Disability

Dementia & the hope of God's remembrance

What is life worth when there is no God? What is it worth when there is?

Dr. William Toffler, MD, an Oregon physician, recognizes how important it is to listen for what is not being said. How well physicians listen and respond to their patients "has a profound effect... on their view of themselves and their inherent worth."

Other than perhaps Kumbaya, it's difficult to find a hymn or gospel song strongly emphasizing brotherly care -- especially ones that so powerfully creates a picture for us of carrying one another on this long journey of life. Most of our hymns (very appropriately) sing to or about God, but isn't the second greatest commandment something to sing about as well?

Once upon a time not that long ago “everyone” knew with scientific certainty that human life began at conception. A mere three years after this editorial was written, “semantic gymnastics” made abortion-on-demand the law of the land. Would that pro-death people today could be as honest and forthright about their tactics. 

Six truths about disability

Through ignorance and errant belief systems, people have adopted strange views toward people with disabilities:

• Pagan Greek and Roman philosophers advocated abandoning babies who were born with disabilities.

• In medieval times, children with disabilities were considered “changelings” – subhuman, Satanic beings.

• Social Darwinists and the Nazis sought to eradicate disability through eugenics and the death camps.

Thankfully, God frees us from hateful, superstitious, and deadly beliefs. His word urges us to treat the disabled person as our neighbor, to watch out for them as a brother. As it says in the law, "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14)

Jesus, of course, fulfilled and expanded on this law. He made a point to minister to disabled people, and there are many examples of this in the Gospels. In particular, Mark 10:46-52 gives us six principles concerning them:

1. Society sidelines disabled individuals and hinders them from coming to Jesus. We should not take our cues from the world.

2. Disabled people are spiritually capable. Just as blind Bartimaeus knew who Jesus was, we must recognize that people who are disabled and follow Christ have spiritual gifts.

3. People with disabilities need Christ and fellowship with other believers. We who have no disability have a duty to help them.

4. Jesus does not pass by people with disabilities. In fact, He characterizes the people He calls into His kingdom as "crippled, blind, and lame" (Luke 14:21).

5. Jesus "empowered" Bartimaeus to articulate his own need, and we should not presume to know what a person needs or wants. 

6. Whether our bodies are whole or not, we are broken by sin. We all need Christ, in Whom we find healing, acceptance, and purpose.

It's wonderful that the early church's immediate response was to rescue disabled infants from the trash heaps of Rome. They knew these truths and responded accordingly, even when it meant danger and self-sacrifice.

Read more:
Jesus Loves People with Disabilities
Attitudes Toward People with Disabilities

A friend in Zambia wants to know why Christians in his country haven't led the way in caring for people with disabilities. He related abuses by religious and political forces. As recently as the 1990s, the disabled were considered tormented and demon possessed. The ruling political party herded the blind and handicapped off the streets and into remote rural areas where they had to compete with monkeys for food.

Nsomekela Daniel, of Disability Integration Initiatives for Africa, says, "We believe and acknowledge the impact the clergy has on our communities and if they deliberately turn a blind eye to issues of disability then how will the disabled be integrated in the mainstream society? Today, there are many churches that have AIDS/HIV programs and some have even prison ministries but none has ministries for the disabled. Why? . . . How are they going to live?"

Sadly, this isn't just a Zambian or African problem. In Attitudes Toward People with Disabilities, I trace historical perspectives from northern European folk legends to social Darwinism, eugenics, and Nazi Germany. It's not a pretty picture. 

The account of the man born blind in John 9 is indicative of attitudes toward people with disabilities in Jesus’ day. The disciples supposed that blindness was a punishment for sin, either the man’s or his parents’. This idea flowed from an Old Testament explanation of blessing for obedience and curses for unconfessed sin, as found in Deuteronomy 28. 

As the book of Job makes clear, however, there’s not always a one-for-one relationship between sin and its consequences. Jesus corrected the disciples by saying that sometimes a person has a disability in order to show the glory of God. This is exactly what happened when Jesus healed the paralytic (Luke 5:25-26).

Jesus encountered many people with disabilities during his sojourn on earth. One notable instance was when he healed Bartimaeus, a blind man (Mark 10:46-52). Points to ponder:

  • Society hadn't figured out how to help a blind man, other than letting him beg by the side of the road.
  • This blind man was capable of greater insight than most sighted people. He knew who Jesus was!
  • Jesus called Bartimaeus to Himself. He truly does fill His banquet hall with "the crippled and blind and lame" (Luke 14:21).

