Category archives: Life & Bioethics

How Should Christians Think About Biden’s Vaccine Mandate?

by David Closson

September 20, 2021

On September 9, President Joe Biden announced new executive action concerning COVID-19 vaccines. According to the president’s plan, all employers with more than 100 employees must require their workers to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Businesses that do not comply with the rule can be fined up to $14,000 per violation. The new mandate follows a recent mandate that all federal employees receive the vaccine, get tested weekly, or face dismissal from their job. The new regulation is supposed to be drafted and implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor (although some think this is without legal authority). Currently, it is unclear what type of medical, religious, or conscience exemptions will be granted concerning the vaccine mandate.

How should Christians respond to President Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate? Specifically, how should Christians think about religious exemptions and accommodations? Admittedly, these are complex questions on which many biblically grounded Christians differ. But given the scope and far-reaching consequences for civil liberties, conscience rights, religious freedom, and the ability of families to make health decisions, these questions deserve careful consideration and reflection.

Legal Concerns

First, there are serious concerns that President Biden’s vaccine mandate is illegal and unconstitutional. No federal statute or constitutional provision expressly gives the president the authority to impose a sweeping vaccine mandate on private businesses and their employees in this manner, and the Biden administration has an extremely questionable reading of the statute they claim gives him this authority. Some states have already threatened to sue.

At the very least, Christians should be aware of the legal and constitutional concerns related to the president’s order. Once the new rule goes into effect, the mandate might not withstand the likely barrage of lawsuits challenging its legality.

Role of Government

Second, questions about the legality and constitutionality of President Biden’s vaccine mandate should prompt Christians to think about the proper role of government. The Bible teaches that government has been ordained by God. According to Paul, “Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13:2, ESV). In the United States, the primary governing authority is the U.S. Constitution. This means that when a president or any government official pursues a policy that oversteps their prescribed realm of authority, they are acting unlawfully. Of course, when our elected officials issue directives within their rightful scope of authority, Christians are bound to comply, so long as obeying does not require us to sin against God, a Christian’s highest authority (Acts 5:29).  

But do we have an obligation to automatically and always obey the government? Similarly, how should Christians respond if a mandate or law is not illegal, but they personally don’t like the law or find it inconvenient? For example, what’s the proper Christian response if the government were to mandate a weekly exercise routine or require its citizens to wear pink hats on Thursday?  On these questions, Christians should be humble and willing to learn from one another. We should also endeavor to think biblically about the role and purpose of government. 

One helpful way to think biblically about the role of government is through the concept of sphere sovereignty, a philosophy of society developed by Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). According to Kuyper, life is divided into distinct, autonomous jurisdictions such as the state, family, church, and the individual. Although these spheres interact and may even overlap at points, there are clear lines of demarcation related to sovereignty that should not be crossed. For Kuyper, the state is empowered with limited oversight responsibility over the other spheres. However, the state’s authority is derivative, and dependent on God. Thus, the state must never attempt to monopolize power. Moreover, the state should respect the sovereignty of the individual. The state may intervene when a dispute arises between individuals and other spheres, but the state must never assume an outsized role and take over the tasks of society.

In short, sphere sovereignty is a model of diffused power that Kuyper believed was rooted in the structure of nature. Because authority is distributed across society’s vast array of institutions, no single entity or sphere accumulates ultimate sovereignty. Consequently, God’s position as supreme sovereign is preserved. Kuyper’s reflections are helpful when applied to the role of government. In fact, Kuyper’s thought follows the logic of Romans 13 which teaches that the state exists to punish evildoers and exact God’s wrath on those who do wrong (v. 4). Romans 13 does not teach that Christians should uncritically comply with the state no matter what is being demanded. As theologian Thomas Schreiner explains, “[Romans 13] is a general exhortation that delineates what is usually the case: people should normally obey the governing authorities.” In other words, the God-delegated purpose of the governing authorities is to punish evildoers and reward those who do good.

An implication of these principles is that when the government goes beyond its prescribed limits, it is acting unjustly and loses legitimacy. Applying the logic of sphere sovereignty to the vaccine mandate, the government does not have the authority to force us to inject a substance into our bodies that we do not consent to. This is outside the government’s jurisdiction, so it is appropriate for individuals to be wary about forced vaccination. The issue of bodily integrity is important, and Christians should be very concerned when the government oversteps its jurisdiction into the realm of the family and individual.

Of course, it is important to note that this appeal to bodily integrity is different than the popular but logically flawed pro-abortion slogan “my body, my choice.” For one, abortion deals with two bodies: the mothers’ and her child’s. The mother and child are two separate people; they are genetically distinct. Abortion violently destroys the body of the unborn child and interrupts the natural process of pregnancy, permanently severing the relationship between mother and child.

