Update on Life Issues - July 2001

Triple Dutch - Euthanasia, Premature Babies and Abortion
I have enjoyed several visits to the Netherlands.  I like the Dutch - but what is it with them?  They are such an easy-going people, who often speak English better than many of us.  I am fond of their dairy products and their tomatoes, but I loathe their medical ethics and practices.  Why are they so eager, not only to kill their own citizens, both young and old, but now some of ours too?

On 28 November 2000, the lower house of their Parliament approved a Bill to legalise euthanasia, which was then passed by the Dutch Senate in April 2001.  Thus, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to decriminalise this practice.  So, now the Dutch, including their children as young as sixteen, can legally opt for euthanasia.  However, those aged between twelve and sixteen will first have to obtain the consent of one of their parents!

Some commentators consider that the Dutch have merely codified what already existed in the form of their long-running and informal practice of euthanasia.  For example, the US-based Hemlock Society, responding to this momentous shift in medical ethics, stated, ‘We are very excited.  We have admired what the people of Holland have been doing for the last twenty years.’  But the Dutch have instigated more than just a single law - they have sent out other signals.  As the head of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in Britain commented, ‘A psychological barrier has been broken with the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.  Once one country has accepted the principle and laid it down in law, the question must be, ”Why can’t other countries do the same?”’  Already there are fears from Germany and other countries that Holland will become a centre for ‘death tourism’, with doctors besieged by foreigners travelling there to be euthanased.  In addition, plans have been announced to buy a Dutch-registered ship and set up a floating euthanasia clinic off the Dutch coast to cater for these ‘euthanasia tourists’ - one-way tickets only!

In June 2001, the Dutch did it again.  This time their target was premature babies.  Doctors at the University Medical Centre at Leiden, the leading Dutch centre of neonatology, have decided to stop intensive care treatment for babies born before twenty-five weeks’ gestation.  You would expect, with advances in medical technology and better caring facilities, that the limit would be lowered, rather than raised.  Therefore, is this anything other than backward medicine?  In the UK, no such official cut-off point exists as each baby is individually assessed.  In the United States, the limit tends to be set at twenty-three, or even twenty-two weeks.  And, of course, babies of this gestational age can survive and thrive, especially in big, well-equipped hospitals.  But even if they did not do well, it can never be good medicine to simply put them in the sluice room and ignore their struggling gasps and whimpers.  That is infanticide.

Now the Dutch have scored a triple medical whammy.  In June, a Dutch ship, Aurora, arrived in Dublin harbour.  It was reportedly equipped to carry out as many as twenty abortions a day.  Not content to abort their own little Dutch unborn children, this group of seafaring neo-colonialists, called Woman on Waves, felt the need to kill the Irish too.  The Irish Government and the Irish people have repeatedly and eloquently expressed their opposition to abortion.  However, the whole exercise proved to be little more than a publicity stunt - the threat to perform surgical abortions was subsequently downgraded to dishing out morning-after pills, and then finally, just leaflets.  A bad Dutch joke?  Not really, because there are those in Holland, and elsewhere, who despise the people of Ireland’s strong pro-life convictions and insist that they should, even must, conform to the rest of the world’s culture of death.

Human germline genetic modification
Gene therapy has the potential for exciting developments in medicine.  It has been with us since the 1990s and has produced some treatments, though not as many as initially expected.  Basically, it comes in two forms.  First, there is somatic gene modification, which involves inserting ‘good’ genes into cells that contain ‘defective’ genes, such as bone marrow or skin cells in order to cure thalassemia, which can be a lethal form of anaemia.  Second, there is germline gene modification, which involves gene insertion into germ cells, that is, sperm or ova.  The former protocol is generally ethically unobjectionable and similar to organ transplantation.  This latter is quite different because it is inheritable and therefore akin to eugenics.

Almost ten years ago, Sir Walter Bodmer, the then president of the Human Genome Mapping Organisation (HUGO) said, 'Most of us believe this [germline gene modification] is something we shouldn't do because we don't know enough about it.'  Even Baroness Warnock agreed, but she did not rule it out for all time, nor, in 1994, did the journal, Nature.  Now, in 2001, it has happened.

