Does the Adventist Church need a new abortion statement?

Euthanasia remains a hotly disputed topic in the Netherlands. Sadly, elsewhere in the world the Dutch policy and practice is often not correctly understood. In particular in the United States, it is often suggested that ending up in a Dutch hospital may be rather risky. If you are over sixty and must have surgery, chances are that the doctors feel you have lived long enough! In actual fact, the rules for euthanasia are quite restrictive—as anyone in the Netherlands, who has been close to a case of euthanasia, will know. It is true that there are some in Dutch society (as in other countries), who would like to relax some of these rules. However, there is currently a court case in which a doctor was tried for murder because she had assisted an elderly demented lady to die. This person had earlier signed a statement indicating her wish to die, if she were to suffer of serious dementia. In spite of the fact that other medical specialists were involved and the family confirmed the death wish of the lady in question, the doctor had to face a murder charge. The argument was that she should not have gone ahead with the euthanasia, since the Dutch law requires that, immediately prior to the intervention, the doctor must ask the person whether it is still his/her wish to die. This was no longer possible in this particular case and, therefore it was decided that the doctor should face the courts, so that more clarity would be achieved of how the law must be interpreted. Today, the court decided that the charge should be dropped, because it found that the doctor had in fact carefully abided by all existing rules.

Abortion is today much less of an issue in the Netherlands than euthanasia. Of course, there are those who find the rules for abortion far too liberal, but it is far less of a burning issue among Dutch Christians than it is in the United States. In America we see an enormous divide between ‘pro-lifers’ and those who want to allow abortion under certain circumstances. In the polarized atmosphere in the US, groups on both sides often describe the standpoint of their opponents in grossly unfair terms. And, unfortunately, the abortion issue has become highly politicized. For a major segment of American evangelicals Donald Trump’s ‘pro-life’ stance is a solid reason to support him, in spite of all his ethically highly dubious words and actions.

In this polarized context the Seventh-day Adventist Church has decided that the time has come to prepare a new official statement about abortion. There is a rather balanced document that was voted by the Autumn Council in 1992, which was published as a ‘guideline’ rather than as official statement. It has served the church well. It made clear that life is precious and that it is God’s gift for which we are responsible. But it also recognized situations in which aborting this incipient life may be a defensible option and that, ultimately, it must be an individual decision. The church may provide guidelines, but should not prescribe what an individual should do. It is clear that there are some (many?) in the church who feel this document is not enough ‘pro-life’. It supposedly leaves too much space for individuals, but also for Adventist hospitals. In addition, there are voices from outside the church that wonder why Adventists are not more outspoken as ‘pro-lifers.’

In my view we should, at least for the time being, be content with the document that we have. Chances are that a new statement will restrict the freedom of the individual and make it more difficult for Adventist hospitals to provide assistance to women in need, for whom abortion is a defensible option. What worries me also is that the plan to publish a statement on abortion seems to a large extent driven by the American political situation. It once again shows how ‘American’ our church continues to be in so many ways. For a church that proudly calls itself a ‘world church’, this is highly unfortunate.

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