Political Concerns

Third, there are relevant political considerations related to the president’s mandate. In short, if Joe Biden can enact a mandate as broad and sweeping as this one, is there a mandate that this president or a future president can’t hand down in the name of public health? What’s the limit to what the president can compel American families and private companies to do? As it stands, the president’s mandate would affect about 100 million people. This fact alone necessitates careful consideration of the scope of presidential authority and power.

It is worth noting that the president’s directive is far more extreme than the orders handed down by Democrat governors and mayors. Throughout the pandemic, Democrat leaders have embraced measures such as mask mandates, lockdowns, and school closures. But the president’s mandate goes even further. In fact, Biden’s heavy-handed action threatens to increase vaccine hesitancy rather than persuade the unvaccinated to comply with the order.

Conscience Concerns

Fourth, questions about religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate have prompted debate in the wider society, including among Christians. Notably, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids Christians from getting vaccinated. Many Christians, citing verses like Philippians 2:4 (“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”), have cheerfully received COVID-19 vaccines out of a desire to protect not only their own health but also the health of their loved ones and neighbors. Meanwhile, other believers have reservations or sincerely held conscience objections to receiving the vaccine, believing it is morally impermissible or not right for them.

If there are no clear biblical admonitions against receiving a vaccine, are there any grounds for a religious exemption? On this question, Alliance Defending Freedom, an influential Christian legal group, provides the following advice:

You must first determine if your objection is based on a sincerely held religious belief against taking any of the available vaccines (since they are different), or whether your objections are based on other medical, health, cultural, or political, but not religious, concerns. Many people have medical or other concerns which do not rise to the level of an actual religious belief. A belief that taking a vaccine is unwise or could be harmful will normally be considered a medical or health objection, not a religious objection.

While the objections of some Christians to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine are rooted in medical, personal, and political concerns, the concerns of others qualify for what might be called “conscience objections.” Like religious beliefs, conscience claims are deeply personal and connected to the core of a person. Now, when talking about conscience, as with anything, it is important to define our terms. In short, Christians believe conscience is a God-given internal faculty that guides moral decision-making. Our conscience convicts us when we do something wrong. A rightly functioning conscience inflicts distress, in the form of guilt, shame, or remorse, whenever we violate what we believe is a morally appropriate course of action.

Significantly, Christians believe that to willfully act against one’s conscience is sinful. Romans 14:23 teaches that “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” This admonition seems especially pertinent when the action involves something as personal as injecting something into one’s body which, according to Scripture, is a “temple of the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:19). In other words, Christians believe it is sinful to do something that goes against their conscience; therefore, it is morally wrong to force anyone to do something that violates their conscience. In the context of the vaccine mandate, it seems appropriate to honor and respect those who have legitimate, morally informed reasons for receiving or not receiving a vaccine.

Abortion Concerns

Fifth, when it comes to religious freedom concerns and the vaccine, concern about complicity with abortion has been raised. On this front, it is worth noting that for 2,000 years, Christians have been clear on their convictions about abortion (i.e., the intentional killing of unborn children in the womb). According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, fetal cell lines were used in the development and production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, and fetal cell lines were used in the testing of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines (but not in the vaccines themselves). Passages from the Bible—including Exodus 21:22-25; Psalm 51:5-6, 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5; and Luke 1:39-45—affirm the personhood of the unborn. Many who believe in the sanctity of life sincerely believe it is inappropriate to have even the slightest connection with abortion, even if that connection is remote. For that reason, some have chosen to forego a vaccine while many other pro-life Americans have chosen to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to the latter’s use of fetal cell lines in its development and production.

Finally, as a general note, when abortion-derived cell lines are used in the development, production, or testing of vaccines, the Christian community—including those who chose to get vaccines—should express disapproval about the continued use of these cell lines and request that laboratories and pharmaceutical companies not use these cell lines in the future.

Final Reflections

In short, President Biden’s vaccine mandate has proven to be divisive and frustrating to millions of Americans. After months of promising that his administration would not mandate vaccines, Biden has done an about-face. (As recently as July, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about vaccine mandates and responded, “Can we mandate vaccines across the country? No. That’s not a role that the federal government, I think, even has the power to make.”) Many Americans are understandably outraged. As those called to take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5), Christians cannot respond to the vaccine mandate simply out of emotion but must think carefully and biblically about the announcement. Legal challenges will determine whether the order is constitutional and therefore enforceable.

But beyond the specifics of the mandate, Christians should think biblically about the role and authority of government as well as the propriety and wisdom of appealing to religious freedom exemptions. Religious freedom is a precious right afforded to those who live in this country and should never be abused. Although some Christians think it is unwise to appeal to religious freedom exemptions when the Bible does not prohibit vaccines, it is nonetheless the case that millions of Christians believe taking a COVID-19 vaccine is not the right decision for their health or have sincere conscience objections to being forced to do something they deem even remotely connected to an immoral practice such as abortion. Therefore, rather than bully, cajole, or coerce our fellow Americans, it seems prudent to respect each other’s religious beliefs, consciences, and moral convictions concerning vaccines.

