Archive for the 'Issues in Christian Ethics' Category

How to Choose a Nursing Home

This may seem like a completely random post for me, since neither my parents or Amy’s parents are anywhere near the age for being put into a nursing home, but one of the extremely practical pieces of advice that Dr. Feinberg gave us this last week had to do with nursing homes, as he’s had to spend a lot of time dealing with them himself. I was really impressed by Dr. Feinberg’s pastoral care in pointing some things out to us that aren’t theological but that almost everyone will have to deal with at some point. Here are several of the pointers he gave us on choosing a nursing home.

  1. When you visit various nursing homes looking for the right one for your loved one, be sure to pay attention to what you smell. The smells speak to the cleansliness of the facility.
  2. Look into the rooms to see how many beds are in each room and what size the rooms are. It’s very rare that a patient has a room all to themselves, in fact it’s rather common to have three or more individuals sharing a room so look around and see what the norm seems to be. Remember that the more people in a room, the more visitors, and the more visitors the more colds, flus, etc. that they bring with them.
  3. Ask the administrative staff if the family is consulted when changes to a patients location need to be made. When other patients move, or pass away the administrative staff has to make changes to room assignment. You want to find out if you will be consulted in those arrangements, because you don’t want your loved one to end up wit someone obnoxious.
  4. Look around and see how many caregivers are actually present. Is the facility understaffed? It’s true that they could always use more caregivers, but having looked at several facilities, how does this one compare?
  5. Look at the staff’s faces, their body language, their attitude. Is this just a job for them? If so, that’s going to significantly effect the kind of care that your loved one gets.
  6. Ask what the turnover rate is for personnel at the facility.
  7. One of the most important things to remember in this transition is that things are going to go wrong in the care of your loved one. The important thing is to realize that, expect it and see how the staff responds when things do go wrong. In other words, are they defensive, judgmental, etc. or do they own the mistake and look for ways to improve.

January 14 2012 | Issues in Christian Ethics | 3 Comments »

Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 4)–Euthanasia

Dr. Feinberg wrapped up the discussion on euthanasia today with some extremely practical and helpful advice regarding terminal illnesses and end of life care. Dr. Feinberg encouraged us not to have a “living will” / “advanced directive” informing the physician what our wishes are should we incapacitated, but rather to have a “durable power of attorney” document that places a family member in charge of our care should we be unable to care for ourselves. The advantage of a durable power of attorney over a living will is that you can still spell out what you want done, but the decision making is placed in the hands of your family rather than a physician who you likely don’t know and may not share your ethical view points.

I think the big takeaway from today’s class was that end of life decisions are best handled far in advance. These aren’t the kinds of things that you want to be thinking about for the first time when you’re in the middle of a crisis, rather you want to have thought about most of these decisions before you’re faced with them. It’s important to talk to your family so that they know your wishes and will be able to help see that they’re carried out.

One ethical area that Dr. Feinberg has forced me to think about more deeply and in a lot of ways has helped to change my mind on is when is it appropriate to stop medical treatment or to remove technology that is sustaining life. The short answer is that it is rarely appropriate to do so, because of the sanctity of human life. That is not to say that there is never an occasion when life support should be removed, but it is far better to err on the side of life than death. This principle applies to feeding tubes, life saving measures, dialysis and much more. Of course, every situation is unique and needs to be thought through thoroughly and prayed over diligently but the big principle is that life is sacred and needs to be preserved.

The last thing Dr. Feinberg covered today was an extensive look at nursing facilities. How to choose a nursing facility and how to pay for one. I’ll probably put that material into a separate blog post, as it’s pretty extensive and very insightful.

January 12 2012 | Issues in Christian Ethics | 4 Comments »

Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 3)–Euthanasia

I suppose there’s no easy way to talk about euthanasia, which explains why today’s class was so sobering. The questions being asked in the euthanasia debate and the real people that the answers impact make this an extremely difficult topic to wade through. Fortunately, our class has a good guide in Dr. Feinberg who challenged us in a lot of ways and helped us to refine our thinking about this critical issue. I’m especially grateful for this, because I know that there will be a lot of people in my ministry who will be faced with these kinds of questions and I want to be able to help shepherd them through those dark waters.

One of the most important things to understand when it comes to the euthanasia debate is what’s called the wedge argument. The wedge argument, which as been most powerfully made by Dr. Arthur Dyck of Harvard, goes something like this. When a society allows euthanasia, it establishes a principle that some lives are not worth living. In other words, you have wedged open the door to denying the sanctity of human life by establishing the principle that some lives are not worth living. The problem for those who support euthanasia is that there is no non-arbitrary criteria by which we can judge whether a life is worth living or not. You see, the issue is not whether a person has a high enough quality of life to go on living, but rather that all people possess an inherent sanctity of life that we dare not violate.

