Ethics: Medicine

There are many advantages to living in twenty-first century America.  “It was not very long ago, as history is measured, when such things as oranges or cocoa were the luxuries of the rich and when it was considered an extravagance for the President of the United States to have a bathtub with running water installed in the White House.  Within the twentieth century such things as automobiles, telephones, and refrigerators went from being luxuries of the rich to being common among the general population” (Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p. 47).  Today, “Two-thirds of the statistically defined ‘poor’ have air conditioning, more than half own a car or truck.  More than one-fourth of ‘the poor’ own two cars and/or trucks and hundreds of thousands own hands costing more than $150,000” (ibid, p. 54).

One of the amazing things about living in twenty-first century America is health/medical care.  It wasn’t too long ago that it was unusual for one to keep his teeth till old age [When George Washington took office in 1789, he had only one natural tooth remaining (].  It wasn’t too long ago that smallpox was a dreaded disease [Dr. Edward Jenner made the first smallpox vaccination on May 14,1796 (John Tiner, Exploring The History of Medicine)].  Treatments now available were unknown to previous generations. Wonderful advancements have been made in medicine.  It wasn’t too long ago, that rabies meant certain death [The year 1885, Joseph Meister became the first human being vaccinated for rabies.  He escaped death (John Hudson Tiner, Exploring The History of Medicine, p. 102-106)].  Infant mortality and maternal mortality has greatly improved [CDC: “At the beginning of the 20th century, for every 1000 live births, six to nine women in the United States died of pregnancy-related complications, and approximately 100 infants died before age 1 year.  From 1915 through 1997, the infant mortality rate declined greater than 90% to 7.2 per 1000 live births, and from 1900 through 1997, the maternal mortality rate declined almost 99% to less that 0.1 reported death per 1000 live births” (].

However, medical advancements have brought ethical concerns.  Let us consider some…

Use of Medical Treatment

“In the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12).  Does this verse suggest that it is wrong to seek the help of physicians?

Don’t overlook the context.  Asa (King of Judah) had a habit of immediately turning to men for help, instead of seeking the help of God.  (1) He made a treaty with Ben-Hadad (King of Syria) for protection from Baasha (King of Israel).  The prophet Hanani rebuked him, “Because you have relied on the King of Syria, and have not relied on the LORD your God… therefore, from now on you shall have wars (2 Chronicles 16:7, 9).  (2) He turned to physicians, and not God when sick (2 Chronicles 16:12).  “It was not because Asa relied upon human means of medical treatment… it was because he turned away from God entirely in all matters” that these words appear (Eddie Whitten, The 12th Annual Denton Lectures: Studies in 1, 2 Kings and 1, 2 Chronicles, p. 421).

Keep in mind the following: (1) The Bible contains examples of the use of midwives (Genesis 35:17; 38:28; Exodus 1); (2) Jesus said that the sick are the ones who need a physician (Matt. 9:12); (3) Luke is referred to as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14).  (4) Paul instructed Timothy to turn to a physical remedy  (1 Timothy 5:23).

It is not wrong to seek medical help.  However, may we never get to the point that we stop relying upon God.

Use of Anesthesia

Prior to the mid-1800’s, dentists and surgeons operated with speed.  Operations seldom lasted more than five minutes.  A leg bone could be sawed through in a minute or less.  Speed was essential due to a lack of our modern anesthetics.

Is it permissible to use chemicals to reduce, or remove pain?  Consider the following: (1) God put Adam asleep before removing one of his ribs (Genesis 2:21).  James Simpson (a 19th century M.D. in England) said, “Here is the first surgical operation.  God Himself chose to perform it with the patient under anesthesia (Tiner, p. 55-57).  (2) The Proverbs say, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing” (Proverbs 31:6).  (3) Paul told Timothy, “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Timothy 5:23).  This may not be specifically speaking of anesthesia .  However, it is speaking of the use of chemicals for the sake of infirmities.

Birth Control

One one hand: The relationship between a husband and wife is not restricted to reproductive purposes (Proverbs 5:15-21; 1 Corinthians 7:2-5).  Couples are to continue to be together except by mutual “consent for a time, that (they) may give (themselves) to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that satan does not tempt you” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

On the other hand: There are certain considerations.  (1) There is the well-being of the children to consider.  God holds parents responsible for the physical and spiritual  well-being of the children (1 Timothy 5:8; Ephesians 6:1-4).  Thus, parents should not have more children than they can properly provide care.  (Remember Octomom?  She had eight children born following in-vitro fertilization.  She had six other children, for a total of fourteen children.  She had no husband.  She had no means of personally supporting her children.  Still, she chose to add more children.  Such is wrong!).  (2) There is the well-being of the wife to consider.  Are additional children wise? Can the woman bear another child without serious danger to her health?