Scientists from a medical institute in New Jersey have created thirty children, each with genes from three different people.  They are the children’s parents, plus women who have donated parts of their ova, called mitochondria, to be used in a new IVF procedure known as ooplasmic transfer.  The point is that the genetic modifications will be passed on from generation to generation.  Such germline gene modification procedures remain illegal in Britain.  But for how much longer?  Answers on a postcard to me, c/o FIEC Office!

Making men and women
All of us think we know how babies are made.  But I sat down the other day and thought of a dozen or so different ways - one is normal, two are one-offs, never to be repeated, and the rest are artificial and associated with ethical dilemmas.

Think first of Adam.  He was the one-off product of the third definitively creative act of God in Genesis 1.  Initially, there was the creation of the inanimate (Genesis 1:1), then second, conscious life was created (Genesis 1:21), then finally, man and woman were created (Genesis 1:27).  Adam was made from dust of the ground, ‘since from it you were taken’ (Genesis 3:19).  No sperm, no ova involved here, and no belly buttons either.

Then think of the second Adam.  The earthly conception of the second person of the Trinity was also unique and one-off.  True, he had a mother, but one of her ova was fertilised in a unique and mysterious way, ‘… what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 1:20).

As successors in the line of Adam, the vast, vast majority of us have been conceived in that old-fashioned way, which started with Cain - sexual intercourse with one sperm from a husband penetrating one ovum from a wife, and so on.  That is normal, God-given, God-honouring procreation.  And it’s marvellous!

But, conception can occur in numerous other ‘artificial’ ways.  There is the ancient method of artificial insemination, by using the sperm of either the husband (AIH), or a donor (AID).  And there is surrogacy, as old as Abram, Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16).  Then think of all the modern assisted reproductive techniques.  These began with Louise Brown in 1978 as a result of straightforward in vitro fertilisation (IVF).  Now there are a number of IVF variations like, intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT) and (sub-zonal insemination (SUZI).  Then think of reproductive cloning.  The genetic material from an ovum is removed and replaced by that from an adult cell, say, a skin cell.  After some tweaking in the laboratory that ovum can be induced to multiply, and hey presto, a human embryo without sexual intercourse, sperm, or even a man!  True, this procedure is currently banned in Britain, but it will occur somewhere, and sooner than we might fear.  Now, there is yet another way of using adult cells reproductively.  In July 2001, research teams in the US and Australia reported that the genetic material from an adult cell can be used to fertilise a normal ovum and the excess chromosomes ‘kicked out’.  So far, the technique has been tried only on mice.  But it may be possible to treat infertile men or women in this way and any resultant embryos will be genetically theirs.

Biology is being rewritten.  The notions of conception and parenthood are changing.  We may yet meet someone who began their life by either of these strange spermless processes.  After all, we have already met IVF babies, who were, just twenty-five years ago, a mere physiological proposal.

Surrogacy revisited
We have reported on this bizarre practice before.  In my recent book, Responding to the Culture of Death, I included the example of Claire Austin, with the comment that you and I could never dream up such wacky cases.  Just to prove my point, the French have recently tried.  Brother and sister, Jeanine and Robert Salomone, had been refused IVF treatment by European clinics.  So they went to the US instead.  There they lied and said that they were husband and wife.  The IVF was successful and twins, Benoit-David and Marie-Cecile, were born.

But the Salomones wanted only Benoit-David.  Why?  Because only this boy can inherit his elderly grandmother’s £2 million fortune.  Marie-Cecile is not part of their plan, so she will be raised on a different continent, by a different woman.  But the ethical problems do not end there.  The father is also Benoit-David’s uncle, and his twin sister is also his cousin!  Furthermore, poor little Benoit-David is now part of a weirdly dysfunctional family, who have been reported to ‘ferociously hate each other’.

Sex and money are always a potent mix and they have led to the downfall of millions of people.  Why do folk not read their Bibles and learn how to live properly?  Some say, ‘It’s out-of-date and irrelevant.’  Then they should check out Abraham and Sarah’s lies in Genesis 12:13 and 20:2, and their surrogacy pact in Genesis 16, and the subsequent disasters of 16:4-6 and 21:8-11.

Those statistics are getting worse
The Office for National Statistics has recently published the abortion figures for England and Wales for 2000.  The total is up from 183,200 in 1999 to 185,000 in 2000.  The Government’s policy of sex education and freely-available contraceptive services is clearly not having the desired effect.