Biblical Reflections on Modern Medicine
Vol. 7, No. 5 (41)
"C-a-r F-i-f-t-y F-o-u-r W-h-e-r-e A-r-e Y-o-u?"
"I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life" (I Kings 19:10, NKJV).
I often feel like Elijah in this passage. Perhaps you do too. What follows for him is God's revelation of "seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him" (I Kings 19:18, NKJV). Elijah was encouraged and went about the Lord's work.Where are the "seven thousand" today? Polls indicate tens of millions of "evangelical Christians" in the United States, but we are formally and practically a pagan country where Jesus Christ's name cannot be officially spoken in public. But, I want to focus more narrowly to Christians in medical leadership.
From time to time and in various ways, I learn of Christian physicians on various medical boards of medical organizations and government agencies. (I won't name names, but I could name a few!) Yet, I don't hear their voice! No major medical organization has rejected abortion on demand, and no one is pushing for that position. Christians, where are you?
Now, I don't want to be unfair. I was once on the Medical Ethics Committee of the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG). We tried to send out a mailing for a poll to find out the beliefs of the members on the issue of abortion. The governing board of MAG would not allow this mailing, even if paid for with non-MAG funds!
And, other examples of the dictatorial powers of medical organizations on abortion, AIDS, and other issues could be cited. So, I recognize that there is often not much maneuvering room for "politically incorrect" ideas.
However, at the least, where are the martyrs? Where are those making such waves that they are thrown overboard? Some are chairman of committees or departments who would seem to be the agenda setters? Are not a few willing to stand and take the arrows?
I fear two problems. First, even Christians love power and the acclaim of their professional peers. I know. I am subject to these desires. Second, these Christians lack discernment. They lack discernment about medical facts and Biblical truth. The fact is that modern medicine is mostly an emperor without clothes. The pages of Reflections are full of examples. And, a systematic understanding of Biblical theology and ethics is almost unknown today among activist Christians, even my own readers. (See Letters-to-Ed.)
I lament without much hope. However, this article is not to portray me or my work as the only right way. This article is to perhaps awaken one person in some position of power or governance to be a little more bold -- a little more discerning of the issues -- to do a great deal more study to make his ideas correspond to Biblical teaching.
And, to prod others. If you know of such a person, challenge him (or her) to be more of a witness to Biblical ethics than he currently is. You never know. You may awaken a George Whitefield who starts a Holy fire that will not easily be quenched!
When a local radio station announced that Dr. Laura Schlesinger, a psychologist, would be on for two hours a day. I cringed. Christians in psychology anger and nauseate me. (See Letters-to-Ed herein.) "Oh boy," I thought. "More depraved and misdirected guidance for the masses."
Not so! Strong kudos to Dr. Laura (as she calls herself). To her, all men and women who live together without being married are "shacking up" and "getting the goodies without the cost of commitment." She is strongly against day-care. "Why have children and then give them to someone else to raise?" Struggling marriages should be kept together for the sake of the children!
Oh, I only pray that Christians on the radio who promote themselves as psychologists were half as Biblically directed as Dr. Laura. And, amazingly she is popular. (What does that say about people's desire for strong, moral, directive guidance?) If I remember correctly, she is second only to Rush Limbaugh in audience.
Now, this endorsement is not 100 percent. She is Jewish, not Christian. She believes that parents' primary responsibility is to their children, while I believe that the marriage is primary and children are secondary. (Children are temporary residents in the home, and the greatest influence on their early lives is the relationship of their parents.)
And, I would probably have some other disagreements. Actually, my work precludes my listening very much. But, she is a breath of fresh air in a cesspool of secular and Christian psychologists.
Nouthetic counselors need to listen to her. She deals with complex and painful problems quickly, directly, confrontatively, compassionately, and (mostly) morally. You can learn from her. Screen what she does and says with your Biblical grid, and you will be a better counselor.
I wonder if God has brought her to prominence because His people have bowed the knee to Baal (worshiped at the altar of secular psychology)?