The UK Is at a Crossroads of Conscience Concerning Assisted Suicide

by Arielle Del Turco

September 16, 2021

A bill proposed in the Scottish Parliament would legalize physician-assisted suicide, adding Scotland to a growing list of countries that allow the practice. What the Scottish Parliament eventually decides to do with the bill will reveal something about the conscience of the nation. Will Scots choose to tell their fellow man their lives are worth living, or not?

Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament, proposed the bill, which would allow terminally ill patients thought to have six months or less to live to choose to end their lives. All forms of assisted suicide are currently illegal across the United Kingdom (UK), but recent polling suggests the UK public is increasingly favorable towards the practice.

Critics of the bill from the medical field say that policies allowing for physician-assisted suicide fundamentally reorient the purpose of medical care. In July, 200 medical professionals signed an open letter opposing the bill, saying, “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life.”

The bill in the Scottish Parliament is part of a wider push for assisted suicide across the United Kingdom. Baroness Meacher introduced a bill in the UK Parliament in May that would similarly legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, demonstrating a failure to acknowledge that any person—even those who are terminally ill—who seeks to end his life is in need of love, support, and treatment for depression.

UK Bishop John Sherrington warned of the dangers of a gradual expansion of the criteria by which one might be eligible for physician-assisted suicide. Indeed, other European countries have slipped further down this dangerous slope. For example, Belgium and the Netherlands allow physician-assisted suicide for psychiatric reasons, even for patients in perfect physical health. Such an allowance makes it clear that a state’s endorsement of assisted suicide is really an endorsement of all suicide. Not surprisingly, both countries have seen a sharp rise in assisted suicide in recent years.  

A major victory for proponents of assisted suicide was announced on September 14 when the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue when they had previously been against it. The vote was narrow—with 49 percent of the association in favor and 48 percent against the “neutral” stance—but the effects will be substantial. Members of Parliament had often pointed to the medical community’s opposition to assisted suicide when Parliament voted against it previously.

Proponents of assisted suicide say they are motivated to end physical suffering. But the reality is that many patients who choose assisted suicide do not cite pain as the primary reason. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund reports:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the people in Oregon who have reportedly used that state’s assisted suicide law wanted to die not because of pain, but for reasons associated with disability, including the loss of autonomy (89.9 percent), the loss of the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable (87.4 percent), the loss of dignity (83.8 percent), and the loss of control of bodily functions (58.7 percent). Furthermore, in the Netherlands, more than half the physicians surveyed say the main reason given by patients for seeking death is “loss of dignity.”

The legalization of assisted suicide is intrinsically linked with devaluing the lives of people living with disabilities. While the reasons many people choose assisted suicide are not related to pain and suffering, they are related to struggles people with a disability face every day. Although not everyone with a disability has a terminal illness, everyone with a terminal illness eventually develops a disability. Society cannot condone those with terminal illnesses killing themselves without simultaneously condoning those with disabilities killing themselves. The message to those with disabilities is loud and clear: a life with a disability is not worth living. 

In addition, a 2007 study about assisted suicide patients in the state of Oregon found that 45 percent of assisted suicide patients made that choice out of fear of becoming a burden to their families. Thus, assisted suicide does not primarily serve to end suffering, as its advocates would have us believe.

Elderly patients, especially those who fear being a burden, are vulnerable to manipulation or family pressure, and it can be difficult to comprehensively safeguard against this. Even knowing that assisted suicide is an option can pressure some people into choosing death if they think they will become a future burden to their family or society. Instead of offering them assisted suicide, these concerns should be met with assurances that their lives are worth living and that we are prepared to love and support them to the end.

At its core, assisted suicide promotes a false compassion. It benefits caretakers or families who prefer not to observe or care for someone experiencing trials at the end of their lives, rather than the patients themselves. We ought instead to exercise true compassion, the root of which means to “suffer with.”

Even if assisted suicide was primarily utilized to end suffering, it focuses the efforts of doctors, medical professionals, policymakers, and others toward the wrong goal. The goal ought not to be ending human suffering at all costs. In a broken world, suffering will always be with us.

An appropriate goal that truly treats humans with dignity is to love people well by providing everyone with the best medical care, emotional and spiritual resources, and community support possible until their lives come to natural ends.

Doctors should be focused on healing patients and enabling them to live as well as they can for as long as they can. Premature death is not an equally valid option in the category of health care—rather, it sidesteps health care entirely.

The Scottish Parliament will debate the issue this fall, and the UK House of Lords will debate its bill later this year. One thing is for sure—this issue will test the conscience of the people. Concerned individuals should reach out to their members of Parliament about the dangers of assisted suicide and the value of all human life.

Those in favor of assisted suicide have co-opted the phrase “death with dignity,” but they fail to recognize that human dignity cannot be taken away by life’s circumstances.  It is because human beings have dignity that all people must be loved, supported, and cared for until natural death.

