Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Special prayer request for Joni: Last month Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer. She successfully underwent surgery on June 28. Pray for her recuperation from surgery and in the next months as she will be undergoing chemotherapy. You can read her complete updates on JoniAndFriends.org.

 

Leslie Basham: Have you ever heard euthanasia described as compassionate? Joni Eareckson Tada thinks that's a bad choice of words.

Joni Eareckson Tada: Compassion is not three grams of phenobarbital in the veins to put you “out of your misery.” No, compassion is sitting by that bedside, holding that person's hand, lifting their spirits, praying over their bedside, singing those hymns of worship. That's compassion, not the lethal drug in the veins.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 9.

As a woman of 46 married years, I just want to say that Joni's words today moved me to tears about how much more I need to encourage my husband.

 That’s what a listener wrote about the program that aired yesterday on Revive Our Hearts. If you missed it, you can hear the whole week of broadcasts at ReviveOurHearts.com. And don’t miss the chance to see our guest, Joni Eareckson Tada, in person at the True Woman Conference in Indianapolis this September. Now, let’s get back to the conversation between Joni and Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: In some of your writing and speaking you have ventured in where angels fear to tread when it comes to this whole issue of biotechnological issues. I hardly know how to say that or spell it. You and Dr. Nigel Cameron have coauthored, more recently, a book called How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World. Now for those who may not be familiar with that reference, what is the brave, new world it's referring to?

Joni: Well, this brave, new world is the world that sometimes families encounter when you are in a hospital. Your grandmother is hooked up to perhaps a life support or a feeding tube, and you've got to decide end-of-life issues, questions that your doctor might raise.

This brave, new world includes all this hoo-hah we're hearing about stem cell research—what kind of research is ethical, what kind is not. What about in vitro fertilization; what about reproductive health issues; what about genetic manipulation of genes so that there might be no longer Huntington's disease or Parkinson's disease?

There's so many questions, so many confusing, complex questions that are related to just-as-confusing, complex issues—medical issues, end-of-life issues, birth issues. Dr. Cameron and I wrote this book because we want to help Christians have the tools and get a hold of the language so that they're not fearful of treading into this brave, new world but courageous, knowing that God's Word is sufficient for every challenging, ethical issue we might face.

I must add that I met Dr. Cameron back in the early nineties when I was struggling. My dear dad, 90-year-old father, had been severely disabled by a series of strokes which left him severely incapacitated, and my sisters and I were faced with some really challenging questions about what to do with his medical treatment.

I turned to Dr. Cameron and Dr. John Frame and some other learned Christians who excel in this area of bioethics. I began peppering them with questions, writing them letters, sending them emails. “What would you advise here? Where can I find wisdom in God's Word that might speak to this particular issue or that particular issue?”

That's how the lively friendship with Dr. Cameron was given birth, and I've learned a lot from him ever since. A lot of his wisdom and insight is in this new book, How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World.

Nancy: Now when we start talking about technology as it relates to bioethics, that's kind of a double-edged sword. Technology can be a gift and a blessing, but it can also be our undoing.

Joni: It can. It's a double-edged sword in that one side of it has tremendous benefits for mankind, but the other side of it, left in the hands of wicked people or evil people or the wrong people, might serve very fiendish, devilish ends.

For instance, this issue of stem cell research—we hear so much in the media that a wonderful potential for cure can be found harvesting stem cells out of human embryos, and so we scratch our heads and wonder why not? Why can't we use human embryos for that end?

Nancy: As a quadriplegic, that has to be something that hits close to home.

Joni: Very close to home. Listen, not only because of my own quadriplegia, Nancy, but there are families who attend our family retreats whose children have Down Syndrome or spina bifida, spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy or other diseases—parents, husbands in wheelchairs, stroke survivors. You look at these people, and they want to have answers. They hear all this in the media, and they want to know what the facts really are.

I follow research in spinal cord injury and other disabling conditions very, very closely. I'm networked with another group of disability advocates, and we make it a habit to check on all the latest research news.

I will tell you and your listeners right up front that tremendous things are happening in stem cell research to benefit people with disabilities but not in research that uses stem cells from human embryos. Instead, the really exciting news and the advancements and the treatments are occurring right now in medical therapies that are using the stem cells derived from your own adult tissue.