Another bright light appeared among non-Christians with an insight that I wish would appear in the Christian community. Almost on a whim, I bought a copy of Healing Wounded Doctor-Patient Relationships by Linda Hanner (Kashan Publishing, 1995). While I cannot take the space here to comment on the entire book, and I do not fully endorse it, one emphasis by the author deserves recognition.
The first chapter is "The Uncertainty of Medicine." Ms. Hanner states that "three-quarters of those who visit a doctor have ailments that can't be immediately diagnosed or effectively treated." "Diagnostic technology is far from perfect and the margin for human error is staggering." "The ability to cure most ailments is also disputable." And so on.
We spend about 1 trillion dollars a year on an enterprise for which little efficacy can be demonstrated. By analogy, what if all the money spent on airplane technology produced no better results that the first plane of the Wright brothers? How long would that money continue to be spent? Not long.
While Ms. Hanner places this lack of efficacy of modern medicine in the context of patient-physician conflict, it is also one of the greatest hurdles to medical ethics and medical economics. But, alas, alack. Rarely is this reality perceived by either Christians or non-Christians.
Where can a man buy a cap for his knee?
What jewels are in the crown of your head?
Can the crook of your elbow be sent to jail?
Did you ever sharpen your shoulder blades?
My thanks to Sally Brueggemen for sending this parody.
O LORD, our Lord,
Psalm 8:1 (NKJV)
I was reading the May 1996 issue of Biblical Reflections and came across the item, "On Being Incompletely Prolife." Two things: Is it really true that all organ transplants come from people who are still alive? The other has to do with the comment about pro-lifers embracing psychology and its diagnosis of post-abortion syndrome (other psychological labels) that are "purely humanistic and guilt-avoiding."
I don't know where you are getting your information, but the articles and books that I use with women going through the aftermath of abortion all deal forthrightly with guilt, and from a spiritual basis. Moreover, as a counselor, I have yet to meet a woman (or a man for that matter) who is troubled by an abortion and is not troubled deeply by guilt, shame, grief, and remorse.
Four books that come to mind immediately are Susan Stanford-Rue's book, Will I Cry Tomorrow? (Revell 1986), David Reardon's Aborted Women: Silent No More (Crossway 1987), Reardon's Making Abortion Rare (Acorn Books 1996), and Nancy Michels' book, Helping Women Recover From Abortion (Bethany House 1988). All are very explicit about guilt, shame, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ.
This is also true of books and pamphlets dealing with post-abortion trauma put out by Focus on the Family and Post-Abortion Ministries of Memphis, Tennessee. Every crisis pregnancy center that I am personally aware of that offers counseling for women (and men) who have had an abortion deal with guilt, forgiveness, faith in Christ, and His redemptive work on the cross.
I think this should be noted in your newsletter.
Minister of Counseling
In answer to his question, all major organ transplants (heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys) do indeed come from donors who are still alive. If transplant teams wait until cessation of the heart beat and respiration, those organs have deteriorated with the dying process to the extent that they are not viable for transplantation.
In response to Mr. Brown's second concern, I was hopeful. "Surely," I thought, "This minister has introduced me to some books that are Biblical to give counsel to women who have had abortions." However, as you readers know, I am always a bit skeptical and have to investigate others' writings for myself. As to where I was "getting my information," my comments on post-abortion syndrome" were triggered by the article "Post-Abortion Syndrome" in the March 1996 issue of Life Issues Connector, written by its President and Publisher, J. C. Wilke, M.D. I did not name that source in my comments because the use of psychological concepts among those who are pro-life is far broader than that one publisher and the one "diagnosis," Post-Abortion Syndrome.
For the second time in as many issues of Reflections, I am having to take issue with faithful supporters of Biblical medical ethics. The first time concerned the concept of faith. (See May 1996 issue.) Now, I take exception to Mr. Brown's analysis.
