June 2001

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5th June 2001



At a U.S. medical school, Prof. L. R. Agnew posed this question to his students: “Here’s the family history.  The father has syphilis; the mother has tuberculosis.  They have already had four children.  The first one is blind, the second one died.  The third is deaf; the fourth has tuberculosis.  The mother is pregnant with her fifth child.  The parents are willing to have an abortion if you decide they should.  What do you think?”  Most of the students decided on abortion.  Prof. Agnew said, “Congratulations!  You have just killed Beethoven.”

Abortion was one of many issues Tom recently addressed in the course on medical ethics he teaches to final-year medical students.  Though abortion remains illegal in Nigeria, many medical doctors nevertheless engage in this lucrative practice, because the law is not enforced.  Most Nigerian doctors have never been instructed in medical ethics.

In the ethics course Tom covered various ethical approaches, including biblical medical ethics.  Just as natural laws govern the physical sciences, biblical ethics relies on absolute moral precepts God has revealed to mankind created in His image.  These precepts include the sanctity of human life, love for our neighbor, God’s design for marriage, the meaning of death, personhood and our relationship with God.  Because God is the source of truth, principles from His Word are universal and apply to all people, at all times, and in all situations.

Tom’s students debated ethical issues by using specific ethical systems to address critical questions: Is the embryo a person?  Is there a life that is not worth living?  Should we promote condoms to prevent HIV?  Should an infertile couple use the sperm or egg from a third party?  Is it right to use genetic selection to choose the traits of our offspring?

After the course, Tom invited interested students to an optional series of 10 seminars on Biblical Medical Ethics.  Tom showed them how to apply biblical truth to resolve ethical issues.  In order to avoid faulty interpretation, he trained them how to find the plain meaning of Scripture by study of the context, including the historical and grammatical aspects.  By knowing the right interpretation, students were able to find many applications of the principle to ethical dilemmas.  Now equipped to take a clear stand founded on biblical medical ethics, the students can influence others as salt and light in the world.  Furthermore, we concluded that it is ethical to make our faith in Christ the foundation of our medical practice and to provide spiritual care to our patients.

Tom & Rosie Thacher