CMDA's The Point

The Court of Last Resort

July 28, 2016
Photo: Pixabay

by David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Though I have two in my extended family, I never wanted to be a lawyer. But I admit, I have desired more legal knowledge over the last few months as CMDA has taken legal action as a last resort to deal with threats to our members and our patients.

We took this last recourse in California where many say, “as California goes, ultimately, the country goes.” There is a good bit of truth in that statement. California is our largest state with a population of 40 million and has significant influence across the country. That is why CMDA and other groups have fought so vigorously for more than 15 years to thwart attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide in California. I’ve personally crisscrossed the state many times warning about legalizing death on demand and its danger to patients, their families, healthcare professionals and society. On one trip, I spoke 28 times in four and a half days to healthcare professionals, legislators, churches and the media. For many years these efforts were successful.

Emboldened by Brittany Maynard’s story, Compassion & Choices executed a full court press in a “let’s break all the rules to win” campaign in the legislature last summer. Their legalization initiative had been defeated during the regular legislative session, but Governor Jerry Brown called a special session to deal with the state’s precarious finances. According to California law, the only thing that can be discussed or voted on in a special session is the one issue the sessions was called to deal with, so those in opposition to physician-assisted suicide had their guard down. With backdoor maneuvering, Compassion & Choices bypassed committee obstructions, got the issue to the floor anyway and the vote passed.

So CMDA is party to a suit based on the fact that the vote was illegal and thus void. We are hoping to get an injunction.

For some, it might be too late. Dr. Lonny Shavelson, a retired emergency room physician, opened an office in his backyard in Berkley a few days before the law took effect on June 9. His practice is called “Bay Area End of Life Options.” A long-time advocate of physician-assisted suicide, he will provide death on demand to those refused “help” by their own physicians. What is your life worth if you are terminally ill? Well, we have an answer. It’s $2,000 at this Doctor Death’s one stop shop. Suicide is the only service this practice offers.

He doesn’t lack experience. Long before physician-assisted suicide was legalized in California, he was present when five patients killed themselves. He simply watched as an elderly man struggled as his sister suffocated him with a pillow. He dispassionately related that story and his personal philosophy in his book Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die.

Across the country, CMDA and some of our individual members in Vermont are working with the Alliance Defending Freedom and have brought a suit against the Vermont Board of Medical Practice and the Office of Professional Regulation, due their recent move to force conscientious doctors and other clinicians to counsel their patients for physician-assisted suicide or to refer that patient to a physician who will. This makes them morally culpable in the death of that patient if they obtain a lethal prescription and then kill themselves.

I don’t like suing. If fact, we require mediation and arbitration rather than going to court in all of our contracts, but in these instances we have no other option to protect Christian healthcare professionals’ right of conscience and religious freedom.

Have you noticed? On ethical and even some medical issues, it is demanded first that the intolerable be allowed. Then it must be endorsed as good and finally participation is demanded. When truth and even common sense is ignored, the only option is coercion and intimidation to force people to comply. It is demanded that you act as if the emperor is clothed, even when he is walking down the street naked or you will lose your head.

The court is the last resort, but in this day or time there is less and less chance that even the court will render a verdict on the clear meaning of the law rather than the judge’s own political biases. All the same, Christian healthcare professionals must stand for righteousness, no matter the cost.

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

About David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Dr. David Stevens, author of Jesus, MD, Beyond Medicine and co-author of Leadership Proverbs and Servant Leadership and serves as CEO Emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, a national organization of Christian healthcare professionals that seeks to change hearts in healthcare. Founded in 1931, CMDA promotes positions and addresses policies on healthcare issues; conducts overseas and domestic mission projects; coordinates a network of Christian healthcare professionals for fellowship and professional growth; sponsors student ministries in medical and dental schools; distributes educational and inspirational resources; holds marriage and family conferences; provides missionary healthcare professionals with continuing education resources and conducts academic exchange programs overseas. At CMDA, Dr. Stevens has helped develop an evangelism training program that teaches thousands of healthcare professionals how to share their faith in a healthcare setting. He was a catalyst for starting the Global Missions Healthcare Conference, trains new healthcare missionaries three times a year and annually leads a summit for executives of mission organization doing healthcare ministry. He has also helped launch a nationwide network of community-based ministries that provide on-site discipleship, fellowship and outreach opportunities for local healthcare professionals and students. As a leading spokesman for Christian healthcare professionals, Dr. Stevens has conducted thousands of media interviews, including NBC's Today Show, NBC Nightly News, BBC-World Television, Newsweek, JAMA, USA Today, CNN Sunday Morning, CNN News Site and National Public Radio. He has also appeared on FOX Family Channel, PAX-Television, Tech TV, The Odyssey Channel, America's Health Network and many other national outlets. He has written many book chapters and magazine articles. Prior to becoming a Zondervan author, he wrote a regular health column for the Promise Keepers' New Man magazine and served on the editorial board of Christian Single magazine. Dr. Stevens is also heard as host of the CMDA Healthwise Public Service Announcements, which address general health and bioethical issues and airs on radio stations nationwide. CMDA members hear him as the host of the popular Christian Doctor’s Digest audio magazine, which has featured national leaders such as Luis Lugo, Jim Cymbala, Newt Gingrich, John Stonestreet and Kay Arthur. Prior to his service with CMDA, Dr. Stevens served as director of World Medical Mission. In Somalia, Dr. Stevens led an emergency medical mission that treated 45,000 suffering Somalis in the midst of war. In the Sudan, medical teams under his leadership treated more than 25,000 villagers to stop the spread of an epidemic. Dr. Stevens has seen firsthand how meeting the physical needs of patients provides opportunities to meet their spiritual needs—by introducing them to God’s love through a relationship with Jesus Christ. From 1981 to 1991, Dr. Stevens was a missionary doctor at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya where he served as Medical Superintendent and then Exeuctive Officer. He helped to develop Tenwek from a bush hospital to one of the most outstanding mission facilities in the world. At Tenwek, he directed a $4 million development plan, secured the installation of an $850,000 hydroelectric plant, oversaw the start of a nursing school and doubled the size of the hospital. The community healthcare and development programs he designed at Tenwek are currently reaching more than one million Kenyans and serve as an example of what medical outreach in the developing world can accomplish. Dr. Stevens’ experiences provide rich illustrations for inspirational and educational presentations at seminars, conferences and churches. His topics include missions and evangelism, spiritual commitment and growth, bioethics and other medically and spiritually related subjects. Dr. Stevens holds degrees from Asbury University and is an AOA graduate of University of Louisville School of Medicine and is board certified in family medicine. He earned a master’s degree in bioethics from Trinity International University in 2002 and served on the boards of World Gospel Mission and Asbury University. He has regularly taught at the Christian Medical & Dental Associations' educational seminars for missionary physicians and dentists in Kenya, Malaysia and other forums. He is a Fellow of the Biotechnology Policy Council of the Wilberforce Forum and helped found the National Embryo Donation Center. Dr. Stevens and his wife Jody have a son, Jason, and two daughters, Jessica and Stacy, and nine grandchildren, all of who are involved in domestic or international healthcare ministry.

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