Reardon's two books are out of print, so they were not available to me. I bought the other two and reviewed them.
Susan Stanford-Rue's book, Will I Cry Tomorrow?: Healing Post-Abortion Trauma, is basically an autobiography of her own sexual immoralities that led to an abortion, religious experience, and counseling ministry. The book ends with "Healing Steps for Post-Abortion Trauma."
The problem with the book is summed up with one of those (nine) steps, "The Blending of Psychology with Christianity" (p. 166). It is the old, tired, and heretical attempt to integrate psychology with Christian beliefs. Even without specifics (below), the general concept is a violation of God's authority and a clear admission that His truth and practical application are inadequate.
I have written several times on this subject. I must be brief here. (See my Biblical Healing for Modern Medicine, pp. 73-88 for more information.) Relative to authority, "I am the LORD, that is My name, I will not give my glory to another, Nor my praise to idols" (Isaiah 42:8, NASB). Modern Christians are not familiar with the jealous nature of God. That jealousy is graphically and mightily portrayed in the Old Testament.
Jesus identified with this jealousy with His response, "I AM" in numerous places. The angry response from the Jews of His time reveals their understanding that He had equated Himself with God, a blasphemous statement to them because they did not recognize that it had been uttered by God Himself. That God's authority can be "blended" with another authority is blasphemous. That blasphemy is the primary problem. Finally, all authority is derivative from God's authority.
Relative to practical application, we must pity the Christians of the 1st through the 19th centuries. They had only the Bible and the Holy Spirit with which to face their problems. They did not have the "integration" of psychology with Christian beliefs as modern Christians have. I guess God's promise of "abundant life" was inadequate until 20th century psychology. Hogwash!!!
Show me one verse in the Bible that says that anything other than God's plan of salvation and His principles of Holy living is necessary for "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23) and all the other "abundant" qualities of Godly living.
So, the attempt to "blend" Christianity and psychology is first a strike against God's character, and second, a frank admission that God's directives for a holy and abundant life are inadequate without psychology.
The concept of "healing memories" (p. 166), specifically, "abortion memory," is unbiblical. First, there is no Biblical injunction to "heal memories." Again, this step denies God's promise of joy, peace, etc., by His plan alone.
Second, the process focuses on false images, i.e., lies, a violation of the Ninth Commandment. The post-abortion mother is to imagine Jesus holding the aborted baby (intact, not shredded, of course) and to talk to that image of Jesus.
This process is appealing and sentimental. From the author's own experience and those of her "clients" (interesting label for the recipient of supposedly spiritual guidance), this step produces "happy tears" (p. 146) and "healing" (pp. 144, 150, 166, etc.).
There is a subtle, but powerful, effect here. Outcome (positive emotions) proves process. Or, the end justifies the means. The means is unbiblical, dealing with fantasy and imagined images. The end is strongly positive emotions. A comparison would be the warm feelings and sometimes life-changing experience, that accompanies out-of-body experiences by those who have had near-death experiences. The end justifies (proves) the means.
Another error is the misuse of God's promise where "two or more are gathered in Your name" (p. 167). The Biblical context is one of church discipline, not a promise of answered prayer (Matthew 18:15-20). This misinterpretation, however, is common among evangelicals.
Other confusion about psychological concepts and Biblical truth include "feelings of failure" (p. 133), "guilty feelings" (p. 135), "catharsis" (p. 3), and others (p. 135).
Dr. Stanford-Rue misses a great opportunity to praise God. From her story, it is obvious that God sought her out and saved her because "all of my professional training as a psychologist could not help rescue me from the abyss of self-hatred and guilt." Instead, she encounters Francis and Judith MacNutt (pp. 139-146) and Father Bob Sears (pp. 150-153), from whom she learned and experienced "guided mental imaging."
What began as a great testimony of God reaching into her life and saving her became a psychological mishmash of good feelings and Jesus' loving presence -- a reality of salvation to an imagined experience. God's wonderful forgiveness and grace is savaged in the process.
