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Ethics

EUTHANASIA

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

In January 2012, I was fortunate to take a class with Dr. John S. Feinberg, the son of the famous professor at Talbot Seminary: Dr. Charles L. Feinberg, who went home with the Lord.  Dr. Charles Feinberg was a major “think tank” at the seminary he was teaching at and had a major influence in the life of Pastor John MacArthur.  Dr. Feinberg was “professor of Semitics and Old Testament.   He has written books on prophecy and the Old Testament.  For Pastor MacArthur’s statements concerning Dr. Feinberg’s father, please see this interview: A Retrospective on 40 Years: John MacArthur with Rick Holland on January 25, 2009.

Moreover, his son, Dr. John Feinberg is a scholar in his own rights too.  I am glad I was privileged to take a class with him on ethics.  In light of the class lectures and book, I came across many concepts.  For example, we came across “Christian decision making.”  In light of the concept called Christian decision making, Dr. Feinberg takes these categories into account: “the issues involved, fundamental definitions, distinctions, and principles (i.e. ethics and morality and descriptive and prescriptive language); approaches to ethics or ethical theories that confront the Christian, Scripture and ethics (discusses the Bible and modern ethics, OT Law and NT era, etc.), Christian liberty, and the decision-making procedure used for moral decisions.[1]

For the sake of clarity, in this post, I will not only share about what I read from the book, but I will add some content from the class lectures because the lectures are somewhat related to the book.

There are so many topics to discuss from the book and class lectures.  But for the sake of the post’s length, I will try to narrow the topic.  With that said, I will first cover euthanasia.  Euthanasia is a topic that Dr. Feinberg does not take lightly.  It is an issue that he somewhat was confronted with.  Some of the ethics surrounding it is somewhat related to abortion and have similar principles.  If one understands the biblical implications towards euthanasia, one will somewhat have a good grasp of how to approach abortion.

According to Dr. Feinberg, the term euthanasia comes from two Greek words that mean “good,” “well,” and “death.”[2]  In other words, it means to die well or die a good death.[3]  However, it is really not a good death because the practice has negative moral implications.[4]  In the sections of the book that covers euthanasia, Dr. Feinberg, investigates the different types of euthanasia, presents the arguments used to support euthanasia; and he then presents the Christian argumentation.[5] The key issue at stake regarding this topic is whether euthanasia is ever justifiable or whether one is obligated to preserve life in all circumstances.  In some cases, euthanasia is easy to answer, but in others, it is more complex and requires more critical thinking.  Since euthanasia carries many ethical implications, understanding the terminology is helpful in order to work through the different types of euthanasia.

CLARIFICATION OF TERMINOLOGY AND TYPES OF EUTHANASIA

The different types are as follow: voluntary/non-voluntary/involuntary euthanasia, active vs. passive euthanasia, direct vs. indirect euthanasia, death with dignity, mercy killing, managerial euthanasia, death selection.[6]

A CASE FOR EUTHANASIA

Besides the importance of understanding the different terminologies, Dr. Feinberg, presents the case for euthanasia by covering non-Scriptural arguments concerning personhood, quality of life vs. sanctity of life, one’s understanding of God, consequential ethics, freedom of choice, justification of some cases of euthanasia, economics of euthanasia, double-effect arguments.[7]  He also provides biblical and theological considerations concerning these categories of euthanasia: the command against killing isn’t absolute, the valuelessness of suffering, self-sacrifice, Phil. 1:21 (to die is gain).[8]

A CASE AGAINST EUTHANASIA

In order to make the book more comprehensive concerning euthanasia, there are not only talking points of the case for euthanasia, but also talking points of the case against euthanasia.[9]  It is here, where, the book covers some details of the non-Scriptural arguments such as the double-effect argument and the wedge argument.[10]  The wedge argument believes that an action that is apparently unobjectionable in itself would set in motion a train of events leading ultimately to an undesirable outcome (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 1995).  In other words, the point of the wedge argument in euthanasia is the belief that some lives are not worth living.  If so, where do you draw the line?  This opens up the floodgates to immorality.  Under the umbrella of the case against euthanasia, Dr. Feinberg also covers the biblical and theological considerations concerning the value in suffering, life, death, and afterlife.

