Playing God: Pandemic Brings Moral Dilemmas to US Hospitals

Two Christian bioethicists on life or death issues that American doctors may soon face.

Medical professionals across the US are preparing COVID-19 units in a suspenseful quiet, while others in places like New York are already overwhelmed with patients. The city has ordered hospitals to increase capacity by 50 percent, and they are looking at ways to use temporary facilities, including a recently arrived Navy hospital ship, hastily built field hospitals, and even hotels.

In the midst of all this, doctors and nurses are preparing to face agonizing ethical decisions as their Italian counterparts have already in recent weeks. According to some estimates, the number of projected coronavirus patients needing ventilation in the US could reach anywhere between 1.4 and 31 patients per available ventilator.

There are three main ethical concerns that medical professionals are now facing, according to the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity: protecting the vulnerable by not overwhelming health care systems, allocating insufficient medical supplies, and keeping medical workers safe who lack the proper protective equipment against the virus. The questions are very real: Who should receive medical care when there aren’t enough resources to go around?

Two ethicists aiding US medical workers with these dilemmas are Carol L. Powers, a lawyer and the co-founder and chair of the Community Ethics Committee out of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics in Boston; and David Stevens, a physician and CEO emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations in Bristol, Tennessee who spent 11 years on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS and malaria epidemics in Africa.

CT spoke to Powers and Stevens about how Christians should approach issues of life or death.

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Death Can Still Sting

By fighting to save physical lives, the church imitates Christ.

The shutdowns are worth it, said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (Democrat) at a recent press conference. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” Bringing New York City to a grinding halt and risking national economic turmoil more severe than the Great Depression is all worthwhile, Cuomo argued, if it lowers the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic even a little.

In an immediately controversial essay at First Things, the journal’s editor R. R. Reno roundly rejected Cuomo’s claim. “This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism,” he wrote. “There are many things more precious than life.” Anticipating allegations of hypocrisy citing his advocacy against abortion, Reno insisted these are dissimilar concerns. The “pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing,” he said, “not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.”

The germ of this argument is clearly in the air. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (Republican) argued that elderly people like himself should be willing to die of COVID-19 so their grandchildren can keep “the America that all America loves.” Radio host Glenn Beck made the same proposal. And in conversations with Christian family members about the value of social distancing, I keep running into similar logic.

“None of us gets out of life alive,” they say, or, “The Lord will take me when he takes me.” Physical death is not something Christians need fear, they argue, because Christ conquered death itself (1 Cor. 15:54–57; 2 Tim. 1:9–10). Dramatic measures to control the deadly spread of COVID-19 aren’t a good thing. State ...

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Every Child Is On The Altar

Suffer the little children to come unto me.

Today’s musical pairing, chosen to illustrate the meditation below, is Flight from the City by Jóhann Jóhannsson. See the video embedded below. Note that all the songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist here.

“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”
Genesis 22:9–12

Day 10. 838,061 confirmed cases, 41,261 deaths globally.

When the shadow of death touches the doorstep, we draw our children close. We fear more for them than we fear for ourselves. What should happen to them if the virus finds its way into their veins?

The majority of the suffering and death in the pandemic is concentrated among those who are grown and full of years. Yet statistics and probabilities are no comfort when it comes to the thought of losing your children. Or the thought of your children losing you.

Children are watching their parents go to the hospital and are never seeing them again. Fathers are saying their farewells through windows. One mother spoke her last words to her children through a walkie-talkie. Even those without children of their own are praying for the children they know.

To become a parent is to let love overflow in all its miraculous creativity. To be a parent is to love ...

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Asian Americans Call on the Church to Preach Against Coronavirus Racism

Hundreds of Christian leaders sign a landmark statement denouncing spike in xenophobia.

Inspired by their convictions around human dignity and their hope in the body of Christ, Asian American believers are asking the church to take the lead in opposing anti-Asian racism fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Asian American Christian Collaborative today released a statement describing the current rise in anti-Asian incidents—by some counts, more than 750 reports just last week—as the latest in the long history of “yellow peril” tropes in the US.