Something else is missing. "Father, forgive me for murdering my unborn child." Almost universally in the pro-life community, the mother who aborted is portrayed as a victim. Partly, she is deluded by society. But, she had her unborn child murdered! Now, don't get me wrong. God can forgive murder as surely as any other sin, but let's call abortion what it is and get the focus off pity for the mother!
(As a minor note, is the hyphenation, "Stanford-Rue," a statement about her acceptance of Christian tradition that denotes "one-flesh" in marriage?)
Michels' book also contains psychological distortion of Biblical concepts. For 108 pages (of a total of 186), she gives a lengthy overview of the psychology of aborted women. Finally, she gets to forgiveness by God (p. 109ff). However, she psychologizes even this concept. After presenting the possibility of God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ, she then lists numerous reasons that aborted women "need" forgiveness: for joy and peace, her own safety, her attitude toward other people, and the wrong of her abortion.
Forgiveness from God is not sought for personal benefit but a compelling conviction that there is nowhere else to turn and that His great plan of salvation provides the answer to guilt. The cry of sinners has nothing to do with the needs that Michels names, but a desperate plea for release from the awful guilt of offense before a Holy God. What she names as "needs" are actually blessings that follow forgiveness and repentance, not needs to be sought.
Her concept of forgiveness gets worse. The aborted woman is told to forgive others -- Mom, the aborted baby's father, the staff of the abortion clinic, and friends who gave bad advice (pp. 118-119). This forgiveness can be accomplished without ever speaking to the one forgiven! "Forgiveness always involves the two parties involved in the offense" (Jay E. Adams, Theology of Christian Counseling, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979, p. 193). This one-sided concept of forgiveness is common among evangelicals because of the influence of Christians in psychology and psychiatry.
Forgiveness also involves a personal liability (accountability) and threat of punishment for one's sins and the release from that liability at great cost to the one who forgives (Adams, pp. 190-192). These elements are mostly missing from Michels' discussion, but are critical for a Biblical understanding of forgiveness, most importantly God's work of forgiveness for His own.
Michels further errs in the concept of forgiving oneself and self-image (Chapter 8). Nowhere, nowhere is the Christian ever directed in the Bible to forgive oneself. In fact, we love ourselves too much. We are directed to love others as we love ourselves (e.g., Matthew 22:34-40 and Ephesians 5:28-33). Admonitions are directed toward love of others, not self (e.g., Matthew 6:33, 10:38-39, 16:24-28; Acts 20:35).
Other psychological descriptions appear: "verbalize feelings and emotion," "being sensitive and open," "how to be vulnerable," and "be happy with yourself" (pp. 141-144). Suggesting that women who have had an abortion counsel others (p. 146) is dangerous without strict qualifications (as we are seeing in these books).
Michels' books has considerably more Biblical substance than Stanford-Rue's. What she gains there, however, she loses with her psychologizing.
I cannot comment on the "books and pamphlets" put out by others except that I am suspicious, since this psychologizing runs through most pro-life literature that I have seen. I do know that Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family) has directed Christians to forgive God (a worse concept of forgiveness than those above) and consistently talks about self-image and self-love. Thus, I suspect that their materials reflect Dobson's own errors.
This critique was prompted by a letter from a subscriber (Mr. Brown). My response is a severe attack on pro-lifers and their concepts. However, virtually the entire Church of Jesus Christ is as much in error relative to the attempt at wedding Biblical truth with secular psychology. So, while this attack is particular, it is also general.
Dr. Paul Vitz writes that psychology is religion (Psychology As Religion, Eerdmans, 1977). It most definitely is and, as such, is competitive to, not complementary of, Christianity. Perhaps, there is no greater evil in the Church today. Psychology is far more subtle and powerful than liberal Christianity because liberals (for the most part) simply deny the authority and infallibility of Scripture, God's sovereignty, and the reality of salvation. "Christian psychology" attempts to "integrate" and equivocate the two.