The book also speaks about the importance of decision-making and the different forms of euthanasia.[11]  In tackling this issue, the author raised a series of considerations a Christian should take into account as he approaches this matter. Once he does that then he could respond with proper responses based on biblical principles.  When dealing with euthanasia, the person must take into account the criteria of death, consequentialism/non-consequential­ism, views on personhood, freedom and moral responsibility, Scriptural principles on life, death,  afterlife, and the moral assessment of major forms of euthanasia.[12]

One of the major points mentioned earlier was the criteria of death.  The author conveys that the criteria must be observed critically before assuming that the patient is dead.  For example, the family of the patient must ask the doctor if the patient is actually dead before removing the technology.  The family member must very hesitant if the criteria is not met.  The criteria can be as follows: observe if the patient is receptive, responsive; check if there is a flat brain wave (EGG) for at least 10 minutes, check for movements, spontaneous breathing for one hour or more.  Also find out if they will still breathe if the machine is taken out and check for reflexes and fixed dilated pupils.

I know I mentioned earlier the terms: consequentialist (decisions are based on consequences) or non-consequentialist.  But in order to make a case against euthanasia, Dr. Feinberg points out that accepting and understanding one of these terms will determine if a brother, sister, wife, husband, etc. will agree if ending the person’s life is biblical or not.  Some who decide to end a person’s life observes the contemporary view instead of the biblical view.

The contemporary view believes that your body is yours and you are to decide to end one’s life based on the resources given.  The biblical view conveys that we are told not to take innocent life because the body does not belong to us (Ex. 20:13; Ecc. 3:2; Job 14:5; James 4:13-15).  Before trying to end a person’s life, people also need to calculate the risk.  For example, Dr. Feinberg mentioned that when he was preaching at a youth service, a couple approached him and told him they wished that they heard about his views on euthanasia earlier because the couple knew someone who was dealing with terminal illness.  The biblical knowledge of euthanasia would have helped make the decision easier.

On another note, the author also mentions that people need to understand that they cannot manipulate death with technology because if God wants to take someone’s life, God will do it.  However, just because God can take someone’s life at any moment, does not justify a person to take out one’s feeding tube or breathing tube for example.  The feeding tube and breathing tube are one’s basic necessities for life.  If one takes takes out the breathing tube, then one might as well suffocate the patient with a pillow because the pain would be faster.  And if one takes out the feeding tube, then one might as well not feed an infant.  Hence, what is the difference between the infant and the adult that is ill?  They are both made in God’s image.  Moreover, just because God can take someone’s life away does not mean one should take out the use of technology and let the person die.  We are to be good stewards of what God has provided to society.  We cannot let our own definition of personhood dictate who lives and who does not.  Life and death belongs to God.  And the resources and technology that has been given are to be used for His glory.

He further argues that life needs to be preserved because death is not our friend.  It is our last enemy.  In Philippians 1, Paul’s zealous desire was to save the lost.  He is not saying that death is pleasant or that we should be zealous of death.  The Lord is not pleased with death and His desire is that all will be saved; and that one day He will overturn death.

PRACTICAL RECOMMENDATIONS

Due to the complicated nature concerning euthanasia, Dr. Feinberg ventured into the practical recommendations.  He stated that it is irresponsible (he did not say immoral) to not have a living will.  That is something I will need to get in the future.  Do not leave your family to the medical professions because many do not have a biblical view.  Nor can you rely on a pro-life doctor because he maybe on vacation if there is a crisis.  You must come up with biblical convictions beforehand.