Suicide (Including Physician-Assisted) Is Never the Answer

by Joy Zavalick

September 9, 2021

In the U.S., the week of September 5-11 marks National Suicide Prevention Week. Suicide is an indisputably painful topic to consider, summoning grief for all those who have lost a loved one to it. This tragedy does not take only one form, however; even as the nation remembers those who grievously have been taken by suicide, a steadily increasing number of states have created an avenue for legal physician-assisted suicide (PAS).

When Oregon passed the nation’s first Death With Dignity Act in 1997, it was an anomaly that can be traced as a root cause of the pervasive devaluing of human life we see in America. Following this legislative model, nine other states and the District of Columbia have created “death with dignity” statutes or provided state Supreme Court protection for PAS: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington. Perhaps most alarmingly, seven of these 11 jurisdictions have created their provisions since 2016.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness states their desire for “any person experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors to have a number to call, a system to turn to, that would connect them to the treatment and support they need.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden claims that his state’s Death With Dignity Act “has helped to improve end-of-life health care for thousands of Oregonians. We are proud Oregon leads the way […] providing peace of mind for the terminally ill.”

Though the soothing language of these two perspectives is similar, their messages are decisively contrary; the former urges patients to resist suicidal thoughts, while the latter encourages their fulfillment.

The paradox of the American desire to prevent suicide, while simultaneously creating legal avenues for it, demonstrates a deep disparity between the proclaimed values of the nation and the legislation being passed by its representatives. It is illogical to oppose suicide when a healthy individual performs it, but to champion the “right” to commit it when a person is terminally ill.

Though advocates for these laws cry “Death with dignity,” the message they send to those with terminal illnesses is that their lives are burdensome, unworthy, and less dignified than everyone else’s. When considering that those struggling with depression are more likely to request assisted suicide, it is clear that causing vulnerable patients to regard their own lives as less worthwhile  creates the demand for PAS.

Consistent messaging about the purpose that every human life possesses is crucial in order to successfully advocate for suicide prevention. If terminally ill patients are told that they qualify to end their own lives due to physical suffering or deterioration, how can mentally ill individuals be told to turn away from suicidal thoughts caused by their mental strife? The increasing prevalence of PAS in the states contradicts the culture of suicide prevention, which is so widely accepted that the nation designates a week to recognize it.

The Death With Dignity National Center, which advocates for the legalization of PAS across the states, ironically advises those who have not yet received their suicide prescription, “While you are waiting, don’t forget to live your life and look for a little bit of joy in every day.” Outside of the context of PAS, this advice would ring true; actual “death with dignity” must come naturally, and the life that exists before it must be treasured and lived abundantly.

In order to appropriately recognize the worth and purpose of human life, we must ban PAS and take a consistent stance in opposition to all forms of suicide.

Joy Zavalick is Research Assistant for the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council.

Explainer: What Is Happening with Texas’ New Pro-Life Law?

by Katherine Beck Johnson

September 2, 2021

Roe v. Wade resulted from a challenge to a pro-life Texas law. Forty-eight years later, Texas is once again protecting life—but this time, so far, the U.S. Supreme Court has let those protections stand. Texas recently passed a law (known as Senate Bill 8) that restricts abortion after a heartbeat has been detected in the unborn child. This usually occurs around six weeks. It’s a strong law that protects the most vulnerable. Texas passed the law in the spring, and Governor Abbott signed it in May, days after the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in the abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency injunction that would prevent the Texas law from going into effect. In past abortion cases, such as June Medical v. Russo (June Medical v. Gee at the time), the Court has stepped in before the pro-life bill took effect and blocked it. Texas had until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, August 31, to respond to Planned Parenthood’s emergency injunction request. Texas responded by saying that Planned Parenthood had no standing to bring the case. That is, they had no right to sue. Many stayed up until midnight on the evening of August 31 to see if the bill would go into effect or whether it would be blocked before it was set to become law on September 1. The Court did not issue any ruling as of midnight, so Texas has officially become the first state to successfully outlaw abortion past six weeks.

What’s different about the Texas law? It is enforced differently than most pro-life laws. Usually, if someone is challenging a state law, the state officials are the defendants. The Texas law actually bars state actors from enforcing it and instead allows private citizens to sue anyone who carries out an abortion procedure or anyone who “aids or abets” one. In theory, an abortionist will violate this law and then be sued by a private citizen. Women cannot be sued for attempting to obtain an abortion. But abortionists, clinic workers, and people who offer to pay for an abortion are just a few examples of parties who could be held legally liable for aiding an abortion.

As of right now, abortion is illegal in Texas after six weeks—for the first time since Roe v. Wade. Indeed, this is the first time in 48 years that the unborn have been protected anywhere in America starting at six weeks. This is reason for great hope and reminds us that one day, elective abortion could be illegal in America. The U.S. Supreme Court is still expected to give an answer on this law, so we will stay tuned to how they rule. But for now, lives are being saved in Texas. Abortion appointments scheduled for today are being canceled, and there will be a larger need for the pro-life community in Texas to help even more women who find themselves in unplanned pregnancies.

