21 September 2017

Grace & Truth: Sanctity of Life

Medical ethics, particularly issues relating to the sanctity of human life, are increasingly the subject of public debate in our society. We see that debate played out in Parliament, the media and the courts.

As Christians it is vital that we get our own thinking clear from the Bible, before society’s confused attitudes towards human life. So what does the Bible say about human life – about its beginning, its end and its value? God is the sovereign Creator of all. He gives life, He sustains life, and only He has the authority to take it away. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation because Genesis 1:27 reveals that: “God created man in his own image”.

Mankind alone is made in the image of God, and that remains true even after the fall. Man is still noble in his ruin. Because every single human life bears God’s image, it therefore has intrinsic value regardless of how young or old, or how able-bodied or disabled, that life might be. To deliberately destroy a human life is therefore a grave sin. In the Ten Commandments God warns men, “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). The termination of human life is God’s responsibility, not ours. Having given life, life remains His to take away. The author Revd Melvin Tinker has put it this way: “life is not our absolute possession to do with as we see fit, but a gift to be treasured as God has decreed”.

The Bible is also clear about when life begins. Psalm 139 talks of God’s dealings with man even in his mother’s womb. In Psalm 51:5 King David acknowledges, “I was shapened in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me”. The Psalmist refers to himself as a person, using the terms I and me, not only at birth, but also as an embryo from conception. These Bible truths are consistent with human biology. A new unique biological human life is created right at conception. After this point, no new genetic material is added. The fundamental characteristics of the new individual are fixed; including sex, hair colour, eye colour and factors that influence height and build.

Since human life is created in God’s image and intrinsically valuable from conception some conclusions can be drawn:

 abortion (i.e. the destruction of life before birth) is wrong.

 scientific experiments that destroy human embryos or create life by cloning are wrong.

 all forms of euthanasia (i.e. the intentional killing of someone because their life is claimed not to be worth living) are wrong.

Let’s think for a moment about what we find in our society today. Latest figures reveal that one in five pregnancies in Britain now end in abortion. In the year 2010 there were 208,935 abortions carried out in England, Scotland, and Wales.

You may be thinking to yourself, “but surely it can’t be as simple as denouncing abortion as the destruction of life? What about the “hard cases” where the mother’s life is at risk, or where a child is badly handicapped?”

Recent statistics allow those doubts to be put into perspective. Of the abortions performed on residents of the UK mainland in 2010, only 0.02% were carried out because the mother’s life was at risk. The percentage performed on the grounds of foetal handicap was 1.2%. It’s worth remembering that foetal ‘handicap’ can include treatable physical conditions such as cleft palate or hair lip. 98.6% of the abortions to British residents in 2010 were carried out for essentially social reasons.

As Christians we have a responsibility to love our unborn neighbours and to defend the sanctity of all human life from conception. This is true, even if a child might be born with a disability. An unborn child who is handicapped has no less right to life than any other child.

Despite these staggering abortion figures, attempts were made during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2008 to further liberalise the UK’s abortion laws. Six MPs from constituencies in England and Scotland tabled an amendment to impose the 1967 Abortion Act on Northern Ireland. Thankfully, many Christians prayed about the issue and wrote to their MPs, and by God’s grace the parliamentary debate ran out of time before any changes could be voted on.

In recent months public debate on the sanctity of human life has shifted focus to the subject of assisted suicide, a form of euthanasia. Pro-euthanasia campaign groups such as Dignity in Dying, or Healthcare Professionals for Change are making concerted efforts to alter our current legislation which clearly prohibits doctors, or anyone else, from assisting another to commit suicide.

Two years ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales produced official guidance on prosecutions for assisting suicide. We must remember that guidance does not change the law. Assisting someone to end their lives remains illegal. However, the guidance has come under criticism for indicating that those who can demonstrate that they acted out of compassion for the victim may be less likely to face prosecution.

People who contemplate ending their own lives and ask others for assistance are at their most vulnerable and emotional. They need a clear, firm law to protect them in their darkest moments. The law should not affirm the belief that some lives are not worth living. Just like the unborn, the old and frail, the disabled and those with degenerative illnesses are created in God’s image and worthy of dignity and respect.

As Christians, we need to be vigilant in identifying and challenging attitudes in our society, which undermine the sanctity of human life. Please pray that the abortion laws in Northern Ireland will not be weakened, and pray that euthanasia will not become legal anywhere in the UK.

For more information on these, and other, topical issues contact The Christian Institute on 028 9094 1667 or visit www.christian.org.uk.

Callum Webster