Contending with the 'Cults of Death'

It is now clear that a "death cult" has taken root within Islam. These fanatical enemies of freedom will as soon rain death and mayhem upon a schoolyard of innocent children (Muslim as well as non-Muslim) as they will attack a military vehicle.

Yet while we denounce these zealots who seek to destroy in the name of religion, we should also acknowledge that a "death cult" has arisen in our own society as well. Many in this group worship at the altar of secularism. They have devalued life, and their handiwork is memorialized in the ignominious Roe v. Wade decision as well as in those state statutes that allow for euthanasia and lethal experimentation on embryonic stem cells.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II noted as the twentieth century came to a close that a full-blown "Culture of Death" had established itself within Western civilization.

Clear marks of this "culture of death" are seen in a hideous September 12 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court. It held that a physician has "no legal duty" to inform a pregnant woman consenting to an abortion that what is within her womb is a "complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being." The case primarily focused on the "theory of lack of informed consent."

The New Jersey justices affirmed a lower court ruling that a woman who consented to an abortion of her six- to eight-week-old unborn child but claimed she did not understand it was a child she was aborting was not entitled to the disclosure that she was carrying a child, nor was she entitled to damages for emotional distress or wrongful death. This is in spite of the medical fact that a baby's heart begins to beat 24 days after conception and a baby has measurable brain waves at 42 days gestation.

"On the profound issue of when a life begins, this Court cannot drive public policy in one particular direction by the engine of common law when the opposing sides, which represent so many of our citizens, are arrayed along a deep societal and philosophical divide," said the court in Rosa Acuna v. Sheldon C. Turkish.

The court had previously interpreted the state's Wrongful Death Act as not including a "fetus within the definition of a 'person' covered by the Act."

The plaintiff, Rosa Acuna, said when her physician, Sheldon Turkish, told her she was pregnant, she asked "if it was a baby in there." Acuna claims Turkish responded, "Don't be stupid. It's only blood." Turkish denies making that statement, but speculates he might have told her that a "seven-week pregnancy is not a living human being" but rather "just tissue at this time."

Some weeks after her abortion, Acuna experienced unexpected complications. She was admitted to a local hospital where she was told she had had an "incomplete abortion" and that "the doctor had left parts of the baby inside" of her. At that point Acuna was horrified to realize her earlier decision to terminate her pregnancy meant not simply the removal of "blood" but the destruction of a real human being.

While expressing sympathy for the "deep pain" the plaintiff was enduring because of the abortion, the justices said informed consent extends only to doctors providing "their pregnant patients seeking an abortion only with material medical information, including gestational state and medical risks involved in the procedure."

In essence the court held that while a physician has an obligation to inform a patient about the known (agreed-upon) risks from a particular medical procedure or drug regimen, that same doctor has no obligation to tell a person considering abortion that the "thing" that is to be aborted is a preborn human being, in this case a baby with a beating heart and a functioning brain. The court's reasoning in this assertion is that there is a lack of agreement over the nature of the pregnancy itself within society.

In applauding the ruling the ACLU said the case was an "underhanded attempt to turn doctors into ideological mouthpieces and subject women to non-medical moral judgments."

Why are pro-abortion groups afraid to let an unsuspecting woman know that the "thing" growing within her is a human life? Even with that information, under current law the woman would still have the "right" (wrong though it may be) to have that life flushed out of her system.

Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other members of this cult of death don't want women to know this is a human life we are talking about. It is not only a truth revealed in Scripture (Psalm 139; Jeremiah 1:5); it is a fact agreed upon by most in the medical community.

It is a fact that the plaintiff in this case consented in writing to this procedure. (Although it is her contention that she did not fully comprehend its ramifications.) It is difficult to fathom that any woman would not understand that what was growing within her is a child —particularly if this was the woman's third child (as it was for Acuna).

Nonetheless, we cannot make such assumptions about the population.

That is why the paper cup you are handed at your local coffee shop has a warning imprinted upon it to tell you that the coffee in the cup is hot and may burn you if you pour it on yourself.

And it is why there is a label on hair dryers that warns that you if you want to dry your hair immediately after washing it you should step out of the shower spray before you take hold of the dryer.

This case rises to a much higher level because a human life faced immediate and deadly risk.

The ACLU said the court's decision is a message that citizens of New Jersey will not "tolerate backdoor efforts to curtail reproductive rights or free speech."

It is easy to perch haughtily on the right to freedom of speech embedded in our Constitution's First Amendment, but is there not at least a moral obligation for that speech to be truthful and complete?

Should a patient not expect her physician to tell her everything about a pending medical procedure? The law, in fact, requires as much. Yet the law in New Jersey does not recognize the unborn child—the target of the abortion—as a patient (or a victim). So the doctor has no obligation to inform the baby's legal guardian of the risks of the procedure.

While those who value human life—born and preborn—may be disgusted by the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling, we should be more disgusted with a society that contends that an unborn human baby is just a mass of tissue until some subjective, magical time in-utero when the tissue is transformed into a human being.

We had a similar issue earlier in our nation's history when we regarded the color of a person's skin as a determinant of their value as a human being. African-Americans had been regarded "as beings of an inferior order" by U.S. Supreme Court justices writing in the Dred Scott decision.

We should be motivated by this decision (as well as many other similar decisions before it) to assist our citizenry in understanding when life begins and that, especially at two months of pregnancy, this baby is not simply a cluster of random cells. The baby not only had a heartbeat when the doctor performed the "incomplete abortion"—the baby had measurable brain waves, the legal definition of human life in most states.

We should also encourage Christian young people to pray about whether God might call them to ministries in medicine and the life sciences, so as to "season" the medical community with Truth.

We should ensure there is an amply funded pregnancy care center in every city and town across our nation and that every center has ultrasound equipment that allows women in crisis pregnancies to marvel at the life that God is growing within them. Women who see a sonogram of their unborn babies are five times less likely to snuff out their babies' lives.

Finally we should, with all the earnestness and seriousness the Spirit will provide us, be "salt" and "light" in our families, churches, communities, and nation. It is not an option; the Gospel demands it, lives depend on it, and the survival of our civilization hangs in the balance.

The death cults abroad and at home must be confronted.

Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.