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A matter of life and death

Editor’s note: Some experts are upbeat, others pessimistic, about life issues this country faces — such as euthanasia, cloning and the use of cord blood stem cells. For Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy asked five attorneys involved in life issues about recent legal developments in the field. Their much-varied outlooks and solutions follow.

Dennis G. Brewer Sr., 73, has been practicing law since 1955. He is an elder and on the board of directors at Calvary Temple, an Assemblies of God church in Irving, Texas. Brewer is the founder of Brewer, Brewer, Anthony & Middlebrook. He is senior staff counsel on behalf of the American Center for Law and Justice Texas, specializing in First Amendment cases.

Randy D. Singer, 47, serves as general counsel, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention based in Alpharetta, Ga. Singer formerly led a law firm’s trial section of 28 attorneys, and he has tried many cases involving freedom of religion and speech.

Jeffery J. Ventrella, 44, is vice president of strategic training for the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ventrella litigated for 15 years before joining ADF in 1999. He preaches regularly and has served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Walter M. Weber, 45, is senior litigation counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C. He has been with the ACLJ since 1993 and specializes in First Amendment law. Weber has written briefs in Supreme Court landmark cases including NOW vs. Scheidler and Bray vs. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic. Before joining the ACLJ, Weber served as staff attorney with the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights as well as Free Speech Advocates.

John W. Whitehead, 57, in 1982 founded the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va., a pioneer religious civil liberties and human rights organization. Whitehead, a Presbyterian, is the author of more than 20 books, including Grasping for the Wind, which chronicles the narcissistic American culture in which life has been devalued since the late 20th century.

PE: What new sanctity of life threats are looming in the United States?

EUTHANASIA

VENTRELLA: One of the threats is a philosophical definition of life in terms of functionality and personal expectation, rather than as a gift of God. When the husband in the Terri Schiavo case received court permission to remove the feeding tube from his brain-damaged wife, it was a form of privatized lethal force. Always in the past lethal force was publicly administered after very careful procedures were in place. Now we’re trying to privatize them with euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. If life is to be worth anything it must be sacrosanct, not subject to a sliding scale of personal whim or preference.

WEBER: The Schiavo case, in which a disabled person was in the process of being starved, is representative of a large-scale phenomenon in this country. A lot of people are being eased out of hospices, hospitals and nursing homes. The only time it becomes an issue is when the family is in dispute.

BREWER: It’s sad to say, but euthanasia will someday be legalized. There’s already a thrust for it legislatively. We shouldn’t allow for exceptions because hard cases make bad law. But some doctors are already deciding when the quality of life is over. A lot of it goes on without being prosecuted.

CLONING

SINGER: Cloning is still below the radar screen for most people, but it’s a major threat. I’m afraid what’s going to happen is that we’ll have announcements similar to the ones last year, but this time they’ll be real. People will wonder why we don’t have legislation in place.

WHITEHEAD: Genetic tinkering happens on a continual basis. Most of it is done undercover in laboratories and we don’t know about it until the results are announced, like when a sheep is cloned. Primarily, private corporations that see a financial future in it fund it. Are we creating new life forms such as a subhuman “race” that can do all kinds of things that we can’t do, like work five more hours a day, or who may be immune to some weaknesses that we have?

BREWER: Does God have responsibility to inject a new spirit in such a being? Once you let anybody get the idea he is the creator, there will be a claim that he is the messiah.

ABORTION

WEBER: There are ongoing state battles involving abortion, including fights over parental notice and parental consent laws. And there’s proposed protection for unborn children under state criminal and civil laws outside the abortion context as in the Laci Peterson case, for example, where unborn children are the victims of crime.

SINGER: Two pro-abortion groups (the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union) filed suit to stop the partial-birth abortion legislation from becoming law even before President Bush signed it in November.

VENTRELLA: Partial-birth abortion is really infanticide.

BREWER: The idea that abortion is going to go away is wishful thinking.

PE: What pending legislation should Christians know about?

WEBER: A lot of state legislation is designed to stop cloning from happening. Related to that are efforts to create cross species or hybrids in which partial human genes and animal genes are mixed to try to get something that works. There are military and scientific implications. Anytime there is potential, there is a market ready to exploit it.

SINGER: There are two competing cloning bills. The Brownback bill (which has passed the House, but not the Senate) prohibits human cloning. The Feinstein bill allows cloning for stem-cell research purposes. This could be a big issue in the not-too- distant future.

WEBER: There are lots of sources of human stem cells: human bone marrow, fat and other tissues. One source that is controversial is taking human embryos themselves and harvesting their stem cells at the beginning of life. The problem is that it kills them. No one yet has been helped medically in any way by embryonic stem cells. Meanwhile, in vitro fertilization creates the problem of hundreds of thousands of “leftover” stem cells sitting someplace. What are permissible ways to respond to this “refrigerator surplus”? I hope measures will be taken to try to prevent the problem from expanding further. It’s still routine for in vitro fertilization practitioners to produce more offspring than they can possibly implant in a woman. They do that to increase their margin of success, but it leaves leftover children lying around frozen — souls on ice.

SINGER: Another battleground is the Laci Peterson type of legislation in terms of prosecuting those who do harm to unborn children. Anyone who kills a pregnant woman or causes the death of her unborn child could be charged with murder.

VENTRELLA: There are pieces of pro-life state legislation that would regulate abortion clinics. If we can mandate ultrasound and informed consent before a woman chooses to terminate a life it would be a great victory.

PE: With improved technology that has extended life, both for premature babies and the very old, why doesn’t this country have a stronger ethic valuing all life?