This is a beautiful and victorious moment in our country. We celebrate the lives saved thanks to the courage and boldness of the Lone Star State.

UPDATE: In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Texas law can remain in effect. Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Barrett, and Kavanaugh have allowed the Texas law to remain enforceable, while Justices Roberts, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor would have stayed the law. The majority did not rule on the substance of the law but rather sided with what Texas had argued: it’s unclear whether the named defendants can or will seek to enforce the Texas statute. For example, Planned Parenthood named a pro-life advocate as a defendant because they believe he is likely to enforce the statute. The Court rightly rejected this argument. The minority would have blocked the law while litigation took place below. Thankfully, they fell one vote short of a majority.

This means that while litigation continues regarding the Texas heartbeat ban on the merits, Texas will remain essentially abortion-free. A brilliant litigation strategy has led to many abortion appointments being canceled and lives saved. It’s a beautiful opportunity to show the country how valuing and supporting life should become the norm in every state. The unborn in Texas live another day, and that is a historic and beautiful victory.

Cuomo’s Disgrace Should Not Surprise Anyone

by Joy Zavalick

August 31, 2021

The disgraced former governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, was deftly swept out of the forefront of the news last week when his former lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, was sworn in as the state’s 57th governor. With the media busy celebrating the establishment of the state’s first female governor, the troubling administration of the past 10 years has been allowed to fade into the shadows.

However, it is important to recognize the shameful legacy Cuomo leaves behind him. The sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo and his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic are only the latest indications of a pattern of disregard for the wellbeing of women and the dignity of human life throughout his decade as governor.

For example, a defining moment of Cuomo’s political career occurred in 2019 when he championed the Reproductive Health Act, which codified the default abortion standards of Roe v. Wade in New York. This law provided a route for women to receive late term abortions by removing restrictions on abortions after 24 weeks. This law also effectively allows a woman to access abortion up until the point of birth, so long as she claims her pregnancy poses a risk to her life or health. Because the law failed to clearly define what standards qualified as a threat to the mother’s health, women in New York can use any degree of mental or emotional stress to obtain a late-term abortion.

The law Cuomo signed also repealed the section of the New York public health code that provided protections for infants born alive after a failed abortion attempt. In combination with the expansion of opportunities for women to receive traumatizing late-term abortions, it is clear that the Reproductive Health Act undermines the human dignity of unborn children, abortion survivors, and mothers.

This law is particularly relevant as the nation awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center, which directly challenges Roe v. Wade by considering whether states can create pre-viability restrictions on abortion. Because the Reproductive Health Act codified abortion rights in the state, New Yorkers would maintain access to abortion even if the Court overturned Roe.

To celebrate the ghoulish late-term abortion law’s passage, Cuomo ordered the One World Trade Center to be lit up pink. This revelry in unrestricted access to abortion contradicted what Cuomo claimed to be his personal morality, as he stated, “I have my own Catholic beliefs, how I live my life […] That is my business as a Catholic. I don’t govern as a Catholic.”

Cuomo further demonstrated his lack of respect for human life in 2020 when he placed COVID-positive patients in New York nursing homes, jeopardizing the lives of elderly residents who were already at increased risk of contracting the virus. His team has since attempted to cover up the number of elderly people who died as a result of this careless move. In her first week as governor, Hochul has already released an updated COVID mortality statistic, showing an additional 12,000 deaths that Cuomo kept hidden from the public as recently as last Monday. Cuomo proved that he has no regard for the dignity of the human person from the beginning to the end of life; it is no surprise, then, to discover his harassment of those at the stages in between as well.

Galatians 6:7 (ESV) says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Former Governor Cuomo is reaping the consequences for his consistently unethical behavior throughout his tenure in office. The signs have always been there—he has been sowing his disgrace before the eyes of the nation the whole time. When politicians show their true colors in their policy decisions, we ought not to be shocked when their unethical and immoral behavior in private is revealed.

University of Pittsburgh Succumbs to Moral Depravity

by Joy Zavalick

August 17, 2021

The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) continues to demonstrate the depths of human depravity through their unethical experimentation on human fetal tissue derived from abortions. In a horrifying twist, new reports have emerged showing that the university is extracting organs from viable preborn or born infants for use in its GenitoUrinary Developmental Molecular Anatomy Project (GUDMAP).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initially attempted to conceal Pitt’s incriminating grant application. Judicial Watch and the Center for Medical Progress have successfully obtained the documentation, however, following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Among other things, the application stated the university’s intention of becoming a human fetal tissue “hub.” Judicial Watch reported that the nearly $3 million in federal grants Pitt received funded its collection of human fetal tissue, some of which is obtained around 42 weeks gestation—that’s 20 weeks after infants are viable to survive outside the womb.

