Imposing our morality
Dionysius Dialogues - Morality 
Nucleus, April, 1994
Christian Medical Fellowship (United
Reproduced with permission
Dionysius: Now as I recall we
were going to discuss the ninth commandment.
Nitpickerus: You were. I
wasn't happy that you'd dealt with 'imposing our
morality'. You never moved beyond health education.
All those statIstics about condoms. It was more like
a public health lecture than a biblical discussion!
Let's get down to the real issue. What do we do when
instead of taking godly advice our patients insist
on doing the opposite
and expect us to go along with it.
Dionysius: Well, for a start, we
can't refuse to diagnose and treat them just because
they are sinners.
We wouldn't see anybody. Where could we draw the
Nitpickerus: It's not that
which worries me. It's when they want us to help
them do something which we regard as unethical
Dionysius: Let's have a real
Nitpickerus: OK. A man wants
you to write a doctor's certificate so he can be
compensated for the time he's taken off work but you
have good reason to believe he's been malingering.
Do you write the certificate?
Dionysius: Certainly not! That
would be deceitful
We are not rubber stamps Nitpickerus. We're not in
the business of robbery.
How do we square that with the biblical injunction
to obey the governing authorities?
Exactly the same would apply if a patient asked me
for a lethal injection. It's illegal. l couldn't do
Nitpickerus: Maybe it's
illegal now, but the law of the land doesn't always
tally with God's law.
Crime and sin aren't synonymous Dionysius.
Trespassing is a crime but it's not a sin.
Adultery is a sin but it's not a crime.
This is where the problem arises - when the patient
wants you to help them sin and the law is on their
Dionysius: Can you give me a
Who's imposing whose morality?
Nitpickerus: A l6 year old
girl presents having missed a couple of periods
after a one night stand. The pregnancy test is
positive and she wants an abortion on the grounds
that she can't cope with the situation (steady
boyfriend, mum doesn't know, A-levels coming up).
You believe having thought the issue through
biblically that abortion is wrong
 - so you give a good scientific explanation
as to why fetuses are human beings (perhaps with
photographs of normal embryology) and offer to help
her with an alternative course emotional support,
antenatal care, adoption. She won't listen and wants
the abortion. What are you going to do?
Dionysius: Say that I can't help
her do it.
Nitpickerus: But isn't that
imposing your morality? She's not a Christian and
she says you're imposing your morality on her.
Dionysius: Who's imposing whose
morality? lsn't she imposing her morality
on both myself and the baby?
Nitpickerus: As a Christian
shouldn't you submit to her request - turn the other
cheek and all that?
Dionysius: Not when it involves
We serve Christ - not every whim of the patient.
Medicine is not some consumer service where the
demands of the market dictate the ethics.
Nitpickerus: But isn't
showing photographs just emotional blackmail?
Dionysius: I thought blackmail
was when you forced someone to do something wrong by
threatening them. I'd be telling her the truth out
of love and concern for both her and her baby.
Nitpickerus: But the law is
on her side Dionysius.
Dionysius: I think that's
debatable. The law says that in this situation
abortion is only justified if 'the continuance of
the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the
physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
greater than if the pregnancy were terminated'
Nitpickerus: But doesn't any
legal abortion pose less risk to a woman's physical health than a normal deilvery?
Dionysius: 1 don't believe that
was the intended spirit of the law Nitpickerus.
Nitpickerus: But it is the
letter of the law - and you yourslf
have said that we have a God-given responsibility to
obey the law.
Dionysius: We do, but not when
it conflicts with Christ's law
- not when to obey the law is to sin. of
course it's not a particularly good example - as the
current law on abortion has a let-out clause.
There's no legal obligation to fill in the
green form or to participate in the process at all -
although there is an ethical obligation to refer the
patient expeditiously to another doctor. according
to the BMA.
Should Christians ever break the law?
Nitpickerus: Granted, but
what if it became a legal
obilgation to refer patients to doctors who would
authorise abortions? In such circumstances could we
justifiably disobey the law?
Dionysius: Yes, ultimately we
obey God not men.
There are plenty of biblical examples of people
who chose to obey God rather than the governing
authorities: the Israelite midwives
(this is particularly relevant to the abortion
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,
Jesus himself was crucified because he refused to
submit to the governing authorities by lying about
his true identity.
Nitpickerus: Some of these
people got into a lot of trouble Dionysius.
Dionysius: Men and women of faith
usually do. This is exactly why Jesus told people to
count the cost before deciding to follow him.
Obeying God means that at some stage we will suffer
At some stage people will hate us for it
and it may cost us our reputations, our careers or
even our lives.
