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December 1, 2006

Justifying Murder

Topics: Euthanasia advocacy

What is happening within the Church of England that so distorts the tradition of the Christian Church that it virtually ignores 2,000 years of hisory?

Professor Stephen Bainbridge, writing at TCS Daily, addresses the Church of England's Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: ethical issues, which concludes that "there are some circumstances in which imposing or continuing treatments to sustain a newborn baby's life results in a level of irremediable suffering such that there is no ethical obligation to act in order to preserve that life." It appears that the Church of England has chosen to turn its back on the Gospel of Life and a key tradition of the Church, which, as described by Pope John Paul II's Pro-life encyclical, leaves no wiggle room for justifying murder:

"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed.

"They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator."

In it's decision, which goes against 2,000 years of Church tradition and the very basis of Christ's gospel of life, the Council opines that physicians ethically may withhold or withdraw treatment from such infants, and while claiming not to accept active euthanasia as ethical, it does, however, invoke the principle of double effect to justify the use of "potentially life-shortening but pain-relieving treatments."
Given the trends in Western society towards acceptance of abortion and euthanasia, one is no longer surprised when a principally secular ethical body reaches such a conclusion. The attitude of the Church of England came as something of a surprise, however, at least to observers outside the Anglican sphere.

The Daily Mail recently reported that "a bishop representing the national church has now sparked controversy by arguing that there are occasions when it is compassionate to leave a severely disabled child to die. And the Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, who is the vice chair of the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council, has also argued that the high financial cost of keeping desperately ill babies alive should be a factor in life or death decisions." (Bishop Butler's full submission to the Nuffield Council has now been released and is available here.)

In suggesting that some children be left "to die," Bishop Butler broke with 2000-plus years of Judeo-Christian ethics.

Rightly, Professor Bainbridge asks in his piece, as should the rest of us be also asking ourselves and proponents of "leaving a child to die," "is their no obligation to act?", and goes on to remind us that both Jewish and Christian theology squarely forbade the practice of "leaving a child to die" - a practice that is nothing less than infanticide - making those responsible for such deaths - murderers.

Numerous early Christian sources, for example, confirm the Didache's teaching that it is a grave sin to "murder a child" or to "kill that which is born."

To be sure, Justin Martyr's Guilt of Exposing Children justified the prohibition in part on grounds that "almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution." Yet, in a later chapter, Justin makes clear that the possibility abandoned children would be brought up in a life of prostitution was not his sole concern, writing: "And again [we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers." (Emphasis supplied.)

This tradition remains a core part of the magisterial teaching of the Christian Church. In 1980, for example, the Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration on Euthanasia, in which it stated that "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying."

Again, as in Pope John Paul II's Pro-life encyclical and Justin Martyr's Guilt of Exposing Children, there is no wiggle room here for justifying what can only be defined as murder.

As Professor Bainbridge notes, "Western culture has given increasingly short shrift to the sanctity of life," however and until now, "the Christian Church - whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant - has been a prophetic voice in favor of life". It now appears that the Church of England, "as part of its ongoing accommodation to the values of post-Christian secular society," has chosen to turn its back on the Gospel of Life and the 2,000 years of history and tradition. As Western society continues on the road of acceptance in abortion and euthanasia, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at what the Church of England is saying, however - sooner or later we need to stop and ask ourselves just where this road of accomodation to the values of post-Christian secular society is taking us.

Be sure to read all of Professor Bainbridge's piece.

Posted by Richard at December 1, 2006 6:38 AM

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