A friend of mine, Laura Dominguez, 19-year-old, spinal-cord-injury quadriplegic, traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, not long ago to receive a stem cell implant on her own spinal cord. What they did was surgically remove stem cells from her own, nasal tissue and gently packed these in the point of lesion on her spinal cord, and now this young girl is out of her wheelchair.

She's able to walk, albeit a few, halting steps using Canadian crutches, but she is able to get up and stand out of her wheelchair. Plus, she's gained some bladder control and a little more feeling in her legs. That is nothing short of a miracle.

Embryonic stem cells are programmed to proliferate, to grow, grow, grow, which is why in so many animal tests these animals are developing tumors. But stem cells that God made in your own, adult tissues are programmed to repair and restore tissue.

Naturally, let's use the God-designed stem cells, and certainly there are tremendous advancements and therapies that are happening right now using those very stem cells from your own, adult tissue that God put there to restore and repair tissue. That's good news. That's where the real cures are happening.

Nancy: You talk about the whole issue of eugenics in your book, How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World. Of course, this was something that Hitler was acquainted with and utilized in Nazi Germany. What do we mean when we talk about eugenics?

Joni: Well, when you hear that term “eugenics” or “social engineering,” we're talking about an effort, a strategic, planned effort to weed out of the human race the weak, the infirmed, the defective in order to promote a more pure genealogy of human beings—to eradicate disease. Now this might sound good, but let's take a look at its roots back in Nazi Germany since you mentioned that.

When Hitler first began his whole, eugenics effort, he went into institutions of people with mental disabilities and physical disabilities, and he took out of those institutions the very weakest and the very infirmed on which to experiment.

Now it's very curious that the people the medical teams chose were not just any ordinary, disabled people, physically or mentally. They were the mentally disabled people who had no visitors, who had no friends and no family members. Nazi medical teams singled them out first and shuffled those away in the dark into those chambers where those awful experiments were then performed on them. So I think that underscores the importance of having an advocate speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

That's why I think it's so important to let the public know—especially Christians know—about what is happening and how. If we continue to exploit and experiment on human embryos, then we become calloused; We become enured to experimenting on the infant with a disability. Already so many infants with disabilities are left to starve to death in hospitals where, behind closed doors, parents might agree with the attending physician that this child's quality of life might be too poor for her to truly have meaningful life, and so the decision is made to let that infant starve to death.

Already we are seeing that happen, and if we become enured about exploiting a human embryo, then we become calloused about the infant with a disability. Then it becomes the elderly individual with Alzheimer's, and before you know it, it becomes those with significant disabilities who strain Medicare, who have nothing to contribute to society but medical bills. We have to be on guard against this slippery slope because now it's no longer that slope; it's downhill skiing.

Nancy: And what could you see being at the bottom of that hill? If Christians and those who have a biblical orientation do not speak up, where could this thing head?

Joni: Society will treat people as things and not people, and again, we're already seeing that happen. I don't want to live in a world where the biotech industry sets the moral agenda. No, we need seasoned and reasoned Christian leaders who will come forth and stand on these issues.

Let me give you a quick example. Not long ago, a woman telephoned our office, and she wanted to speak with me. She was quite distraught because she found herself in a family situation where her teenaged nephew had taken an overdose of pills, and she and her sister, this boy's mother, were the ones who had to make the tough decision as to whether or not to pull life supports from this young man whose brain activity appeared to be flat-lined.

She was calling me because she said, “Joni, my pastor said you'd have the answers. He told me that you'd be the one to tell me what to do.” Well, we had a good conversation. I was able to give her some principles from God's Word, but when I hung up, I thought to myself, “That pastor is the one she should have turned to, not me.”

Pastors need to be equipped. They need to have the language. They need to understand the arguments so that they, in turn, can give the compassioned and reasoned argument from God's Word as to what to do in a situation like that.

Nancy: So many of these issues ultimately are an attack or an assault on the sanctity of human life. We've heard that as it relates to abortion, but in so many other areas you talk about taking, making, and faking different ways that we assault the image of God or the sanctity of human life. Can you give us some illustrations of what would be taking, making, and faking life?