BIOLOGY, GENETICS, & HOMOSEXUALITY

In this section, Dr. Feinberg covers basic definitions, distinctions, biology (brain differences and hormonal differences), homosexuality and genetics.[13]  He also covers those areas because proponents argue that homosexuality is linked to biology and genetics.  As a result, Dr. Feinberg gets into the specificity concerning their claims by researching the twin studies, chromosome/gene linkage studies, biological and genetic studies to see if their claims are correct.[14]  After going over the studies, many of their claims are frivolous.

The author stands firmly committed to the position that Scripture teaches that homosexual and lesbian orientation and behavior are contrary to the order for human sexuality that God placed in creation. Hence they are sinful. It must be clear, that from a judicial standpoint, those who engage in this sin are no more and no less guilty before God than those who lie, steal, or break other moral rules. All sinners, which includes all of us, need to repent. But sin also has a social dimension, and sexual sin, including homosexual sin, is a form of behavior whose impact on others is far more devastating than the impact of some other sins. The enslavement of some sins is harder to escape than that of others (Rom. 1:26-27). Homosexuality and lesbianism are truly enslaving sins, but for those who think a person caught in them cannot change, we respond: never underestimate the power of Jesus Christ to transform a life! Christ loves all sinners, and he died to pay for all sins! He can both pardon the sinner and liberate the sinner who places his faith and repentance in Christ! 

GENETIC ENGINEERING

Genetic engineering is a broad label for a series of genetic tools including genetic counseling, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, cloning, and recombinant DNA research.”[15]

Dr. Feinberg goes on to say that the field of genetic engineering can be divided into two broad categories: (1) reproduction genetic engineering (i.e. artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, freezing embryos, surrogate motherhood, and cloning) (2) and other topic deals with the manipulation of the genetic structure of the human being.[16]

Some of the common objections against genetic engineering are as follows: it’s playing with their God, it’s unnatural, it addresses a selfish want, not a need, it will inevitably allow the most extreme uses of medicine and technology made available, it involves adultery, “separates the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual relations,” violates God’s ordained order concerning parenthood and the composition of families, treats the very elements of human life given by God (sperm and ovum) like commodities to be brought and sold), involves the rejection of God’s will about whether or not to have children; and it subordinates God’s will for each person concerning his physical and immaterial traits.[17]

In light of all the categories mentioned, the author and professor also covers the moral and legal implications involved in genetic engineering.  For example, for those thinking about using IVF, they will need to consider the success rate.

Whether you are going to be successful depends on a number of things.  Just because you use more than one embryo does not mean you will have a baby.  Then what is the point of transferring more than one embryo if you only want one baby?  This is so because it creates a greater success rate in being conceived. In page 409 of his book he gives his readers the percentages of the success rates:

In 1996, 6 percent of the cycles used one embryo; 10 percent used two; 23 percent used three; and 62 percent used four or more. In 2005, 9 percent used one; 43 percent used two; 30 percent used three; and 18 percent used four or more. Clearly, the major change since 1996 is that instead of using four or more embryos for most cycles (62 percent), in 2005 most cycles (43 percent) used only two embryos. However, 91 percent of cycles used more than one embryo!”[18]

More problems persist if you use more embryos.  If they all attach, then the doctor said it is good to abort one of them.  Another thing that affects success rate is the age of the mother.  See page 210 of the book concerning the statistics of how many embryos are discarded.  This is immoral because it is a human life!  Apart from the immorality of this procedure, it would cost you much money.  The aborting of embryos should be an objection because it is murder.  Moreover, the murder takes place in light of the baby never being consented.  Also people who murder a life needs to understand that a fertilized egg is a human being.  Out of these statistics, 1/5 of the embryos are born and 4/5 die.  The experiment in this context is not moral.

The author speaks passionately about the issue because it is immoral.  He also speaks about the issue because there are people in the church that can’t have kids and want to have kids.  We need to help counsel people like that so they do not make the wrong decision.  Adoption is another alternative.  Some churches have a budget for adoption; and that budget is to help families who want to adopt.  It is a good model for other church to follow.  I believer Pastor Voddie Baucham’s church does that.  Dr. Feinberg also encourages us to tell others about this issue.  The information needs to be passed on.  We can’t just share it one on one, but need to share it to the whole congregation.  Another reason to share with others is because IVF opens up the door to surrogate mothers, homosexuals and lesbian couples.

DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

Because divorce and remarriage creates so many problems, one wishes the church would clearly enunciate biblical teaching on these topics. Instead, the church speaks words of confusion and adds to the level of confusion. Unfortunately, even among evangelicals there is no consensus on the proper understanding of biblical teaching on this matter. Finding a consensus is unlikely because of the complexity of the issues. Scripture says little on this issue, and what is said, especially in the teachings of Christ, can seem cryptic and ambiguous. It raises many questions. We cannot handle every question in this chapter (e.g., the question of whether a divorced person can serve as a pastor), but we want to address as many as necessary to elucidate biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage.”[19]

A couple of foundations the author and professor covers are the basic principles about marriage.  Marriage is God’s idea (Gen. 2:18; Matt. 19:4-6), is for the benefit of mankind and indicates God’s goodness to man (Gen. 2:18-20), intended for a basic need for man (Gen. 2:20), informs that woman was formed not from dust, but from man, intended for propagating the human race and man’s need for fellowship, intended to provide for the removal of loneliness (Gen. 2:18); and marriage was created as a human institution (Gen. 1-2) for all.[20]

In  light of the basic principles concerning marriage, Dr. Feinberg spent much time on Matthew 19:1-12.  By going through the passage, he covers the questions of whether the marriage bond can be terminated or not.  By doing that he spends much time in the text by analyzing the religious leaders and Jesus’ words concerning God’s perspective on marriage.  Moreover, he covers the “exception clause” and the different views on divorce and remarriage such as the preteritive, offense, betrothal, mixed marriage, and the violation of laws of consanguinity views. [21] He also covers the view concerning divorce without remarriage, divorce with remarriage.

Besides covering Jesus’ view on divorce and remarriage, he also covers Paul’s view on divorce by going through 1 Cor. 7:1-24.

Much has been said concerning euthanasia, biology, genetics, homosexuality, genetic engineering, and divorce and remarriage, but the book covers many other areas as well such as abortion, capital punishment, and the view on war.  But for the sake of this post’s link, I only covered some of the areas that was discussed thoroughly in class.

I encourage Christians to pick up this book and study ethics.  For those who think that the Bible may not have answers to the the contemporary issues we face concerning the rise of new technology that is being produced at breathtaking pace; and its implications on morality, then this is a must read.  Although, the authors of Scripture did not give us details concerning IVF, genetic engineering, etc., Dr. Feinberg does a good job by digging through Scripture to find timeless truths that covers the issues we face.  As Christians, we do not need to be afraid of the speculations and hostile attacks.  The Word of God has timeless truths.  Because we serve a great God, let us take heed to 1 Peter 3:15,

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

As Christians, let us mimic the holy zeal and desire that the psalmist did in Psalm 119:18,

Open my eyes, that I may behold/Wonderful things from your law.”

The book is about 736 pages in Kindle and is about 848 pages in print.

To see his class lectures, please see this following link: Christian Ethics


[1]John S. Feinberg, “TH708 Christian Ethics” (unpublished syllabus, The Master’s Seminary, 2012), 1-11.

[2]Ibid., 15.

[3]Ibid., 15.

[4]Ibid., 15.

[5]Ibid., 15-27.

[6]Ibid., 15-16.

[7]Ibid., 17-19.

[8]Ibid., 20-21.

[9]Ibid., 17-21.

[10]Ibid., 21-23.

[11]Ibid., 26.

[12]Ibid., 26-27.

[13]Ibid., 28-29.

[14]Ibid., 29-32.

[15]Ibid., 33.

[16]Ibid., 33.

[17]Ibid., 33-36.

[18]John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 409.

[19]Ibid., 589.

[20]John S. Feinberg, “TH708 Christian Ethics, “ 44.

[21]Ibid., 47-48.

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