Sometimes we can see these conflict situations
arising ahead of time and defuse them - as Daniel
did so masterfully early on in his career
(medical students take note!)- but on other
occasions we simply have to make a stand and take
the consequences. That's what carrying the cross is
Nitpickerus: But by refusing
abortion to a young woman in that (or worse)
situation, aren't we forcing her to
carry the cross? Can we really expect her to do this
when she has not known God's grace for herself?
Dionysius: Nitpickerus, don't
forget that one day this young woman will stand
before the Son of God
(who laid aside equality with God to die on a cross
and have to explain why she sacrificed her baby's
life to preserve her reputation and career.
You make it sound virtuous to assist her in this.
You're right that we can't force
our patients to make godly choices - God himself
never does this. We need to be prepared to act as
mediators of God's grace ourselves
- but this mustn't involve giving tacit approval to
sin. Jesus offered forgiveness for past mistakes and
help to change (and so should we) but his response
also included a firm call to a new lifestyle.
But it was the woman!
Nitpickerus: But if she
insists on an abortion, isn't it her choice and
therefore her responsibility?
Dionysius: But if you help kill
someone else's baby, then aren't you an accessory to
Don't you share the guilt?
Nitpickerus: Murder is an
emotive word Dionysius.
Dionysius: It simply means 'the
intentional killing of an innocent human being'.
Shouldn't that produce some emotion? I'm far more
worried about those who can remain emotionally
detached while dismembering a living person.
Nitpickerus: But the
referring doctor isn't involved in that.
Dionysius: You don't have to
wield the curette Nitpickerus. If you're part of the
process, then you're involved.
It wasn't just those who turned on the gas at
Auschwitz who were involved in the killing. Those
who knowingly drafted the laws, filled out the
others to do the killing, transported the prisoners,
stoked the ovens
and willingly received the tissues for experimental
purposes - however noble their intentions - were all
involved . They were all guilty - even those who
signalled complicity only by their silence.[33,41,43]
Nitpickerus: But isn't
saying no to a woman's request for abortion just
washing our hands of the whole affair? How is it any
better? Dionysius: You' re
misusing the metaphor Nitpickerus. Pilate 'washed
his hands' in refusing to use his God-given
authority to free an innocent man.
I'd suggest that the real hand-washers are those who
turn a blind eye and fail to exercise their
responsibility to do something about it - for fear
of causing offence to those involved.
How can we be more involved?
Nitpickerus: Isn't there a
danger of just becoming an armchair critic?
Surely we have to do more than just shout from the
Dionysius: We do. If we make a
stand as Christians in any area of medicine
(abortion is only one example) we need to be working
for better alternatives. This will be different for
each person depending on their gifts and position of
influence but for abortion it may mean being engaged
in counselling, helping to set up support networks
for women who decide to keep their babies, lobbying
to introduce legislation which will give more
protection to the unborn, helping to provide for
unwanted children, giving financially to those
involved in all these sorts of work - as well as
being firm in our resolve not to be a party to the
shedding of innocent blood ourselves - be it
intentional or by default.
This is part of carrying the cross too: using our
time, talents and money in searching for
compassionate Christian alternatives where the world
offers diabolical quick-fix solutions - and if
necessary, putting our careers, reputations and
lives on the line.
Nitpickerus: This discussion
of protecting the innocent brings us back to the
Dionysius: Let's save it for the
next issue of Nucleus.
1. Ex 2O:16; Dt 5;20
3. Ps 1:1
5. Ex 23:2; 2Ki 17:15; Eph 5:11
7. Pr 1:18,19
Ex 20:15; Dt5:19
9. Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1 Pet
. Is lO:1-4; Ps 82
11. Lv l9:9,1O; 23:22; Dt
Ex 2O:14; Dt 5:18
13. Nucleus Jan 1993 pp
1 Jn 2:4
15. Acts 5:29; Co13:24 [menBack]
1968 Abortion Act
17. 2 Cor 8:21; Ga1 6:2
Conscientious Objection to
19. BMJ 1992;304:321
21. Jos 2:2-7
23. Dan 3:8-18
25. Acts 4:18-20
Mt 26:63-66; Lk 22:7O-71
27. Lk 14:27,28
. 2 Tim3:12
29. Jn 7:7; 15:18-21; 16:1-4
31. Dan l:8-16
33. PhiI 2:5-8
. Mt 25:45,46 [silence
1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1
. Jn 5:14; 8:11
37. Gn 3:9-12
Pr 6:16-17; Eph 5:6,7
39. Nucleus Oct
. Eph 5:11
41. 1Ki 21:8-23 [silence
. 2 Sa 12:9; 1 Ki 21:19; Pr
43. Dn 3:22,23
Pr 24:23-25; Ex 23:2,7; Lv
5:1; Ob 11; Est 4:12-14
45. Mt 27:19-24
Jn 12:42,43; Pr 25:26
47. Mt 7:1,2; 1 Cor5:9-13
. Ex 23:2,7