One of the uphill battles that pro-life advocates (in the abortion and the euthanasia debate) face is the supreme value that our society places on choice. This is seen in the abortion debate in the argument that a woman has a right to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy and in the euthanasia debate in the assertion that each person has a right to choose how they want to die. The question is, “Is it ok for you to take my life as long as I give you permission to do so?”

The Christian response to this question has to be a resounding no. Whether or not you give permission does not determine the morality of an action. Morality is determined by God and He has declared that innocent human life is sacred and needs to be preserved.

I think the most helpful part of today’s class was a set of five principles that Dr. Feinberg gave us for making decisions about when to stop treatment for someone who is terminally ill. These principles don’t necessarily give us an answer for what to do, but they do at least give us some major thoughts that should be running through our head.

I. Remember the medical definition of physical death. If someone meets the medical definition of physical death (i.e. unresponsive to stimuli, breathing has stopped, no reflexes and a flat brain wave) than it is appropriate to stop treatment.

II. Clarify your ethical theory. What Dr. Feinberg means by this is that it is important to remind ourselves that we do not make ethical decisions based on an “ends justifies the means” theory of ethics. Christian ethics are based on the revealed will of God, so what we’re looking for in major decisions about the end of life is biblical principles to guide our decision making. Remembering this will help to identify arguments that are being proposed by physicians, family members, etc. regarding medical care.

III. Be very clear on the sanctity of human life vs. the quality of human life. We do not believe that life is sacred based on the relative quality of life. Human life is sacred, because human beings are made in the image of God and therefore life is to be preserved.

IV. Remember God’s perspective on life and death. We must remember that death is not natural, it is an invader and an enemy that is to be fought against. We also have to remember that life and death ultimately rest in God’s hands and not ours.

V. Remember the biblical perspective on suffering. Suffering is not something to be pursued in a biblical world view, however suffering is not meaningless because God redeems our suffering and uses it for His good purposes.

Like I said, none of these principles tells us exactly what to do in a given situation but they do give us a lot of insight into what the Scripture teaches about the sanctity of human life and help to set our compass for navigating difficult end of life decisions.

Tomorrow we’ll be working our way through the rest of the euthanasia material, so hopefully that will answer some more questions for me.

January 11 2012 | Issues in Christian Ethics | Comments Off on Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 3)–Euthanasia

Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 2)

One of the people I should really thank publically here is my Aunt Jo who has been gracious enough to let me couch surf in her living room this week and to make me breakfast and coffee every morning. She definitely knows the way to my heart Smile.

Dr. Feinberg spent most of today’s class continuing with his focus on foundational concepts in Christian Ethics. Of special interest to me was his discussion on hierarchialism. Hierarchialism (I’m sure I didn’t spell that right) reminds us that there are situations in life that require us to create a hierarchy of our ethics and to choose between ethical principles. The classic example of this is citizens hiding Jews in their basements from the Nazi’s. The ethical dilemma comes when the Nazi soldier asks if you’re hiding any Jews in your house. If you say yes, than the Jews will be killed; but if you say no than you have just spoken something untrue. These kinds of situations require us to create a hierarchy of virtues that we would not normally have to do. Normally, we do not make a habit out of speaking untruth. However, when given the choice between lying and preserving life a hierarchial approach to ethics tell us that we must choose to preserve life and further more that we actually are not morally culpable for the untruth because we were not free to act otherwise.

This is admittedly pretty heady stuff, so I’m man enough to admit that my head was spinning…and sometimes nodding on more than one occasion. Dr. Feinberg took the last 30 minutes of class to start opening up the conversation on Euthanasia, which was fascinating but since we just barely touched on the subject I’ll save it for tomorrow when I have more information.

After class I drove up to Santa Clarita to The Master’s College to study in their student center (which is much nicer than when I was going here, not that I’m bitter or anything) and tonight I’ll be having dinner with an old friend from PMC Church and then coffee with one another good friend from PMC Church.

January 10 2012 | Issues in Christian Ethics | Comments Off on Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 2)

Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 1)

Every time I come back to The Master’s Seminary I feel like I’m coming home. I suppose that’s because I spent so much time here in college and seminary, but for me there’s just something special about this place.

