Christianity and Scientific Concerns
Koop: Dr. Buerger's comment about wisdom brings up the dilemma of what might be called biological schizophrenia that a surgical specialist often faces, with respect to not only the right to life, which has already been mentioned, but also the right to die. There comes a place in my kind of a physician's life where strict adherence to the sanctity of life conflicts with Christian compassion. Here the spiritually sensitive person who has to make decisions, is driven to seek answers in prayer. Life magazine recently published four case histories of people who would rather be dead than alive, or whose families would rather have them dead than alive; I think one now is dead because he chose to shut off his kidney dialysis machine. Just as some people are talking about the right of the newborn to live and the family's right to condemn him to die, so some people are looking at the other end of the human lifespan and are discussing euthanasia. This word means different things to different people; to me euthanasia means terminating the life of someone whose quality of life does not come up to your standard of life. I do think that there is an area in Christian medicine where the withholding of extraordinary care is an act of Christian compassion. For example, if someone under my care lay dying of a malignant tumor and in great pain, yet could have his life preserved by the heroic measures of blood transfusion and X-ray therapy but without any hope of the preservation of productive or even half-productive life, I think the Christian physician has the right to withhold that kind of therapy. If I might classify it this way, I think there are several ways that you can approach the care of a medical patient. If I get appendicitis tonight, I hope that someone takes me to a good hospital and that I have a good anesthesiologist and a good surgeon and that my appendix is removed and that I recover. Now, if under anesthesia something were to go wrong, and I were deprived of oxygen for sufficient time to render me anoxic, so that when I recovered from anesthesia I would have to look forward to a life as a vegetable, then I would not want anyone to take the extraordinary measure of keeping my carcass artificially alive with a respirator and with blood transfusions just to say, "Koop did not die on the table or within thirty days of the operative procedure and therefore is not an 'operative mortality.'" I do not think that is good medicine; it certainly is not Christian medicine.
Anderson: Let me pick that up from the side of human genetics. People are somewhat apprehensive about discussions of genetic control. For the most part, means of genetic intervention are genuinely helpful and can be used without fear. Yet modifying the diet or adding enzymes or some other product does present some problems. A family may learn that husband and wife both carry a gene for a harmful disease. They have had one child with this disorder. Another pregnancy will carry a 25 per cent risk. At that point, they have to decide if it is right to gamble on the outcome of an additional pregnancy. Occasionally the family prefers not to have a pregnancy, and yet one starts. I have talked with a Christian couple who knew that the wife carried a fetus destined to have a serious problem. In that instance, with prayer, the family decided on a termination as the lesser of two evils. Now that is the kind of problem that advances in technology force upon us. Some people are claiming rather astonishing things for the future—for example, the possibility of cloning, or the possibility of taking a human zygote and subdividing it so that it will form a hundred or more fetuses. That sort of thing seems to .me to disturb our view of family, for it means that some laboratory must carry out essential steps, Although it cannot now be done, and perhaps will never be done, cloning would present a real problem. It does not really solve a problem, and it grossly disturbs the view of family. To me, future advances in genetics can be tolerated only if we can preserve the essential features of a Christian view concerning family.