The statement denounces xenophobia, stands in solidarity with victims, and directs Christians to speak out and make changes in their churches, schools, and communities.

“Our hope would be that people would address this from the pulpit,” said Ray Chang, who collaborated on the statement with church planter and writer Michelle Reyes. “There is no Good News without the bad news.”

The statement evokes the Christian commitment to neighborly love, calling for signatories to “engage in whole-life discipleship in your churches, and embrace the teaching and work of Jesus, by actively combating anti-Asian racism from the pulpit, in congregational life, and in the world.”

Hundreds have signed on, from prominent Asian American Christian leaders like North Park Theological Seminary professor Soong-Chan Rah and Evangelicals for Social Action director Nikki Toyama-Szeto to the heads of major evangelical entities like Fuller Seminary president Mark Labberton and World Relief president Scott Arbeiter.

Asian American Christians have been vocal about racist remarks, characterizations, and violence since the earliest days of the outbreak.

“‘America first’ or ‘my own race first’ is not living out the Parable ...

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Is it All About the Weekend? Not Now, and Should Not Have Ever Been

Customer-centric Sunday experiences have weakened the church— Coronavirus is pushing us to a better way.

Life looks rather different today than it did a month ago. All parts of life—home, community, work, even church. In fact, the Sunday morning gathered experience has been dethroned as the primary focus of our churches. Yes, it’s a painful thing for those of us who like to get together to learn and pray and worship together. We are simply following the tradition that Christ-followers have lived out for millennia.

And yet, for the sake of those around us, we cannot be together. For a season. For the sake of our world. It’s hard, and lonely.

But I would argue that in the midst of all this pain, some good can come.

Dethroning the Queen

I played competitive chess in high school. When you want to better yourself in competitive chess, you and your competitor take the queen off the board and you play with the other pieces.

Here's why: When you have inexperienced chess players, the queen is zipping around the board taking knights and various pawns. What is happening is that the whole game, the whole board, is revolving around the queen.

That’s fine unless you play against someone in competitive chess. In this case, you won’t have a chance. If you want to win in chess, you have to use all the pieces and use all the pieces well.

That can apply to church as well.

If our churches are to be effective at gospel work, we need to engage all the men and women that God has given us. They’re not pieces and they're not pawns, but neither is the Sunday morning worship service the queen. Right now, the queen of Sunday worship has been removed for some time and looks remarkably different than she did even last month.

The queen is dethroned. There is a sadness about this, sure. But I would argue that this allows ...

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A Christian History of Pandemics

How the church has responded to disease throughout the centuries.

Church history is intertwined with plagues. Read about what healthcare looked like during the Roman Empire, how Christian communities responded to outbreaks like the Black Death by persecuting Jews, and how the modern church approached the AIDS crisis.

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Most Pastors Bracing for Months of Socially Distant Ministry

Barna findings show the toll of the coronavirus crisis is setting in week over week.

As the US outlook around the coronavirus pandemic changes day by day, pastors are quickly adjusting their expectations about how the disruptions will impact their ministry.

Oregon pastor Tyler Braun explained that “on top of just navigating the right-now urgency of how to pivot”—the push to move services and giving and small groups online—pastors are grappling with the inevitable fallout on their members and community.

At New Harvest Church, where he leads worship and family ministries, Braun worries people will be forced to experience grief in isolation, lose out on finances, and face the coronavirus restrictions “well into the summer.”

A new survey by Barna Research found over the course of just a week, most church leaders went from thinking they’d be back to meeting as usual in late or March or April (52%), to projecting the changes would extend to May or longer (68%).

“There is this realism that’s setting in,” said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president.

But while most pastors are realistic, they’re also optimistic, according to Kinnaman. “One of the cool things about pastors we’ve learned over the years is that they are by job description and by disposition more upbeat, positive, hope-filled people,” he said. “So they are often pretty capable of putting a good face in a tough situation, and they, like other leaders, are going to face a lot of tough decisions in the coming weeks as the crisis continues.”