Joni: Well, these are three areas where I think we are called to battle in this arena of bioethical concerns. The taking of life involves, of course, abortion or euthanasia. When I served on the National Council on Disability back in the 1980s, the National Institutes of Health had presented to us the idea of using abortion as a disability-prevention strategy. This would be a good way to make certain that children born with Down Syndrome are eradicated.

Well, our council—many of them non-believers, liberals, conservatives on this council—all of us in unison said, “No way! We will not use abortion as disability-prevention strategy,” but now it's happening all the time. In fact, the numbers of children with Down Syndrome are greatly decreased.

Nancy: Because of abortion?

Joni: Because of abortion. And so now it's being used as a disability-prevention strategy. The taking of life involves either abortion or the euthanizing of individuals with severe and significant disabilities, or the elderly, whose lives are deemed not worth living.

There's something in many hospitals across the country now called, “futile care policies,” which means that doctors have the right to override a family's wants and wishes regarding end-of-life treatment for their loved one. Doctors now have that right.

Nancy: Because they consider it futile to do so?

Joni: Exactly. So the taking of life involves abortion and euthanasia. The making of life involves this whole issue of cloning where we now see that many scientists feel that the best hopes for cures would be to clone individuals in order to get genetically agreeable stem cells which then might be used in your own medical therapy.

Nancy: What's the real problem with that from a biblical perspective?

Joni: No longer will man be made in God's image. Man will be made in man's image, and that is a smack in the face of God's creative authority. It's an affront to God's creative authority. How audacious of us to create man in man's own image, not to even mention the fact that the process itself is fraught with many problems in animal experiments—lots of genetic mutations, tissue rejections, the formation of tumors!

Cloning is not the route to medical cures. Again, stem cell research using adult tissues, the tissues that God designed to repair and restore damaged areas of our body—adult stem cells are the route to go, so there you have the making of life.

Of course, the faking of life is this new area of what is called nanotechnology. This is a brand new, cutting-edge technology where scientists have now developed molecular-sized, little, tiny protein machines which can, let's say, enhance muscle performance in a rat.

Well, as soon as that hit the news, there were many athletes that called these research facilities because these athletes saw that this was a way that they could get around—an undetectable way—of enhancing their own performance, their own athletic performance. No longer would they have to take steroid shots or do blood-doping. No, they could just have their muscles genetically enhanced.

Nancy: I think the danger is we're in any sense using technology, as a society, to take over from God.

Joni: You know, that's a good point, Nancy. In fact, I'm thinking of a phone call that I had last night from a young man whose mother is spinal cord injured. She is a rather large woman, so it's been difficult for her to be rehabilitated.

Insurance has caused some restrictions, so she has been shifted from pillar to post and now is in a sub-acute care facility, recently weaned off her ventilator but despairing of her life. She has a feeding tube, and she's deeply discouraged.

I know this woman very well. I'll call her Jane to protect her privacy, but Jane has volunteered at our family retreats for many years. She knows disability, but yet, in this situation she finds herself sorely depressed.

Well, her son called me last night and wanted to know what I thought about having her feeding tube pulled. He said to me, “Joni, I think my mom would be much happier in heaven. She's miserable right now, and I just want to know, would you respect our decision if we, as a family, went ahead and had that feeding tube pulled?”

My heart was in my throat, and I said to this young man, “Honey, your mother's problem is not her quadriplegia. It's her depression, and depression can be treated. Depression can be cured. Your mom can be lifted up out of depression.

She just needs a little bit of rehabilitative therapy to get her sitting up in a wheelchair and out of that hospital and into the light of day to see that she can go on with her life. I warned him—I said, “Life is the most irreplaceable and fundamental condition that your mother is in, and if that plug is pulled, if you take out that feeding tube, that has grave consequences.

“No, I cannot support your decision, and I would stand in opposition to it because I believe that that's God's prerogative. Your mother doesn't need a special right to die. Rather, she needs the right to get out into this world and see and really appreciate that you're not better off dead than disabled and that life really is worth living, and Jesus can make it so.”

