The Ethics of Killing to Save Life
NCW 69: August 2000 - January 2001
Q. I am sure you have read in the newspapers he case of the British Siamese twins, Marie and Jodie, and the ethical furore that has been generated. Mary has no heart or lungs and is dependent on Jodie. Jodie has her own heart and lungs but the heart is damaged. But both are dangerously short of oxygen and could both die. The British High Court has declared that it is lawful to kill Mary so that Jodie can live but the Catholic Church says it is indefensible to take the life of one person to save another. The parents are Catholics and agree with their church. The children are expected to live no more than six months in their present condition. The British courts say that Jodie's right to life was paramount and that the two should be separated. But even after the separation there is no guarantee Jodie will survive, and may well be a cripple all her life. What is NCCG's view?
A. I often wonder why the Lord causes us to face such serious ethical questions and I have to admit the solution is not easy. I can appreciate ,and sympathise with, both points of view. Were the twins adult and capable of making a decision themselves the issue might be a lot simpler. But they aren't. I could sit here and write a long dissertation arguing both cases but I do not think we would ever come to a final conclusion. The issue, for the Christian at least, is whether we have the right to take the life of a child who has no chance of survival in order to give the other a chance to live. The situation is abnormal in any case since the two babies are not separate individuals - Mary has no lungs or heart of her own and is doomed to die no matter what. The issue is whether, as some commentators are putting it, we can legitimately "play God".
I am not even sure the question is valid. Doctors and relatives frequently find themselves in situations where they are forced to "play God", and in a way that is their stewardship, great and terrible though it may be at times. No matter which solution the parents or doctors opt for it is going to lead to grief because one or both children must die, short of a divine intervention (which is unlikely). Nobody knows what the Lord's purpose is - whether He wants Jodie to live or whether neither are supposed to. But I think we can reasonably ask ourselves the question: "What does God actually expect to come out of this situation?" Why, indeed, has He permitted it in the first place? If you do not believe in divine sovereignty, then of course, the whole thing is an accident, a freak of nature, in which case the High Court Judge must be right. But if God is in control, what might be His reasons? Might He have a purpose for the British public - for the doctors - for the parents - for Christians? Such moral dilemmas cause a lot of soul searching and this must surely be one of the Lord's priorities.
Take this moral dilemma. If the parents had been allowed to have their way and prohibit the doctors from intervening, would they not in effect be "playing God" for both of their daughters? The issue can be viewed from two angles, with the accusation of "playing God" being levelled at proponents of both views.
Then there is the question of medical advance. A few decades ago the question would have been moot since the medical technology to separate twins is a relatively new thing. We are then forced to ask whether God lies behind medical science. If He isn't, then why not let people with any and every illness die and not intervene? I seems to me that Christians have a moral obligation to save life whenever and however they can. In our hearts we know this must be so because the driving force is love, which is of Christ.
Today we live in a world where the state is taking over more and more areas of responsibility that at one time belonged to parents, for good and evil. Children do not today belong to their parents because children have "rights". Ironically, the same attention being given to these twins by the "loving and caring" state is not being given to the unborn, where the state is in effect complicit in murder. Moreover, it is a fact, though predictably denied, that today older people are not considered as "valuable" as younger ones, leading to the neglect of old age pensioners involved in accidents, for example. Furthermore, the state has given the green light to the cloning of foetus stem cells in order to generate new organs for artificial transplants, no doubt, taken from an "aborted foetus" (i.e. murdered unborn child). I also recently read a report which has caused quite a stir because there is now incontrovertible evidence that "foetuses" aborted over 11 weeks ago feel pain in the abortion process. Some abortionists now what to make the anaesthetisation of unborn children over 11 weeks old mandatory to spare them the pain of the abortion process! What perversion has society come to! That is like a murderer giving his victim a general anaesthetic before plunging a dagger into this heart! It's still murder! Or do we now believe in "compassionate murder"?
Cases like Mary and Jothi do not come up too often, thank goodness, but when they do they have the healthy effect of forcing us to dig deep into our consciences. After this deep probe, what have I concluded? In this case - because I think each case must be taken on its own merits - I believe it is morally right to separate the two children and try to save one, but I have to at the same time say that I am only a hair's breadth away from leaving them as they are, according to the parents' wishes. Were both children adult and had their free choice, I feel sure that Robin would wish to lay down her life for her sister. But I could be wrong....
This page was created on 22 January 2001
Last updated on 22 January 2001
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