These things considered, birth control makes logical sense.  Birth control has existed before modern birth control methods.  Breastfeeding, for example, has been used to control family size [The average return of mense is 14 months after childbirth for breastfeeding women.  Some return as late as 42 months postpartum (Wikipedia)].  Israelite women did not wean their children until age three (see A. Clark on Gen. 21:8.   Also 2 Maccabees 7:27.  Also 2 Chronicles 31:16).  Islamic women did not wean before age two (Koran 31:14).

Some have thought birth control is sinful based upon Genesis 38:9-10.  The sin of Onan was not in the general practice of birth control.  His sin was in violating the Levite law.  Coffman’s Commentary reads “The verbs… thus indicating, not a single act, but a long sustained purpose… Onan persistently and maliciously cheated Tamar of her legal rights.”  Wesley Simons has written, “Onan wanted all the pleasure that came with the sexual act, but he did not want to give seed to his brother.  The very reason for him knowing Tamar intimately was to raise up seed to his brother (2001 MSOP Lectures, p. 362)  The Levirate law was also a part of Moses’ law (Deut. 25:5-10; Matt. 22:23-28).  The purpose was to preserve the family inheritance and seedline.

A word on RU-486, or the ‘morning after’ pill.  This pill became available in the U.S. in September, 2000.  This pill is not mere birth control.  It is an abortion pill.  It changes the lining of the womb through hormones so that the week old embryo cannot implant.  Thus, the fertilized egg dies.


Louise Joy Brown was born July 25, 1978.  She was the first successfully produced child by in vitro fertilization.  In vitro is Latin meaning “in glass”.  The process is this: (1) Hormones are injected into the woman causing “superovulation” – the release of multiple eggs.  (2) Approximately 32 hours after the injection the eggs are taken from the womb and fertilized outside the womb.  (3) After two or three days the fertilized egg or eggs are returned to the woman’s womb.  This process has aided many otherwise infertile couples in having children.

The ethical difficulty is this: While multiple eggs may be fertilized, not all will be implanted due to the number of fertilized eggs.  The unused eggs are either discarded, or frozen indefinitely for possible future use.  Either way, there is a real ethical problem if life begins at conception (and it does!).

Blood Transfusion

In 1818, Dr. James Blundell performed the first successful blood transfusion of human blood (Wikipedia). Some have wondered about the ethics of such based upon  what the Bible teaches about the eating of blood [Acts 15:20; 21:25 cf (a) patriarchal Genesis 9:4. (b) Mosaic Leviticus 17:10-11; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23].

Things to remember: (1) Eating blood  and receiving a blood transfusion are different.  Randy Mabe explains, “Food is transformed by the process of the body into elements that energize the body.  A blood transfusion simply replaces blood that has been lost…  The argument is that food may be administered to the sick by way of intravenous injection… Therefore blood transfusions are food… This is fallacious because blood can only be used for food when taken through the digestive system… To illustrate… two dying people are admitted to the hospital.  One is dying of malnutrition.  The other has severe blood loss.  Both are given blood transfusions.  Which one will surely die?  The one starving for food (2002 Spring Bible Lectureship, p. 248-249).  (2) God has told men to “subdue the earth” (Genesis 1:28).  We should wisely use what exists in the physical realm.  (3) Paul speaking of the Galatians love for him said, “If possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me” (Galatians 4:15).  It wasn’t possible.  However, it is possible for us to give blood to save another’s life.

Organ Transplants

The first successful living-related kidney transplant occurred between identical twins in 1954.  The first successful cadaveric kidney transplant occurred in 1962.  The first successful lung transplant occurred in 1963.  The first successful liver transplant occurred in 1967.  The first successful heart transplant occurred in 1967.

Organ transplant has become fairly common.  There were 25,076 organ transplants performed in the U.S.A. in 2003; However, the number on the waiting list that year was 89,012.  More than 50,000 Americans were on the waiting list for kidneys, while only about 12,000 kidneys were available to be transplanted (Thomas Sowell, Applied Economics, p. 85).

Through the years, a number of xenotransplants (animal to human transplants) have occurred.  In 1984 “Babe Fae” received a baboon heart.  She lived only twenty days.  Most xenotransplants have been disappointing.  Pig-heart valves have been used in humans since 1970 with success.