Though most had already called off normal activities at church, pastors also implemented swift changes in policies around smaller group meetings over the past several days.

The percentage who still allow the church building to be ...

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Samaritan’s Purse Sets Up Field Hospital in Central Park

The ministry’s temporary setup will help alleviate the anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients in New York.

A series of white tents went up in New York’s Central Park this weekend as workers assembled a 68-bed emergency field hospital for people infected with the coronavirus.

The field hospital, which is expected to open today, will allow Mount Sinai Hospital on 98th Street and Fifth Avenue—just across the street from the park—additional surge capacity as New York City grapples with an overstretched hospital system.

Samaritan’s Purse also set up a field hospital in Cremona, Italy, in the hard-hit Lombardy region, where it has treated more than 100 people.

New York’s death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 965 on Monday—the most of any state. It had nearly 60,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Samaritan’s Purse will staff the New York City hospital with 72 disaster response specialists from around the country, working as contractors for the organization. They include doctors, nurses, paramedics, lab technicians, and pharmacists, as well as a technical support crew.

“It’s not only that New York is overwhelmed and has a lack of patient beds,” said Kaitlyn Lahm, a spokesperson for Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical humanitarian aid organization led by Franklin Graham. “It’s that staff are overworked. We will be fully self-sustained at the emergency field hospital.”

The field hospital will have up to 10 intensive care unit beds with ventilators.

Several trucks left the organization’s North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, warehouse Saturday morning and arrived in New York City that night. By Sunday, it had recruited dozens of New York City church volunteers to help set up the hospital. ...

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Apart Is Temporary. Together Is Forever.

Jesus' love knows no borders.

For today’s musical pairing, listen to “S.T.A.Y.” from Hans Zimmer’s “Interstellar” soundtrack. Note that all the songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist here. See video below.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
Romans 8:15

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Revelation 22:20

Day 9. 775,306 confirmed cases, 37,083 deaths globally.

My youngest daughter was born on the other side of the world to a family I never met. Since her heart had not formed properly, she was left in a baby safe-house outside an orphanage and eventually found her way to people who produced the funding needed for life-saving surgery. Americans and Chinese, most of them followers of Jesus, helped her heal and grow.

She was three years old when her picture appeared on our Facebook feed. She needed a home and a “forever family.” My wife and I did not need to make a decision. We simply recognized our daughter.

Adoption is a mysterious thing. It’s not a resolution to form something new. It’s a realization that something beautiful was already formed, and we are only now beginning to realize it. My wife fought like a lioness to bring her home. “My child is stuck in another country,” she said. Our little girl called me Baba (“daddy”) when we spoke across computer screens. Although we started on opposite sides of the planet, separated by oceans and borders and languages and cultures, somehow she was a part of our family from the very beginning.

So we made our way around the world and ...

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The CARES Act & Your Church Staff: What You Need to Know & 4 Steps to Take Now

The new stimulus bill includes churches and has implication for church staff. Please learn more before making any staff decisions.

We are in unprecedented times, and (for most of us) the health crisis is just weeks away. However, for all of us, the financial crisis is here.

There are roughly 350,000 churches in the United States. Most are small and have a single (often part time) staff member. Some employ hundreds. However, Warren Bird of the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability estimates that there are 1 million people on the payroll of US churches, the majority of whom are part-time, often working other jobs.

Thus, the Congress and the President included them in the most recent stimulus bill, The CARES Act (and the Paycheck Protection Program, which is part of that act), as part of a plan to avoid sudden and vast amounts of unemployment.

While this is a fluid situation, we are committed to learning more about the CARES Act in the hours and days to come.

As such, you should expect this page to be updated.

An Overview You Need to Know

We turned to trusted voices to get the best imformation we would. One particular trusted resource that we want to note is Richard Hammar’s overview posted at Church Law and Tax (also a part of Christianity Today).

Hammar notes the following about the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program):

  • The Act establishes a new US Small Business Administration loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program for small employers (including nonprofits and churches) with 500 or fewer employees to help prevent workers from losing their jobs and small businesses from failing due to economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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