Multiple physicians have weighed in on the content of Pitt’s grant application. Pitt’s goal was to minimize “ischemia time,” which it claimed to be “the time after tissue collection procedure and before cooling for storage and transport.” In reality, NIH defines ischemia as a “lack of blood supply to a part of the body.” As the Center for Medical Progress commented, “the fetal organs do not undergo ischemia—lose their blood supply—until ‘after the tissue collection procedure.’ This means the organs are still receiving blood supply from the fetal heartbeat during the “tissue collection.” The consensus among both pro-abortion and pro-life OB-GYNs affirms that the university’s statements on ischemia made it clear that the tissue collection in question was being carried out on either live infants or those aborted via illegal partial-birth procedures.

The University of Pittsburgh also set racial quotas for the fetal tissue they collected—50 percent from white aborted infants and 50 percent from minority aborted infants. Targeting minority communities is a favorite habit of the abortion industry, which places 79 percent of surgical abortion facilities within walking distance of minority neighborhoods.

The recent revelations about the University of Pittsburgh cast a dark cloud on the institution’s once-noble reputation for medical advancement. In the 1940s and 50s, the formation of Jonas Salk’s research team at Pitt led to the development of the polio vaccine, allowing for a world where those who receive the vaccine are 99 to 100 percent protected from the crippling disease.

The university’s descent into depravity hit a notable milestone in the fall of 2020 when researchers published a study in which the scalps of aborted human infants had been grafted onto rodent bodies. Coupled with the disturbing fetal tissue “hub” that Pitt has worked to create through harvesting organs from live infants or illegal partial-birth abortions, it is undeniable that the modern activity of the university dishonors the memory of the ethical scientists of Pitt’s past. The craving for scientific discovery has evidently overcome the consciences of Pitt researchers, leading them to use whatever barbaric means necessary to pursue their goals.

The university has been able to receive taxpayer funding for these unethical research projects because of a lack of federal policies protecting fetal dignity. Pitt’s applications for fetal tissue grants date back to 2015 under President Obama, who repealed President Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research and had no prohibitions on aborted fetal tissue research. It was not until the summer of 2019 that President Trump issued a strong executive policy precedent that restricted federal funds from being used to support research on aborted fetal tissue. The policy allowed researchers to use ethically obtained, donated fetal tissue derived from miscarriages and stillbirths. The Biden administration moved to repeal Trump’s policy in April 2021, once again opening the door for taxpayer dollars to fund the horrific projects of Pitt researchers.

It is deeply ironic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can claim on its “Infant Loss” webpage that “the loss of a baby during pregnancy remains a sad reality for many families” as other federal agencies are funding the killing and organ harvesting of viable babies for scientific research. If legislators are genuinely grieved by the tragic loss of life due to miscarriages and stillbirths, then they ought to be equally grieved by the loss of those aborted for their body parts. It is high time for our elected officials to adhere to a consistent ethic, one that values all human life and holds our scientific community and government agencies accountable.

To take action, sign this open letter to the University of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania state legislature demanding that they stop experimenting with aborted babies.

Embracing Modern Science Means Overturning Roe

by Joy Zavalick

July 23, 2021

In 1973, the Supreme Court handed down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision allowing for virtually unlimited access to abortion through nine months of pregnancy. The Court justified this decision by sidestepping the matter of whether children in the womb are alive. As Justice White explained in his Roe dissent, “The Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries.”

The Roe decision to prioritize mothers seeking elective abortions rests on the outdated scientific opinions available to the Court in 1973. The Court fallaciously appealed to ignorance by permitting abortion based on a lack of knowledge about when life begins. In the opinion of the Court, Justice Blackmun wrote, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. […] The judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

There can be no doubt, however, that the human understanding of the world has shifted immeasurably in the past 48 years.

In 1973, the disposable camera was 13 years away from being invented, and the rings of Neptune would not be discovered for another decade. The Walkman would not hit the market until 1979. Doctors still operated on infants without anesthesia because they were not yet aware that babies could feel pain.

In terms of science and technological advancements, the practices of 1973 ought not govern the modern world. As lessons are learned and further information is gained, it is senseless to maintain outdated practices. When DNA fingerprinting was discovered in 1984, forensic teams did not insist on maintaining their current practices for the next 50 years; rather, the technology solved its first murder case two years later.

In 2021, the science is clearer than ever that infants in the womb are alive from the point of conception. A modern understanding of DNA reveals that human zygotes have completely unique genetic compositions, determining traits from eye color to aspects of personality, from the very point that they are fertilized. A 2019 study emphasizes that light is visible to children in the womb even as their eyes are closed.

The contemporary practices of prenatal health care have greatly adapted as well. Though the point of viability was thought to be at 28 weeks in 1973, it is now known to be at 22 weeks. The most premature infant to survive was born in 1987 at just 21 weeks gestation. Fetal surgery performed on children in the womb has successfully treated a host of developmental conditions, including spina bifida. Based on the Roe decision, which refused to consider whether infants in the womb were alive, children of the same age to be born or receive operations can just as easily be electively aborted at the mother’s discretion.

