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2009 Conversations

2008 Conversations

2007 Conversations

2006 Conversations

2005 Conversations

2004 Conversations

2003 Conversations

Joy Williams: Rooted in Grace (December 29, 2002)

Judy Rachels: Christmas gifts (December 22, 2002)

Ralph Carmichael: New music for a timeless message (December 15, 2002)

Roger and Greg Flessing: Media, ministry and society's ungodly messages (December 8, 2002)

Rick Salvato: Meeting medical and spiritual needs around the world (November 24, 2002)

Asa Hutchinson: Drug Enforcement's top officer (November 17, 2002)

Bill Bright: 'Not I, but Christ' (November 10, 2002)

Ray Berryhill: Living by faith (October 20, 2002)

Owen C. Carr: Reading through the Bible 92 times (October 13, 2002)

Curtis Harlow: Combating campus drinking (September 29, 2002)

Wes Bartel: Making Sunday count (September 22, 2002)

M. Wayne Benson: The Holy Spirit knocks (September 15, 2002)

Dr. Richard Dobbins: Understanding Suffering (September 8, 2002)

K.R. Mele: Halloween evangelism (August 25, 2002)

Roland Blount: God makes a way for blind missionary (August 18, 2002)

Cal Thomas: Finding a mission field (August 11, 2002)

Lisa Ryan: For such a time as this (July 28, 2002)

Dallas Holm: Faith and prayer in life’s toughest times (July 21, 2002)

Paul Drost: Intentional church planting (July 14, 2002)

James M. Inhofe: Serving Christ in the Senate (June 30, 2002)

Karen Kingsbury: The Write stuff (June 23, 2002)

Michael W. Smith: Worship is how you live each day (June 16, 2002)

Wayne Stayskal: On the drawing board (June 9, 2002)

Fory VandenEinde: Anyone can minister (May 26, 2002)

Thomas E. Trask: Pentecost Sunday (May 19, 2002)

Stormie Omartian: Recovering from an abusive childhood (May 12, 2002)

Luis Carrera: Beyond the Shame (April 28, 2002)

Tom Greene: The church of today (April 21, 2002)

Philip Bongiorno: Wisdom for a younger generation (April 14, 2002)

Deborah M. Gill: Christian education and discipleship (March 24, 2002)

Norma Champion: Becoming involved in politics (February 24, 2002)

Steve Pike: A candid discussion about Mormonism (February 10, 2002)

Raymond Berry: More to life than football (January 27, 2002)

Sanctity of Human Life roundtable: Doctors speak out (January 20, 2002)

Chaplain Charles Marvin: Ministering in the military (January 13, 2002)

2001 Conversations

Sanctity of Human Life roundtable

Doctors speak out

(January 20, 2002)

Editor’s note: Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy asked three Assemblies of God physicians to discuss issues related to Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

Dr. James L. Blessman, 56, received his bachelor’s and medical doctor degrees from the University of Iowa. He ran a family practice, specializing in pain medicine for 18 years in Des Moines, and has taken numerous short-term medical trips to Latin America. As a new missionary associate with HealthCare Ministries, Blessman will be involved in disaster response and medical team trips. He will continue to oversee the 17 free clinics he has established in Iowa in the past decade that minister to 10,000 patients a year. Blessman attends First Assembly of God in Des Moines (John M. Palmer, senior pastor).

Dr. Chris Edwardson, 46, has been a family physician in Dallas, Ore., since 1983 and Polk County medical examiner since 1984. He received his bachelor of science in microbiology and his medical doctor degree from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He has participated in Convoy of Hope outreaches and is a board member and men’s ministry director of Valley Life Center (Assemblies of God) in Dallas (Bob R. Swope, senior pastor).

Dr. Christina M.H. Powell, 34, received her Ph.D. from Harvard University, conducting her doctoral research at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She holds a joint appointment as a research fellow at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Powell is a credentialed minister with the Southern New England District of the Assemblies of God. She is the founder of Life Impact Ministries, emphasizing the integration of Christianity and science. Powell attends Calvary Temple A/G in Lynnfield, Mass. (Timothy P. Schmidt, senior pastor).

EVANGEL: Why is abortion a violation of the sanctity of life?