This latter merging is subtle, often based upon "good feelings" and a superficial identity with Biblical concepts. But, it is no less error and heresy, deadly to spiritual life and growth of individuals, families, and the Church.
Mr. Brown's letter is representative of this widespread delusion. He writes to criticize and chastise me for my painting pro-lifers with a broad and unfair brush. What he does is legitimize what I said and give me more ammunition.
Again, I muse. If God is indeed a jealous God, is not the weakness and irrelevancy of the modern Church in modern society a reflection of Christians' own superficial and distorted understanding of God's nature and His Book?
Please accept my sympathies at the death of your grandson. I know it is a sad loss particularly for your daughter. I hope this is not indelicate (It is not - Ed.), but the death notice in your newsletter prompted thoughts I have had specifically abut proper funeral and burial for stillborn or spontaneously aborted babies.
The experience sticks in my mind of a woman I saw in the emergency room who had a spontaneous abortion at about 2 months gestation. She brought in a "specimen" of what she had passed and my gross examination revealed an inch long baby with torso, limbs, head and eyes easily recognized. Indeed she had already recognized it as a baby. I remember not knowing exactly what to do with the baby. I may have asked the mother if she wanted the "tissue" which certainly was the baby and she gave me one of those "Well you are the doctor -- I don't know what to do" looks, so I told her that we would dispose of it.
You seem to think about everything else in Biblical medical ethics, so I wonder if you have ever written about proper funeral or disposal/burial of unborn babies. 1) Should all have a funeral and burial? 2) Is it just up to whatever the parents desire? 3) Does it matter how old the baby is? 4) In some early spontaneous abortions you might have only menstrual-looking tissue that has come out in the toilet. 5) Should the fetal tissue be fished out for proper burial? I think your comments would be of interest to your readers or at least this reader.
Tom Farmer, M.D.
Dr. Farmer has raised questions which I had not considered before. It is an important question for pastors and physicians to advise those with whom they are involved. I will place some initial reflections before readers and perhaps together arrive at a Biblical frame of reference. One caveat. Individual human life begins at conception. While I will discuss personal preferences, we are not discussing the question of the person of the unborn child. That is a settled issue for me, as ongoing readers know.
The Bible does not require either a funeral or a burial. That is, there is no specific reference or directive for either. Some have made a case for burial vs. cremation, but there is no consistent Biblical interpretation among past or present theologians to make burial the Biblical norm. (I have checked numerous theological texts and talked to one knowledgeable pastor-theologian.)
This (lack of) Biblical frame of reference is one place to start to answer Dr. Farmer's questions. Another place to begin is at the end of the spectrum of pregnancy. Surely, a near term or full term baby should have a funeral. But, a funeral for an embryo of 3-4 weeks which hardly appears human seems inappropriate (without denying its full humanness and right to life). So, where does one draw the line at a funeral or no funeral?
Perhaps, the answer lies in Dr. Farmer's reference to "what the parents desire." What is the purpose of a funeral? For Christians, it is a great loss, a celebration, a farewell, and an expectation of renewed relationships in Heaven. For non-Christians, it may be many other things, depending upon their religious beliefs. At least, however, it is a reconciliation with the dead person and with the fact of his final departure.
Reconciliation is a Biblical concept that binds up the loose ends of broken relationships. Marriage violated and strained by adultery may be divorced (Matthew 19:1-10). Relationships where one or more has harmed another are restored personally or corporately (Matthew 18:15-20). Loose ends also involve strong emotions. Anger is to be limited to the day that it occurs (Ephesians 4:26), as is worry (Matthew 6:25-34).
God is a God of order, providing principles of order for His people. Loose ends are to be tied up and unrestrained emotions harnessed to proper and productive activities.
Thus, reconciliation and strong emotions are at least two dimensions relative to funerals of unborn children. Strong emotions are generated with the death of a person within the family or a close friend. We usually don't go to the funeral of a casual acquaintance.
