecessary. . . .
Though Payne says that cell transplanting “isn’t itself immoral,” he pointed out in a World interview that the “main problem is that they’re using tissue horn aborted; fetuses” which is “immoral to start with.”
After a brief discussion of the possibilities of genetic engineering to obtain required “parts” for the cure of certain diseases, the article goes on to say:
Fetal cell transplants may already, however, be outdated technology—a fact which creates wonder that it is still being considered. Some research laboratories seem loath to admit that it is being carried on. For instance, though the Chicago Tribune reported that researchers at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago are “eager to collect tissue from the pancreases of aborted fetuses,” spokesmen for Rush’s obstetrics and gynecology department, as well as for its research laboratories, when contacted by World, denied knowledge of any such experiments or plans to experiment
In the argument mentioned above, i.e., the argument of the analogy drawn between the use of organs from people murdered or from people who commit suicide and the use of organs from aborted fetuses, there is an enormous logical error. Whatever may now be the right or wrong of using organs from murdered people or people that commit suicide, and whatever may be the right or wrong of using cells or organs from fetuses which are naturally aborted, this is quite different from making use of the organs or cells of babies that are born through induced abortion. The wrong, of course, lies in the abortion first of all, as Dr. Payne points out.
Yet, from the viewpoint of worldly and unbelieving people, not much can be wrong with either induced abortion or the use of aborted fetuses if such features are simply nothing else but a blob of tissue. What is wrong with making use of blobs of tissue? The horror of it all rests upon one fundamental truth: a baby is a person from the moment of conception. To bring about an induced abortion is, therefore, to commit the sin of murder. The fact that it is done under the guise that this baby is only a blob of tissue is to give to the terrible sin of murder a certain cold calculation and deliberation that is frightening. If the life of a person can so easily be taken when the person is a helpless unborn infant, and when this is done with a calculation and deliberation that is premeditated, life becomes very cheap, murder becomes very commonplace, and the future for any person who is no longer acceptable to society in general becomes filled with horror. If society approves of murdering unwanted children who are not yet born, society can easily approve of murdering other unwanted people. The step is small, the reasoning the same, the consequences equally frightening.
Add to this the fact that these fetuses are now made use of in medical experimentation, and the prospects are terrible. In this way does a sinful world develop in iniquity. And when such a shortage of organs exists that those who need them cannot obtain them, the temptation to find them in aborted infants is very great. And the temptation to encourage abortion for that end increases mightily.
To return now to our discussion of euthanasia, we remind our readers that in our last article we discussed the problem and tried to give it some broad outlines. Euthanasia is not really a very good title for what we intend to discuss, except in a very broad sense of the word. The term itself means, “good death” or “easy death,” and can refer to any death which is without suffering and pain. But in common usage the term is the equivalent of “mercy killing” and is usually defined as “the act of putting to death painlessly a person suffering from an incurable and painful disease or condition” (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language). It refers to putting to death either by withholding or taking away what is necessary to prolong or continue life, or actually administering something which will bring about death, such as the injection of an overdose of a narcotic.
In our discussion of this, it might be well first of all to examine what approximately the present state of thinking on this subject is.
In the July 20, 1987 issue of U.S. News & World Report a brief item appeared which reads as follows:
New court rulings—the latest from the New Jersey Supreme Court – are beginning to spark a new nationwide debate on euthanasia, The decisions come from the same court that issued the groundbreaking ruling in the Karen Ann Quinlan case in 1975, which established that life-support equipment may be withheld from people who are irreversibly ill. The latest ruling established that not only patients but also family or friends may make the life-or-death decision if the patient is unable to communicate. The decision also dropped an earlier proviso that certain people could be allowed to die only if they had a life expectancy of less than a year. Although the rulings apply only in New Jersey, they are expected to influence court decisions in other states. Altogether, there have been about 70 right-to-die cases in 20 states since the Quinlan case. Arizona’s Supreme Court is now reviewing a lower-court order allowing a woman’s nephew to stop her spoon-feeding after she suffered strokes and brain damage. Critics of the lower court ruling note the woman was not even terminally ill.
The February 9, 1987 issue of Christian Renewalreports:
In 1973, The Netherlands’ Supreme Court ruled that euthanasia was justified under certain circumstances. Gifford-Jones writes that this “allowed Dutch physicians to carry out 20,000 mercy killings a year. The great majority of these deaths involved the simple removal of life sustaining technology.” But its estimated that 6,000 persons were actively helped toward the “pearly gates by lethal drugs.”
In the July-August issue of Right to Life of Michigan News a report is given on a speech by Dr. C. Everett Koop, Surgeon General of the United States. The article reports:
Koop cited the rise of a “utilitarian” philosophy that values people according to their usefulness to society, and the demographic pressures caused by a higher proportion of retired persons, as the major factors fueling the euthanasia movement.
Citing the example of Holland where one-sixth of all deaths last year were a result of physician-administered lethal injections, Dr. Koop observed, “After World War II I would have said Holland would be the last nation to accept euthanasia (because of their opposition to Hitler).”
The Surgeon General noted that a bill following the “Dutch model” has been introduced in the legislatures of California, Florida and Arizona. The measure would allow doctors to administer lethal injections or take other actions to directly kill ailing patients . . .
In the April 16, 1986 issue of the Presbyterian Journal, Dr. Koop warns that “euthanasia has become the latest moral battlefield in the United States.” In the same article, attorney E. R. Grant describes how the idea is spreading, how groups are being organized to promote the idea, and how polls show “an increased support for euthanasia,” and that this changing attitude is “a social phenomenon on the scale of the abortion debate.” He writes further:
Thirty-five states now have “Living Will” laws . . . and three states are planning to introduce voluntary euthanasia legislation: Arizona, Florida, and California. A Living Will is a declaration signed by a mentally competent person, authorizing a physician to end treatment in the event that the patient becomes incompetent. The treatment may be ended when it prolongs dying and is unnecessary to the patient’s comfort.
So support for euthanasia is growing rapidly.