What should a Christian think? (1) The basic points from “blood transfusion” should be reviewed.  (2) Wayne Jackson writes, “There does not appear to be any violation of biblical truth in the utilization of either plant or animal substances for the enhancements of human health.  In fact, a proper use of such things may be a part of our responsibility to ‘subdue the earth’ [(Genesis 1:28) Animal/Human organ Transplants, Reason and Revelation, Vol. XIII, No. 3, 1993].


Cloning is a process of a-sexual reproduction that results in an exact genetic duplication of the original.  It does not reproduce the same person, but it does reproduce the same genetic composition.

There are many potential benefits to cloning technology.  Agricultural benefits include such things as: (1) better producing, better tasting milk cows; (2) greater grain harvest; (3) more drought resistant crops.  In these areas there is no Biblical problem.  God has given dominion over His creation (Genesis 1:24-26; Psalm 8:5-8).

The ethical concerns are as follows: (1) Women could reproduce without men (e.g. Lesbian couples; single women).  Let us not forget that God arranged the ideal home with a husband and wife in it.  (2) Clones could be created to be used for medical reasons, such as medical experimentation, Wayne Jackson has written, “Between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service, working at various times with the Alabama State Department of Health, and other agencies deliberately withheld treatment from more than 400 black men who were suffering from Syphilis.  They were duped into cooperating with the health program they believed was helping them.  The experiment has since been described as ‘science gone mad’” (Biblical Ethics and Modern Science, p. 30-31).  Some would do similar things with the cloned.  On organ harvesting – some already distinguish between “human cloning” (cloning designed to reproduce a human who lives a normal life) and “therapeutic cloning” (Cloning designed to reproduce for the purpose of harvesting body parts).  Things to remember: (a) The sanctity of life (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:8-10).  (b) The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12; Romans 13:8-10).

Stem Cells

Every cell in your body contains information for every other body part.  However, cells specialize.  For example: There are blood cells, skin cells, muscle cells, and bone cells.

A stem cell is a cell which hasn’t specialized.  It can still be used for any body part, tissue or organ.

Scientists are interested in stem cells for their potential medical benefits.  They could be used to re-grow brain tissue.  They could be used to regenerate skin in treating burns.  They could be used to re-grow the heart muscles following a heart attack.  They could be used to make new corneas.

Stem cells can be gathered from: (1) Fetus being aborted.  (2) “Extra embryos” from IVF.  (3) Umbilical cord blood.  (4)  Adult bone marrow.  (5) Adult body tissue that has been stressed via chemicals, or radiation (such stress call cause a cell to return to on unspecified state).  Globs of fat recovered from liposuction can be easily returned to an unspecified stem-cell state.

The use of stem cells have already benefited some.  “Umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells have restored felling and some mobility to a woman who had been paralyzed with a spinal cord injury for 19 years (Wesley Smith, Umbilical Accord, The Weekly Standard, Dec. 12, 2005).  “Based on the published science there are 72 maladies for which human patients have received some benefit from adult stem cells or Umbilical cord blood interventions.  Meanwhile, embryonic stem cells have yet to demonstrate any human therapeutic use” (Wesley Smith, The Great Stem Cell Coverup, The Weekly Standard, Aug. 7, 2006).

Medically, there is difficulties still with embryonic stem cell use.  They cause “dangerous tumors” (Wesley Smith, 2005).  “They seem to be too flexible.  They can’t be controlled.  There’s a tendency to grow into a cancerous mass” (Stuart Shepherd, Stem Cells Found in Adult Blood quoting from David O’Steen of the National Right to Life Committee.  This article was ran in my May 17, 2002 bulletin).

Ethically speaking, there is nothing wrong with the use of stem cells gathered from numbers three, four or five on our source list.  However, not all are content to being confined to these options.  This is the case because: (1) The use of numbers one and two from our source list would greatly increase supply.  (2) Some believe that embryonic stems will eventually prove to be more versatile, and flexible in their use.

Ethically the first two sources are a problem if life begins at conception.  And it does!

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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2 Responses to Ethics: Medicine

  1. Sugumar says:

    This was a great lesson. I appreciate Bryan for his valuable efforts for bringing good lessons like this. I have some doubts . How to explain people about prayer heals sickness and so no need of medicine. Jesus used no medicines as he is our God today, believing him will certainly help us recovering from sickness.
    Can u explain more on this point.
    Sugumar, India.

    • Bryan Hodge says:

      Brother, It is always good to hear from you.

      My article sets forth the fact that it is not wrong to see a doctor, or use medicine. Though, We should also never forget God and the power and privilege of prayer.

      I think one thing that we should teach is that spiritual health is more important than physical health. Too many are very concerned about physical health, but very little concerned about spiritual health.

      God bless

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