Nancy: It sounds like this is a day when there's a great opportunity for God's people to stake their lives on biblical thinking, to become biblical thinkers on these very practical, modern-day, complex issues that are not going to go away

We need to be prepared to give an answer, a reasoned response, but also to be an expression of the heart and the mercy and the grace of Christ in this dark day to care for those individuals who are needy and their family members and those who love them. What an opportunity!

Joni: What an opportunity! We must not let others redefine what compassion is. Compassion is not pulling a feeding tube. Compassion is not three grams of phenobarbital in the veins to put you “out of your misery.”

No, compassion is sitting by that bedside, holding that person's hand, getting them connected to reality, helping them to ascribe positive meaning to their suffering, reconnecting them with their family and their friends, lifting their spirits, praying over their bedside, singing those hymns of worship. That's compassion, not the lethal drug in the veins.

Nancy: I want to thank you, Joni, for your courage and the wisdom that God's given you. You've set out to become discerning and to be a biblical thinker on these issues, not just because of how it all affects you, but because you have a heart of compassion for others that are affected and for the glory of God in this day.

We know that the kingdom of Christ will reign and prevail and that the final chapter has been written. But in the meantime, thank you for what you're doing and for the ministry of Joni and Friends and the many, many ways that you are proclaiming and pleading for a culture of life and using that as an opportunity to lift up Christ and to make Him known. You're a blessing to so many, and I just want to thank you for sharing with us this week on Revive Our Hearts and for what that has meant to me and to our listeners.

Joni: Well, Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He has the words of life. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Where can we go for meaningful life other than to the foot of the throne of the Savior and find what life, true life, is really all about?

Leslie: Well, I've heard issues like embryonic stem cell research debated over and over, and I appreciate the perspective of Joni Eareckson Tada. She'll be one of the speakers at the True Woman Conference this September in Indianapolis. She's unique in that she's researched these life issues thoroughly while also speaking from experience, living a full, exciting, yet challenging life as a quadriplegic.

Unfortunately, we don't have time to bring you the complete conversation between Joni and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Please be sure to get a copy on CD. You'll hear all of this week's programs, including the full interview on bioethics.

As debates rage on these topics, a lot of listeners will want to have this resource on hand. You can refer back to it and think through your approach to these issues, and you can get some ideas on what to say to other people who are asking questions—literally, questions of life and death.

Ask for the series, A Conversation with Joni, when you call 1-800-569-5959 or go online to ReviveOurHearts.com. That's also where you can get information on hearing Joni for yourself at the True Woman Conference in Indianapolis this September. Again, it's ReviveOurHearts.com, or call our True Woman phone number, 1-877-966-2608. Nancy's back to explain more.

Nancy: As you've been listening to Joni today, you may have heard about some issues that are new to you and maybe unfamiliar or perhaps some issues that you're grappling with in your own life or extended family or friends. Go to our website, ReviveOurHearts.com. We'll have a link there to the website for Joni and Friends and let you know how you can get a hold of some resources that will be helpful to you as you process these issues, as you try to think biblically, and also some ways that you can get involved, as part of the body of Christ, in ministering grace to those with disabilities.

What a way to cause the light and the grace and the gospel of Christ to shine in this dark day! Go to our website. Check out those links, and ask the Lord how He might want you to be involved in this battle for life.

Joni: Nancy, those words, cloning and genetic manipulation and eugenics and even abortion or euthanasia—they're not in the Bible. You're not going to find those words in the Bible. But for any of our listeners who are wrestling with some of these issues—perhaps an elderly parent who is failing quickly and is in the hospital, or perhaps you have learned that the unborn child you're carrying has multiple disabilities—you're not going to find the words abortion or infanticide or euthanasia or cloning in God's Word, but you will find wisdom. Well, you've got your Bible open. There's a great verse about wisdom that I think would be a help.

Nancy: Yes, James chapter one, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (verse 5, ESV).

Joni: I love that it's a kind of wisdom that is hand-tailored, specified for your particular need.

Nancy: Custom made.

Joni: We can't sit here and give a bioethical template or a grid that we can impose on every person's situation and expect that it would fit. No, every situation is a little different, a little unique, but what I love about God and His Word is His wisdom. It is as unique and hand-tailored for every need, so the Word of God is still the best resource.

Leslie: Next week on Revive Our Hearts hear about the power of words to bring death or life to a marriage.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

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