Grief associated with an ectopic pregnancy or early miscarriage (unless it is a recurring problem) is variable. However, there is a great deal of grief once the woman has begun to develop a relationship with the unborn baby by hearing its heartbeat, knowing its effects on her body, feeling its movements, and more and more planning and provision for its comforts once it is born.
So, my initial reflection is that the parents do indeed need to decide whether a funeral is appropriate. Only they can determine to what extent the loss of the unborn child has affected them, and their need for reconciliation with their unborn child. A pastor could help them resolve this desire. And, the need may not be known at the time. If the loss over the next several weeks seems greater, a funeral could still be held without the body of the baby.
Disposal of the body would also be the option of the parents. Personally, I would find little attachment to an embryo, early fetus, or an ectopic pregnancy. However, I found a great deal of attachment to my grandson who died at 31 weeks of pregnancy. His funeral was strong reconciliation for us as a family with him and with God.
Many Christians are uncomfortable with freedoms that the Bible (God) allows. However, God in His Wisdom has allowed us to be individuals. He gives us choices in many areas. Parents of a child who dies before birth have the choice of a funeral and/or burial. Pastors, physicians, and others may help them decide. The further along is gestation, the more I would urge a burial and funeral.
I am glad that Dr. Farmer raised the question. I did not realize my own ignorance in this area until he did. This issue needs more attention among evangelicals so we can be prepared for the situation when it arises. Or perhaps, pastors have long since dealt with this issue and we medical ethicists are only lately discerning the issue.
Note: I have not dealt with the issue of a funeral for the baby of a woman who has had an abortion and later repents. That situation is more complex, and church discipline is a central issue.
Vol. 10, No. 5 (66) September 1996
I have made various predictions about the AIDS epidemic over the years. Many have been accurate. Whenever a prediction is fulfilled, I like to toot my horn -- not just to stroke my ego, but to laugh at the absolutist notions about AIDS that have come crashing down.
Thank you, Dr. Dean Edell! (Dr. Edell is a syndicated radio talk show about health/medical matters.) An absolute mantra of the politically correct AIDS "officials" was the threat of HIV to all people. When Michael Fumento wrote his book, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, he was widely and loudly condemned by these "officials" and their lap dogs in the media and in medicine. Our Christian Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop was one of these "officials."
However, a frequent admission on Dr. Edell's show is that "We have directed 'education' about AIDS to the wrong people." The transmission of AIDS in "typical" heterosexual relationships is almost unknown. HIV infections now occur almost entirely in homosexuals and IV-drug abusers, their sexual consorts, and their unborn children.
From the beginning of AIDS statistics, these behavioral modes of HIV transmission were known. There was never any evidence of significant spread outside these groups. Yet, most of the Public Service Announcements (PSAs) have and continue to portray heterosexuals in their warnings against HIV transmission. A recent example appeared in my own campus newspaper, The Beeper (August 14, 1996, p. 10). It showed a teenage couple necking in a car with a typical warning about AIDS.
I send a small kudo to Dr. Edell. If he would only open his mind to the evils of abortion, as he has to the facts about AIDS.
Many who attended the 11th International Conference on AIDS (July 1996, Vancouver, Canada) were excited about multiple drug therapy for HIV/AIDS. "Within a year, up to 18 antiretroviral drugs might be available, yielding as many as 1800 different combinations (of therapy)," one speaker announced. (American Medical News, July 29, 1996, p. 1)
Commentary: Yawn. In the past such hope in the treatment of HIV/AIDS has been mostly hype (with the possible exception of reducing transmission of HIV in unborn children). Likely, such expectations will exceed the reality of proven treatment, yet researchers will continue undaunted, as "thar's gold in them thar hills (research)!"
Further, how long will it take to test 1800 combinations of drugs? It has taken 10 years to evaluate AZT.