WHITEHEAD: The sanctity of life principle is only found in the Judeo-Christian ethic. It’s not in any other religion or philosophy. But since the 1950s there has been a loss of the Judeo-Christian ethic, which affects how people think about life. The general media and public schools no longer hold to the idea that people are created by God. This philosophy, which is in the Declaration of Independence, for example, is denied on a daily basis in the public schools of America. What people are taught — or not taught — they act out later in life. If we buy into the theory of evolution — that we’re just animals anyway — it’s easy to do away with not only unborn children, but also those who become “obsolete.”

VENTRELLA: We have bought into the mind-set that life is simply a progressive survival of the fittest, a very Darwinian view. We’ve made a philosophical shift and now define life in terms of quality: Let’s do an economic, convenient, functional analysis rather than protecting life as an inalienable right. If we have an evolutionary theory we will never have an absolute ethic. We can always gerrymander the circumstances to allow for the destruction of life. This country must recapture the reality that life is a true gift of the Creator.

SINGER: Most Americans in their hearts and minds took a position on abortion long before sonograms and other technological advances came along to allow us to see the fetus during the different stages of development. The next generation will be more pro-life because they will know more about the development of the fetus in the womb.

BREWER: If technology continues to advance we could see the average life span increase to 120 years. But there will be a tremendous movement to suppress longevity because of the economic problems it would bring. The same goes for babies that weigh less than 1,000 grams. The policy in most hospitals is to throw them away. The reasons are economic.

WEBER: I think this country does have a strong ethic on valuing life. A big problem is with euphemisms spread by people who have a vested financial or political interest. I’m hopeful that what ultimately dooms the abortion industry is the testimony of women who have had an abortion. If women come forward and say, “This is the worst mistake I ever made in my life; no one else should have to suffer this kind of misery,” then it wouldn’t keep going.

PE: Why are so many organizations seemingly bent on shortening or ending the lives of some people?

SINGER: These organizations really are against everything the Judeo-Christian ethic stands for. There’s one issue to resolve: Are we God or is God really God? If God is God, then we ought to allow Him to determine when life begins and ends. When we have questions, we ought to revert to Scripture, not technology.

WEBER: There is a huge financial interest in maintaining the legality of abortion. When people do something they feel bad about they want to justify it, and one of the ways they do that is to get other people to do it. Another reason is that it’s in a lot of people’s interest for a woman to have an abortion: the boyfriend who doesn’t want to take responsibility for the child; parents who are embarrassed by their teenage daughter’s pregnancy; the employer who says, “If you want to keep your job you better not be pregnant.”

VENTRELLA: People who hate God hate His image. Millions of dollars are being made from abortion.

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PE: What is encouraging on the sanctity of life front?

WEBER: More and more women are standing up and speaking with authority in the public sphere about their abortions. When a woman gets up and says, “I’ve had an abortion and it put me through hell; no one should go through this,” it’s extremely powerful.

SINGER: The most encouraging thing is this generational shift of attitudes. It’s amazing to see how this younger generation is tired of the morality of convenience that their parents have. Polls show at least 70 percent of Americans oppose partial-birth abortion, and we’ve been able to shine a spotlight on exactly what that procedure entails. When Americans understand the reality of “regular” abortion they’ll be equally appalled.

VENTRELLA: After 30 years of legalized abortion we can now definitely say that abortion harms women physically, mentally and emotionally. Thousands of women are saying they regret their abortions.

WHITEHEAD: Frankly, there’s not a lot that’s encouraging. There is virtually no pro-life movement anymore. In the early 1980s there was activism and picketing of clinics. The pro-life movement was a moving target. But the pro-life movement now is largely confined to fund-raising banquets. Crisis pregnancy centers do good things, but it’s a shadow of what the movement used to be. No longer do you regularly see 30 or 40 Christians protesting in front of an abortion clinic. As a result of the Clinton era, people retreated and gave up. Today, a lot of people who had been enthusiastic pro-lifers have gone into semi-hiding. It’s a sad thing to see.

PE: What can Christians do to help on all these issues?

SINGER: Christians need to become better educated on the emerging sanctity of life issues, primarily stem-cell research and cloning. What grieves me is that it took years for Christians to really catch on to what was happening with abortion and by then it had already been decided. We can’t allow that to happen in the cloning and stem cell areas.

BREWER: We need to expose abortionists by picketing their offices and homes to let others know that they murder children. I encourage pastors and Sunday School teachers to show pictures of children in the mid trimester, pictures that are banned in abortion facilities now. Students aren’t going to be taught about it in public schools.

WEBER: One of the most important things people can do is inform themselves. People don’t realize to what extent the abortion industry has entrenched itself in this country. People don’t realize how many politicians are beholden to the abortion industry. There is much powerful documentary evidence available about pro-abortion myths from groups such as the Elliot Institute (www.afterabortion.org).

WHITEHEAD: Parents need to teach children their First Amendment right to picket legally. That gets the issue out in public, where the pro-choice movement doesn’t want it. Children need to understand the ramification of where our pro-death culture is headed. There will be no sanctity of human life at all. Our children need to be taught not to compromise their values, as many Christians do when they gain political power.

SINGER: Also we need to pray for and work hard for elected representatives and judges who will see this as the most important moral issue facing our society. If judges are vehemently against the sanctity of life I pray that God removes them from office.

VENTRELLA: There’s a lot of apathy in the church. Life issues are much broader than abortion. Christians need to be prayerful about affirming a culture of life. Christians must be engaged in the culture, vote on critical issues and fund those who are in the battle. We lost most of the earlier battles because Christians didn’t show up. We abdicated our responsibility. Now that we have lawyers who are trained in these areas we need to maintain momentum. God’s people need to repent of their nonchalance and apathy. After they give to their church, Christians should give to organizations involved in this battle.

E-mail your comments to pe@ag.org.

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