POWELL: At the moment of conception, a new, unique human life is formed. This human life, while only a single cell, now contains a new genetic blueprint that is unique from the genetic blueprints of the mother and father. The typical college textbook in developmental biology clearly teaches that conception results in the formation of a new life. The Bible clearly teaches us the value of all human life, including human life newly formed in the womb. One of the best biblical passages that illustrates the reasons to respect unborn life is Psalm 139:13-16. Here David writes, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (NIV). These verses show us God’s love for the unborn and His careful oversight of the creation of each new human life. To abort this new life is to destroy the handiwork of God and to disregard the plans that God has ordained for that life.

EDWARDSON: The sanctity of life comes from our relationship with God. Abortion is a violation because God considers life precious and valuable. Abortion is taking the life of an unborn child. I am a doctor for both the mother and child. I cannot choose one over the other.

BLESSMAN: The issue is black and white. "Thou shalt not kill" is one of the Ten Commandments.

EVANGEL: Why do many physicians seem to have no qualms about performing abortions?

BLESSMAN: When I trained for medical practice, abortion was against the law. But the laws changed and many doctors thought it became an honorable thing to perform abortions because pro-abortion groups repeatedly claimed that women suffered terrible complications in back-office abortions in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Of course, pro-life groups deny this claim.

EDWARDSON: Physicians who justify abortion say they don’t believe the fetus is a person yet. They don’t have moral absolutes, such as the authority of the Bible. They feel free to choose what is convenient to their own lifestyle and it’s easy to be influenced by money.

EVANGEL: How can the number of abortions in this country be reduced?

EDWARDSON: We all have a great amount of influence on the people around us. Parents need to teach their children that abortion is wrong and not assume their children will pick up that lesson automatically. Abortion has become so acceptable in the general population that there is no shame attached to it. It’s not identified as sin. Girls have heard the messages "It’s my body" or "I have a career." I have arranged for private adoptions for pregnant single mothers in the past. Some Christian girls had never thought about abortion until it was presented to them as a convenient option in an unwanted teen-age pregnancy.

POWELL: Most women who choose to have an abortion do so because they feel that they have no other choice. Ministries such as Highlands Child Placement Services and Maternity Home are vital in reducing the number of abortions because they provide compassionate alternatives for women experiencing crisis pregnancies. The simplest way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Unfortunately, crisis pregnancies occur in Christian homes all too frequently. Parents, churches and educators must be diligent in teaching adolescents to respect themselves and to respect each other by reserving sex for the marriage relationship. Contrary to the image portrayed by many educators, teen-agers are not animals with uncontrollable urges, but moral beings capable of choosing abstinence. Teen-agers who live in a home environment that emphasizes love and respect are less likely to engage in premarital sex. In our homes and churches, we need to love our teen-agers, stay involved in their lives and model healthy relationships based on mutual respect.

BLESSMAN: We need to practice our faith and help more people understand what the Bible says in order to understand God’s rules and God’s will. I’m a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Society, which is educating physicians.

EVANGEL: Other than declaring that they are pro-life, what are some practical ways in which Christians can take a stand against abortion?

POWELL: Partner with a crisis pregnancy center in your area and throw a baby shower in your local church for a woman experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. By providing emotional and financial support to a woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy, a church can prevent abortion one woman at a time. What a joy to see a baby who would have been an abortion statistic dedicated to the Lord in a church service. This ministry works well in churches of all sizes and financial resources. Other options include starting a Baby Bootie Club to raise money for Highlands and promote awareness of the sanctity of human life in your church.

BLESSMAN: Be bold about letting our family and neighbors know where we stand. It’s more effective in one-on-one contacts than in the political arena.

EDWARDSON: One mother at a time. Love them and reach them.

EVANGEL: How is euthanasia becoming more acceptable in this country?