Dear readers, I remain pessimistic. Yes, I hope for an effective treatment of HIV/AIDS, as I hope for an effective treatment (there aren't many) of other illnesses. So far, however, any efficacy in the treatment of HIV/AIDS has been more illusory than real. The "politically correct" want a treatment so badly that they hype any possibility of progress far beyond its reality.
And, then, there is the priority of HIV/AIDS research and treatment relative to innocent victims of other diseases -- but that is another sermon which you have already heard.
CDC Director Dr. David Satcher states:
Commentary: Oh, the arrogance and ignorance (or bald-faced lie) of Dr. Satcher!!! What our nation has done against AIDS has worsened the epidemic, if it has had any effect at all. The decline that Dr. Satcher notes, first of all was never predicted by AIDS officials. If fact, they engaged in fear mongering, predicting that the epidemic would be more widespread and in greater numbers that it currently is. (See first article above.)
What he is doing is taking credit for the natural course of the epidemic. Epidemics begin with an explosive spread followed by a leveling of numbers over time.
Modern medicine gained most of its credibility by such false conclusions. Tuberculosis, scarlet fever, diphtheria, rheumatic heart disease, whooping cough, and measles declined before there were effective treatments or immunization. Mortality for atherosclerotic heart disease has declined by unexplained reasons. But, modern medicine gets the credit, and gladly credits itself for these natural changes in disease patterns!
Now, "officials" are starting to claim efficacious programs for AIDS. Are they just ignorant or bald-faced liars? You tell me!
In Willimantic, Connecticut, a 2-year old girl was reportedly pricked by a discard hypodermic needle. More than 350 others were collected from the city's streets, lots and alleys, "prompting officials to take a closer look at the local needle-exchange program. (AM News, 9/9/96, p. 31)
Commentary: Wrong means intended for good ends always have negative consequences. The experience of this one town demonstrates that needle-exchange programs for to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among IV-drug abusers is not a panacea but Pandora's box.
Hilton P. Terrell, Ph.D., M.D.
According to a report in the June 20, 1996, Medical Tribune, the American Association of Retired People (AARP) will offer its "imprimatur" on certain managed care plans which meet its criteria. It is stated that this "imprimatur" will cost the managed care corporation lots of money. Endorsements of auto and home insurance companies added $146 million to the AARP's coffers in 1994. The AARP will apparently use (as part of its criteria for endorsement beyond the cash transfer) quality standards established by a nonprofit group called the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
On the one hand, one is inclined to be encouraged by the development of nongovernmental agencies such as these which could inform the public about the qualities of products and services which are widely thought to be too complex for the average "consumer" to evaluate. There is room for an Underwriters' Laboratories kind of evaluation. For a century or so we have relied on medical licensure granted by state governments to secure the public from harm and neglect. This reliance is wrongly grounded ethically and unproven in effect. If it really worked, there would be scant market for these other contenders. Since God never granted authority over individual medical care to the civil ruler, would one not expect a good effect of government licensure.
On the other hand, these early vendors of quality assurance in medical care are not reassuring, either. Quality in medical care is highly individualistic. Some people value personality in their doctor. Others value doctors who prescribe freely. A few value impressive academic credentials, and so forth. Valid outcome measures in medicine are nearly impossible to achieve. A surgeon who has a worse outcome measure may be working with more desperately ill patients than another surgeon who operates only on the safer few.
The medical profession came under assault in legislatures and courtrooms and before the bar of public opinion suspiciously in proportion to the
enrichment of the profession due to its licensure monopoly combined with public programs such as Medicare. A growing host of other entities wish to drink from these fountains -- HMO's, huge lobbying organizations, government
regulators, plaintiffs' attorneys, pharmacies, and so on.
For a long time I have collected in a file the names and purposes of "self-help" organizations. They appear to have proliferated in recent decades, offering support, information, and group lobbying efforts. I was cleaning out the file recently and ran across a small sampling from 17 years ago. The clippings included groups addressing bereavement, overeating, alcoholism in women, breast feeding, twins, childbirth, infant care, divorce, mental illness, sudden infant death, marriage, child abuse, runaway children, laryngectomy, and venereal disease. From memory I can add: breast cancer, rape, parents of homosexuals, diabetes, epilepsy, mental retardation, autism, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, lupus, children of alcoholics, families of prisoners. With five more minutes I could probably recall another dozen or two. Under threat of torture, I could identify more than two hundred.
