The use of language in argument is an art that secularists have mastered. The general populace and far too many Christians often embrace a godless worldview by virtue of a lack of discernment in this area (which of course is grounded in theological ignorance to a certain degree). For too long, the anti-God crowd has framed debate in the multi-front culture war and in so doing advanced their cause through forcing Christians to fight on enemy ground at worst or on neutral ground at best. In such a war, Christians must never give up ground nor must they fight on neutral or enemy ground through a lack of discernment.
Consider a recent story regarding a survey in connection with how physicians’ religious or moral beliefs affect patients’ care. According to the AP, “A disturbing number of doctors do not feel obligated to tell patients about medical options they oppose morally, such as abortion and teen birth control, and believe they have no duty to refer people elsewhere for such treatments…The study, conducted by University of Chicago researchers, found 86 percent of those responding, believe doctors are obligated to present all treatment options.”
“‘That means that there are a lot of physicians out there who are not, in fact, doing the right thing,’ said David Magnus, director of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics. ‘Conscientious objection is fine…as long as it doesn't conflict with the rights of the patient,’ Magnus said. ‘You can't abandon the patient or essentially coerce the patient by saying you won't do the procedure or refer them to someone else.’”
“Overall, 52 percent said they oppose abortion, 42 percent opposed prescribing birth control to 14- to 16-year-olds without parental approval, and 17 percent objected to sedating patients near death.” Serious issues are involved here, not the least of which is language.
First, referring to abortion or the morning after pill as “treatment options” frames the debate in biased terms. Treatment generally presupposes that something is wrong with a person; that illness has struck or some kind of accident has occurred. Pregnancy in and of itself is not and illness, malady, or dysfunction. The use of such language blunts the reality of the subject matter and facilitates the notion that the killing of unborn children is nothing more than a routine medical procedure with no ethical implications whatsoever.
Second, such language denigrates the essential dignity that is inherent to human beings and puts them on the same plane with animals or even excess tissue that is to be discarded. If human beings are not created in the image of God, if they have no essential dignity by virtue of that fact, and if they are no different than the animals, then the issue of ethics itself will cease to have meaning. No one sees a lion killing a gazelle for food as an ethical issue. The taking of human life in any context can then become a “treatment option” as human life in general has no more value than animal life.
Third, in light of the foregoing, to charge a doctor with being unethical because he/she will not perform an abortion, is not only meaningless in terms of the secularists’ worldview, but, it is hypocritical. If ethics are meaningless on an evolutionary or naturalist worldview, then the naturalist cannot level the charge of unethical. The language of ethics simply becomes artillery in the debate.
Fourth, the imposition of the larger medical community’s ethic upon all, is not only meaningless and hypocritical, but it is just that: impositional, that is, coercive. It is a violation of the individual’s liberty of conscience, a cardinal value that Americans have held dear for over two-hundred years. Thus, to refer to a doctor as coercive because he won’t do a procedure is, once again, linguistic sophistry. (A patient can always get a second opinion or go elsewhere).
Fifth, in connection with the above, to speak of the rights of the patient is also out of bounds. What about the unborn child’s rights? What about the doctor’s rights?
Sixth, the use of phraseology like “abandon the patient” simply because a particular doctor won’t perform an abortion is both disingenuous and inflammatory. Even the title of the article is devious: “Doctors’ Personal Beliefs Can Hinder Care.” How about the opening line of the piece: “A disturbing number of doctors?” Further, calling it unethical to refuse to prescribe birth control to underage girls without parental consent stands the definition of honesty on its head.
Again, a little discernment is needed when we look at how secularists frame the debate. Let us not abandon doctors, patients, and indeed the secularists themselves by abandoning our responsibility to be both theologically informed and literate that we might not only discern the fallacies the enemy foists upon us but that we might actually frame the debate with truth.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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