POWELL: In 1994, citizens of Oregon voted for Ballot Measure 16, which permits physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill under limited conditions. Despite a ballot initiative in 1997 trying to repeal the law, the Death with Dignity Act withstood all challenges. The distinction between assisted suicide and euthanasia is found in whether a third party or the patient performs the last act that intentionally causes the patient’s death. For example, giving a patient a lethal injection would be considered euthanasia, while it would be assisted suicide if a patient pushes a switch to trigger a fatal injection after the doctor has inserted an intravenous needle into the patient’s vein. In 63 percent of the deaths reported in the third annual report on deaths under the Oregon assisted suicide law, fear of being a burden was expressed as a reason for requesting assisted suicide. Emotional, financial and psychological pressures, however subtle or even unintended, can become overpowering for depressed or dependent people. Proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide capitalize on the natural fear people have of suffering and dying. If euthanasia became classified as a medical treatment option, it could become a way of reducing medical costs.

EDWARDSON: I live in Oregon, which is the place to watch the slippery slope to euthanasia. Any time we diminish the value of human life we then establish reasons why someone should be allowed to live. Is it only because they contribute to society? If so, do we want mentally retarded or old people anymore? If people cost a lot to take care of maybe we shouldn’t keep them around. Pretty soon it’s, "We have too many girls, let’s just allow boys to live."

BLESSMAN: As a pain specialist this issue is dear to my heart. So many people are fearful of pain and discomfort — but not necessarily of dying. We now have capabilities in medical science to alleviate a great deal of suffering.

EVANGEL: What can Christians do to battle the impression that "quality of life" should determine whether an elderly person or someone with a severe disability "deserves" to live?

BLESSMAN: One reason that people put trust in their physician is that we are against taking a human life. Quality of life is extremely important, but it’s not something one person should make a judgment about concerning another person. It’s not up to us as people to determine when a life should end. That’s God’s role. It’s up to us to alleviate pain and suffering. We need to let God do what God does.

POWELL: God loves us in the midst of our physical imperfections and values each life. God is also capable of enabling each person to live beyond his or her physical limitations. In Exodus 4:11,12, when Moses expressed concern over his speech impediment, the Lord replied, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." There is hope for each life to have meaning until the time when the Lord calls the person home.

EVANGEL: How is treating the poor with dignity in line with Jesus’ teachings on the sanctity of life?

BLESSMAN: I take the Book of James very seriously in that Christians are to be people of works as well as people of faith. It’s extremely important that we reach out to the poor. The Bible says the poor will always be with us, so it’s an unending task. But that shouldn’t deter us from trying.

POWELL: All lives have equal value in the eyes of God. He judges each by the condition of the heart, not the extent of material wealth. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:2, "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men." Jesus did not say, "if you give to the needy," but "when you give to the needy." Furthermore, we are to meet those needs in a quiet way that preserves the dignity of those receiving assistance.

EVANGEL: What are the implications of stem cell research?

POWELL: Stem cells are cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and give rise to specialized cells. Four days after conception, the cells of a human embryo form a hollow sphere of cells called a blastocyst. The outer layer of cells in this sphere go on to form the placenta and the inner-cell mass cells go on to form virtually all of the tissues of the human body. Stem cells are derived from this inner-cell mass, and thus have the ability to develop into a wide variety of human tissues. Thus, isolation of this type of stem cell would involve the destruction of an embryo. Current human embryonic stem cell lines were derived either from the use of frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics or from fetal tissue obtained from abortions.

However, there is another type of stem cell derived from adult tissue such as bone marrow. Thus, when we consider the ethical implications of stem cell research, it is important that we differentiate between embryonic stem cell research, which involves the destruction of human embryos (and thus unique human lives) and adult stem cell research, which uses tissue from a patient’s own body.

While adult stem cells hold genuine promise and do not violate the sanctity of human life, there are some significant limitations to their use. First of all, stem cells from adults have not been isolated for all tissues of the body. For example, researchers have not located adult cardiac stem cells (important for the treatment of heart disease) or adult pancreatic islet stem cells in humans (important for the treatment of diabetes). Second, adult stem cells are often present in only minute quantities and are difficult to isolate and purify.

Finally, the use of stem cells from a patient’s own body for treatment would require that stem cells isolated from the patient be grown in culture in order to obtain adequate quantities for treatment. For some acute diseases, the patient may die before sufficient quantities of cells are grown in culture. However, our desire for new treatments and medical advancement cannot cause us to violate our ethical, moral and biblical regard for the sanctity of human life.