Our class started promptly at 8am with a few introductions and then Dr. Feinberg launched us into our study of Issues in Christian Ethics. He began by pressing the point that Christians have something weighty to say about the current ethical issues that face our culture and that we do ourselves a great disservice by not speaking to these issues in a public fashion. 

The issues that we’re going to cover in this class are 1) Foundations of Christian Decision Making, 2) Euthanasia, 3) Homosexuality, 4) Genetic Engineering with a special focus on the ethical implications of In Vitro Fertilization and 5) Divorce and Remarriage. So, in other words 4 of the most controversial topics in our day.

We spent the rest of our time today talking about “Foundations of Christian Decision Making”, which for the most part included a lot of terms, definitions, etc. that just help to set the stage. So, while there wasn’t anything particularly controversial about today’s class there were three very powerful lessons that I took away with me.

1) There is a very important distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language in Scripture. Descriptive language tells us about what happened, while prescriptive language tells us what we ought to do. One of the great mistakes that Christians make when it comes to ethics is taking things that are described in the Bible and turning them into prescriptions for how we are to live today.

2) In order for someone to be accountable for their actions, they must be free to act. In other words, “No one can be held morally accountable for doing what they could not fail to do or for failing to do what they could not do.” That’s kind of a mouth full but it seems to be a very important principle for determining right from wrong when it comes to ethical dilemmas. I think the basic idea is that if I am faced with an ethical dilemma where no matter what I choose, I’m going to violate an ethical principle than I can’t be held accountable for doing so. Dr. Feinberg uses the example of a pregnant woman who is diagnosed with cervical cancer. If she does not have chemotherapy than she will lose her life, if she does have chemotherapy than the baby will lost it’s life. The basic idea here is that regardless of what she chooses, she does not incur moral guilt because no matter what she does there will be harm, so she can’t be guilty because she couldn’t do otherwise.

3) The final big take away from today’s class was how prevalent in our society is the idea that the ends justify the means. In other words, if the outcome is good than it doesn’t matter how I got to the outcome. One of great dangers here is that we are asking how we can get what we want, rather than what is ultimately right. We crave consequences that are pleasing to us, rather than embracing the truth that if you follow the rules that God has given, you will have the best consequences every time.

It sounds like tomorrow we’ll be wrapping up the foundations portion of the class and moving on to talking about Euthanasia and end of life care.

Here’s a video that I found of Dr. Feinberg being interviewed by Justin Taylor on his new book Ethics for a Brave new World.

January 09 2012 | Issues in Christian Ethics | 2 Comments »

Issues in Christian Ethics

Ethics-for-a-Brave-New-World-2nd-Edition-300x300I’m heading down to Southern California this afternoon to take a class from Dr. John Feinberg on Issues in Ethics at The Master’s Seminary. One of the benefits of being an alumnus from TMS is that every year I get to attend their Winterim Class (a one week class in January) for free.

In 2010 I was able to attend the Winterim class and listen to Dr. Bruce Ware teach on the doctrine of the trinity, which was nothing short of revolutionary for me in my understanding of the nature of God. While I was taking the class I decided to write a daily post summarizing what I was learning, which forced me to think through my notes and to distill the essence of what I was learning into a post that could be easily read and understood by my congregation back home. The result was a series of eight posts on the trinity and the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

Since the discipline proved to be so helpful to me last year, I’ve decided to try it again and blog my way through Dr. Feinberg’s class on Issues in Christian Ethics, as a way for me to synthesize what I’ve been learning and to share some of the choicest lessons and insights with my readers (that’s right I’m looking at you mom :-) ). So, keep an eye on the blog this week for lots of new and interesting content on Ethics. Here’s the class description:

How can a Christian know what ethical rules are right and how to defend them? For example, is it morally permissible to forego procedures like kidney dialysis or to withdraw life support from people who have had a stroke or heart attack and are unconscious? Or, is there nothing the church can say about homosexuality since science has proved that those who practice this lifestyle are genetically programmed to do so? Or has this actually been proved? And, what if a couple wants desperately to have a child but cannot by natural means? Because so many couples have succeeded in having a child using in vitro fertilization technology, does that mean this way of having a baby is morally acceptable? And finally, divorce and remarriage are rampant even in the church today. Is divorce ever mandated or even allowed by Scripture, and if so, in what instances? What does Jesus teach about divorce and remarriage, and is there any explanation of why the rules on this matter are what Scripture presents? Join us for a week of careful consideration of the Christian approach to such issues.

January 08 2012 | Issues in Christian Ethics | Comments Off on Issues in Christian Ethics