Initially mildly positive, my assessment of these efforts has become steadily more pessimistic. On the positive side, they are inexpensive sources of information which, though it is biased, often is biased in a way opposite to the medical profession and perhaps restores a little balance and needed competition to the medical party line. They may be a means of common grace through the solace of the "milk of human kindness." They may be an echo of the voluntary associations which once carried the burden of charitable community work a century ago, though one recalls that the earlier associations actually did or paid for the care, whereas the modern echoes tend to coerce others through law to do the difficult work.
On the negative side, they sometimes become a substitute for what families and churches can provide, soaking up resources and instilling wrong attitudes. Many see their target problem as something wrong exclusively in the environment. The human heart is omitted as a root of some of the problems or as the locus of the primary resource for healing.
They are radically environmental. The problem is the school, the medical profession, the condom, the prison system, the parents, the spouse, and the genes. Of course, the material environment is central to some of the concerns, such as cancer. A serious mention of sin, repentance, grace, or restitution at some of the self-help meetings might cause mass fainting or a riot.
Attention and sympathy, however, are granted to agitation for changes in law, appropriation of tax revenues, or boycotts. One doubts that a serious consideration of how one's own misbeliefs and misbehavior helped to produce the problem are common fare. Does the offered compassion omit the Truth of God which bears on the matter, and therefore, is not really compassion? Does confession to others in like plight substitute for confession to God and to a particular person who was actually wronged? Is there interest in reconciliation, restitution, and justice or in fortifying one's self-defense?
Paul, in II Corinthians 1:3-4 speaks of the "God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Modern self-help groups routinely omit reference to any but the most generic of gods. Instead, the misbelief is portrayed that you are disqualified from assisting another unless you have also partaken of exactly the same calamity. We even seek special training for ministry in calamity now. If you haven't been an alcoholic or drug addict or rape victim or had an autistic child or whatever, you can't understand. This attitude makes experience the only teacher; nor can the experience generalize very far. The revelation of Scripture is not considered the teacher.
Now the Savior was indeed tested in all points as we are and tasted our afflictions. Yet, it does not follow that He had to experience exactly the same life history in order to be our Teacher or to send the Comforter. The Corinthian Christians were not being told by Paul that they should comfort the afflicted by means of reciting their credentials or tales of suffering. It is not recorded that they pressured Rome for money or lobbied for state certification of day-care center workers. The comfort came by reciting the care, counsel, and credentials of Christ. The comfort is in God, not in the conduits and their stories. With repentance and belief in the Gospel, the Comforter Himself is provided, Who guides into us into all truth in Scripture, not in our experiences.
God's provision for a community to heal broken hearts is Christians individually, Christian families as we have opportunity, and the Church corporately. The balm is the Gospel, accompanied by practical ministrations of the sort that the Good Samaritan used. It is true that none of the above resources are today widely experienced in helping. We won't improve the situation, however, when we turn to groups which eschew the God of all comfort.
Misery does love company, but miserable company is not the remedy for misery.
Tragically, these self-help groups are forming in the Church. As Dr. Terrell said, you just can't understand unless you have had the same experience that I am going through. What role does this approach allow for pastors? Those with the spiritual gifts of mercy? The Holy Spirit Himself Who is the Comforter?
These groups have the potential to be destructive to the unity of the Church. They say, "We are different. We need special treatment. We are unique. We must separate ourselves from the general group."
Clearly, these groups come from the influence of psychology and its "group therapy." Psychology is a rot in the roots of the Church. The Church will never be healthy until that canker is radically sought out and excised.
Copyright © 2003 BMEI, Inc.