EDWARDSON: Stem cell research is a part of the field of regenerative medicine that holds promise in curing or reversing devastating diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The question is not that stem cells are able to do good; that’s unquestionable. And we need to be compassionate with those suffering diseases and not forget that they are suffering.

The ethical question has to do with where the stem cells originate. Adult tissue does not pose an ethical dilemma. The problem is embryonic cells are mostly coming from fertility studies. If we allow those embryos to be used as replacement parts, we can easily cross the line where one person’s life becomes more valuable than another’s life.

BLESSMAN: I’m in favor of stem cell research on fetal tissue that is naturally made available through spontaneous miscarriages. This is a scientific process that may be helpful to our grandchildren. But I understand well how motivation works and I would not want the desire for stem cell tissues to increase the probability of abortions occurring.

EVANGEL: Despite a congressional ban, does cloning pose a threat in the near future?

POWELL: In March 2001, Italian fertility specialist Severino Antinori, famous for helping a 62-year-old woman give birth, announced his intention of cloning (producing a genetic duplicate) of a human in the near future. At the same time a company called Clonaid was planning to clone a human using genetic material from a dead child. However, the general consensus of the scientific community is that cloning human beings is morally and ethically wrong as well as fraught with unacceptable risks.

For example, experience in animal cloning has demonstrated that cloning is much more likely to produce deformed babies, miscarriages and early deaths than a healthy baby. Cloning would also endanger the life of the mother. As demonstrated in the cloning of five mammals, in most cases, the animal clone grows abnormally large, often threatening to tear the womb that can also become swollen with fluid. As a result, almost all clone pregnancies spontaneously abort. The first mammal clone, Dolly the sheep, was the one success in 247 pregnancies. The cost in human suffering necessary to produce a human clone is unthinkable.

EDWARDSON: Gene mapping is a real quandary that’s going to get bigger. It’s very important that we have a clear idea of what is acceptable in the sight of God and what is not.

BLESSMAN: I believe that cloning does pose a real threat and that in spite of the ban, some members of the scientific community will proceed with human cloning experiments and that they will soon have success in doing so. This will proceed in the interest of "medical progress" and could potentially provide life-saving organs for transplant and numerous other yet-unidentified medical miracles. The central question that we are going to have to answer is whether or not a clump of human cells that scientists are growing into a life-saving heart or kidney for transplant are just cells or a living human being. If these cells are indeed a human life then we are playing God and sacrificing one life for another.

I believe that the Christian community has settled the issue that a two-week-old fetus is a human being. We now urgently need some of our best Christian thinkers to wrestle with the issue of whether or not a group of human cells developed in a laboratory for the specific purpose of growing tissue or specific organs only, represents a human life. I do not have the answer but I certainly hope that we as Christians begin to search the Bible carefully and come up with solid answers to this question before the scientific community establishes what will become our culture’s values on this important issue.

EVANGEL: What other medical ethics questions that seemed unthinkable a few years ago are lurking in the near future?

POWELL: The sequencing of the human genome and the resultant genetic technologies present a variety of medical ethics questions that seemed unthinkable a few years ago. One example is the potential problems associated with gene testing. Gene tests include prenatal diagnostic testing, newborn screening, presymptomatic testing for predicting adult-onset disorders such as Huntington’s disease or for predicting the risk of developing certain cancers or Alzheimer’s disease, and forensic identity testing. While gene tests can be useful in clarifying a diagnosis and directing a physician toward appropriate treatments, one limitation is that not all people who carry a disease-associated gene actually develop the disease. The potential of gene tests for provoking anxiety and becoming a cause for discrimination and social stigmatization may outweigh any benefits derived from testing in many situations.

Any genetic testing of the unborn returns us to the ethical questions involving the sanctity of human life. The possibility of gene testing resulting in the abortion of babies who have been diagnosed as having the potential for developing a serious disease is a grave concern. Again, we must avoid placing ourselves in the position of judging the genetic worthiness of a child developing in his mother’s womb. As we read in Isaiah 44:24, "This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who has made all things."

EDWARDSON: Cryogenics — freezing people and bringing them back when there’s a new technology to extend their lives – is not a new concept but those with a humanistic viewpoint still dream about it. The Bible says there is an appointed time to die. God does not intend this to be our home. Heaven has been prepared for us. The sting of death is swallowed in victory.


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