The case for reevaluating the substance of Roe is clear. Just as textbooks are updated when new facts become available to ensure that children learn the most recent information, the modern Court’s rulings must be based on current knowledge rather than the claim to ignorance of the Court in 1973. Legal precedent must not triumph over the necessity to acknowledge modern science.

As the Supreme Court will soon consider a direct challenge to Roe in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, they face a pivotal decision: abide by the outdated excuses of 1973, or recognize the evidence presented by modern science and act accordingly. Americans, particularly the unborn ones, deserve to live by the best modern practices of human knowledge, which unequivocally affirms that babies in the womb are alive.

For more information on why Roe should be overturned, see FRC’s issue analysis.

Joy Zavalick is an intern with the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council.

Human-Animal Chimeras Are a Bioethical Nightmare

by Joy Zavalick

June 16, 2021

Family Research Council has published a new resource outlining the ethical considerations of human-animal chimera research. In this report, Mary Szoch explains that these lab-developed interspecies creatures are composed of both human and animal DNA.

The report highlights that though the National Institutes of Health (NIH) currently bans federal funding for this area of experimentation, mounting pressure from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) and the apathy of the Biden administration pose risks to the ethical future of federally funded research. A recent amendment introduced by Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) that would have banned the creation of human-animal chimeras failed to pass the Senate in a 49-48 party line vote, demonstrating the political division surrounding this issue.

Human-Animal Chimeras: Unethical and Unnecessary delves into the research that has continually blurred ethical lines in the pursuit of “successful” trials and the progression of chimera experimentation. It describes the creation of the 14-Day Rule in 1979, which limits the sustaining of human embryos in vitro to 14 days after fertilization.

When researchers succeeded in sustaining an embryo past nine days in 2016, however, this rule was revisited by the NIH to consider extending researchers the freedom to continue their trials past 14 days. Mary Szoch writes that, “the 14-Day Rule was simply an arbitrary marker allowing scientists to advance to the point science allowed while simultaneously professing that there were ethical limits to the research.” The NIH is once again reconsidering the rule after a scientist partnering with China succeeded in sustaining a human-monkey chimera embryo to 20 days.

The report also considers the purported purpose of human-animal chimera research that occurs despite lack of current federal funding. There is nothing useful to glean from using interspecies chimeras to study human diseases since the research will not consider the factors unique to actual human beings, such as genetic makeup, environment, and diet.

Perhaps most significantly, the report lists major ethical concerns posed by the development of a creature that is part human and part animal: “Is this new creature classified as a human, animal, or both? Will this creature be self-aware? […] Is it ethical to create an organism that has some human characteristics only for the purpose of studying it and using its parts?”

A key conclusion that this report draws from the capricious ethical standards for experimentation with human embryonic cells is that researchers must weigh whether they “should” do something just because they “can” do something.

Christians evaluating the progression of human-chimera research ought to consider 1 Corinthians 6:12, which states, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” As believers inhabit a fallen world, they must carefully consider the morality of every decision and advocate for justice when institutions permit evil—especially an evil that denies the dignity of the human person.

Targeting the Vulnerable: Euthanasia in Nazi Germany

by Arielle Del Turco

January 27, 2021

Today, January 27, is commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the innocent people murdered by the Nazi regime—mostly Jews, but also Roma, Germans with disabilities, Slavic peoples, and others. Among those the Nazis targeted for extermination were the most vulnerable in society, through a vile program often neglected by our history books—Aktion T4.

On the fourth floor of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there is a small exhibit featuring an old hospital bed, hospital gown, and straps used to hold patients down in their beds.

An image behind the exhibit depicts a psychiatric clinic in a residential area. From the clinic rises pitch-black smoke normally associated with the Nazi death camp crematoriums that disposed of the murdered victims of the “Final Solution.” This clinic was not an extermination camp, but a place where the sick would go seeking help and healing. However, a horror similar to that of the camps was unfolding at this clinic.

Rather than receive medical care, hundreds of thousands of patients who visited institutions like this one in Nazi Germany were murdered. Designed to eliminate what eugenicists considered “life unworthy of life,” the Nazi euthanasia program targeted both children and adults with psychiatric, neurological, or physical disabilities. The Nazi’s vision to create an Aryan “master race” required the removal of “undesirable” individuals—those they callously determined to be burdens on German society.

Codenamed “T4” after Tiergartenstrasse 4, the location of its Berlin office, an immense bureaucracy involving doctors, nurses, social workers, professors, and others was established to quietly murder approximately 250,000 people with disabilities. Beginning in October 1939, the program was in effect until May 29, 1945, when 4-year-old Richard Jenne became its last victim.