The early church adopted a gracious and sacrificial response toward people with disabilities, literally rescuing them from the trash heaps of the Roman Empire. How do you think we're doing today?

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." 

Proverbs 16:9

Each of us make our plans. We diligently pursue what we perceive to be the "perfect path" for our life. We have hopes. We have dreams. We have goals. This is part of what makes us human. 

But what do you do when those "perfect dreams" just don't happen? What do you do when God has another path for you to walk?

This is the story of one man whose "perfect plan" included the birth of a "perfect child". One to match his seemingly "perfect life". A child that would fit within his "picture perfect future". But God knew better. HE knew that this couple didn't need what the world would consider a "perfect child". Instead, they needed the "perfect child for them". A child who would draw them closer to HIMSELF. Making one man more like Christ and less like the world. And how could HIS plan not be "perfect"?

This 15 minute story will make you smile as you cry. It will make you see "perfect love" in the midst of dashed hopes and altered dreams. You won't regret watching. 

Time was when pet euthanasia was used as a rational for people euthanasia. The logic went something like this: If we can put a dog or cat out of its misery, why can't we do the same for humans?

[For examples of this sentiment, see the following articles: Pro-euthanasia ads air on Australian TV, Is euthanasia for the living or the dying? and Dutch Euthanasia.]

While the pro-life side appreciated the ever-so-slight acknowledgment that human beings deserve better treatment than dogs and cats (that was the intent, right?), we reject the rationale. Human beings stand above the animal world as imagers of God. (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:2-4; Psalm 8:6-8)

The death of animals is morally neutral, while that of humans requires scrutiny. In Genesis 9:5-6, God made animals accountable for the death of humans, not the other way around.

"Better" treatment of human beings, in our view, involves easing suffering -- through  palliative care and hospice ministries that affirm every patient's worth as valuable to God -- not ending it by killing the sufferer. Our LIFT program trains Christians to do that for fellow-church members and others.

So now it's amusing to read about a new twist on the old argument. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, dying pets are receiving palliative care rather than euthanasia. In 'It's Just a Dog. Get Over It.', Jessica Pierce writes about how the line is being blurred between pets and other family members. Owners are shelling out big bucks to provide pets with care from one of the approximately 75 veterinary hospice services available around the country.

"Once euthanasia was the default response to an animal's mortal illness. Not any more. . . . Working together, pet owners and veterinarians can often maintain a good quality of life for an animal long after we might, in past times, have simply euthanized it."

Will this mean the end of the euthanasia-for-people argument? Will euthanasia advocates now say, "If we can give pets life-affirming care like hospice, why can't we do the same for humans?" One would hope so, yet it would be sadly ironic that it would take uber-love for pets to get us to view people from the proper perspective.

It's too late for those who have been legally euthanized in places such as Belgium and the Netherlands. And in Oregon and Washington state. (Click the above links for the latest statistics.) Here's some commentary from those who have digested the figures:

  • There have been 5,500 cases of euthanasia in 10 years of legal euthanasia in Belgium. The European Institute for Bioethics raises serious questions about the practice, including how intertwined it is with organ retrieval for transplants. Wesley Smith says Belgium has gone "off the moral cliff."
  • The Netherlands prize their euthanasia efficiency, but Dr. Bernard Lo questions the extent of government oversight in a recent Lancet article, (volume 380, issue 9845, pages 869-870, 8 September 2012, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61128-3). Alex Schadenberg says euthanasia there is "out of control."
  • The Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation bemoans the steady increase in numbers of physician-assisted suicides in Oregon and the lack of transparency in the process. (This seems to be a common theme.)
  • Washington is the latest arrival to the euthanasia scene, but it appears to be surpassing Oregon in numbers, according to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church. 

Postscript: Get ready for the next assault on the sanctity of human life -- plant rights! See Pea Personhood? and, for the inevitable twist, Why Did We Ever Start Calling Patients “Vegetables?”

This just in (3/8/13): Someone in the UK says disabled children are too costly, and should be 'put down.' Horrible! See also We Already 'Put Down' the Disabled!

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