The euthanasia program targeted institutionalized patients with disabilities or mental illness. Questionnaires asked if such patients had non-Aryan blood, regularly received visitors, or had the capacity to work. Three-physician panels determined whether the patients would live or die based on the answers.

Gassing was used to kill the victims until the Nazis changed tactics and either gave purposeful overdoses or allowed victims to starve or die of neglect. Physicians oversaw the killings, lending the veneer of medical procedures.

The program’s large scale made it impossible to hide from the German people and attempts at concealment were often clumsy. Officials might write to inform loved ones that their institutionalized family member had died of appendicitis, despite their appendix having already been removed years prior. Such tragic accounts often made their way to Catholic and Protestant leaders, who spoke out against the brutality on several occasions.

Notably, Cardinal August von Galen, Bishop of Munster, gave an exceptionally bold sermon condemning the euthanasia program on August 3, 1941.

If it is once admitted that men have the right to kill “unproductive” fellow-men—even though it is at present applied only to poor and defenseless mentally ill patients—then the way is open for the murder of all “unproductive” men and women: the incurably ill, the handicapped who are unable to work, those disabled in industry or war. The way is open, indeed, for the murder of all of us when we become old and infirm and therefore “unproductive”…

Woe betide mankind, woe betide our German people, if the divine commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” which the Lord proclaimed on Sinai amid thunder and lightning, which God our Creator wrote into man’s conscience from the beginning, if this commandment is not merely violated but the violation is tolerated and remains unpunished!

Thought to be too popular to punish harshly, the Cardinal was placed under virtual house arrest. Yet, his sermon was widely distributed across Germany to the outrage of Nazi officials.

By pursuing a “perfect” society, Nazis destroyed something infinitely valuable—human life.  Such a society could never have been ideal—it would have lacked the value that would have been added by the individuals they worked to destroy. For those who have family members with disabilities, it is often easy to see how they make the lives of those around them better.

Humans are flawed, and a utopian society cannot be forged by human willpower in a world corrupted by sin. As Cardinal Galen suggested, if we were to eliminate all imperfect people, everyone would be a target because we are all imperfect. At the same time, every person is made in the image of God—inherently valuable and deserving of love and care. Members of society who need more assistance ought to be protected and empowered, not eliminated. 

National Disabilities Day Should Be a Celebration of ALL Human Life

by Mary Szoch

December 3, 2020

On this National Disabilities Day, I’m struck by a great paradox. Today, in the United States and in many countries around the world, people with both physical and intellectual disabilities have more opportunities than ever before. Mass institutionalization of people with disabilities is a thing of the past. Workplaces have anti-discrimination policies that protect people with disabilities from unfair treatment. Sports for people with disabilities have become a worldwide norm. Universities are developing programs for people with intellectual disabilities. The “r-word” is largely recognized as derogatory and dehumanizing. And yet, while our society has come so far in its treatment of people with disabilities who are born, we have utterly failed to protect these people’s most basic right—the right to life.

A few weeks ago, an article titled, “The Last Children of Down Syndrome” appeared in The Atlantic. The article stated that because 95 percent of women in Denmark who receive a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to abort, only 18 babies with Down syndrome were born in Denmark last year. The article noted that in the United States, 67 percent of children pre-natally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. In 2018, a press release from the government of Iceland noted that because of pre-natal screening, only 2-3 babies with Down syndrome are born in Iceland each year. While our society has recognized that people with disabilities who are already born have countless gifts to offer—we’ve missed the most basic point. People, regardless of what they can or cannot do, deserve to live.

My older sister, Marita, has multiple physical and intellectual disabilities. While she does not have Down syndrome, she has a genetic disorder very similar to it. Her life, though certainly not an easy one, is filled with joy. She has had more surgeries than I can count. Tying her shoes and cutting her food are mountains she climbs daily. Getting out a thought sometimes takes her several minutes. Marita struggles to do the things most people take for granted with one major exception. Marita does not struggle to love. No, loving is something Marita does better than anyone I know. If you walk into the room with a smile on your face, you are immediately her friend. About five minutes after meeting you, she’s likely to give you a hug and tell you she loves you. If you wrong her, it’s forgotten the moment you apologize. If you do something to make her feel special—she’ll remember it for life. 

Marita loves so well and so easily not in spite of the disabilities that have made her life so challenging but because of them. To love, we have to be vulnerable. For most of us, that requires breaking down walls and building trust. It’s a process that takes time and effort and can easily be destroyed. For Marita, being vulnerable is just part of being Marita, and consequently, loving is just part of being Marita.

That is what Denmark is missing, that is what Iceland is missing, and that is what the United States will be missing if we do not recognize that people with disabilities have dignity and worth beginning in the womb. By their very being, these people teach us how to love, and that’s something this world could certainly use more of. On this National Disabilities Day, let’s pray for a greater understanding of the gift people with disabilities are to our world. Let’s pray for a greater appreciation of those who teach us to love.

Mary Szoch is the Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council.

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