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Speaker fears gains by `culture of death'

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Dr. Richard Land heads the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

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We are in the midst of a “culture of death” that Pope John Paul II spoke of in 1993, and it will continue to roll forward if people of faith and good will do not resist it and roll it back, said Dr. Richard Land.

As president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Land said he will address such topics as abortion, euthanasia, harvesting of fetal tissue, and cloning in a keynote speech Tuesday night at the Lenawee County Right to Life's Sixth Annual Focus on Life Dinner in Adrian, Mich.

He believes the American public's acceptance of legalized abortion, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, eventually will lead to the acceptance of euthanasia, or mercy killing, “at first voluntary and then involuntary.”

“We have a basic decision to make in whether we assert the sanctity of human life,” Dr. Land said from his office in Nashville.

If society does not uphold that life is a basic right, as cited in the Declaration of Independence, he said, then it becomes a matter of judgment whether a person's quality of life entitles them to survival.

Dr. Land, 54, earned his bachelor's degree from Princeton University, his doctorate from Oxford University, and his theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Seminary. He is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and a former pastor who has headed the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission since 1988. He also hosts a daily radio call-in talk show, For Faith & Family, broadcast on 550 stations nationwide.

Rapid advancements in medicine and genetics are complicating the decisions that lawmakers, ethicists, and religious leaders must make, Dr. Land said.

“Technology has been outrunning society's ability to deal with the issues ethically,” he said. “We're facing issues that have never been faced before. Is a clone a human being? Are we going to give clones full rights, or is it the property of the person whom it was cloned from?

“Some people may say, `What a stupid question!' But we haven't been able to grant full legal status to human beings in the womb, who are fully human, so what makes you so sure we'll give full rights to a clone?”

People who have been cloned could possibly consider their duplicate as their own personal property and perhaps even “a walking, talking warehouse of spare parts for me,” Dr. Land said.

He called the practice of harvesting tissue from human embryos and aborted fetuses for medical research and treatments “a form of biotech cannibalism.”

While there are obvious religious implications to these issues, Dr. Land said he would “settle” for applying moral and ethical principles in determining whether scientific advancements are acceptable to society.

In light of medical advances, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is now “obsolete,” he said, because it divides pregnancy into trimesters of three months each.

“When they made that decision, there were no babies surviving in the second trimester. Now they routinely survive at 25 weeks, and sometimes as early as 21 weeks,” he said.

Dr. Land asserts that life begins at conception, but that is a matter widely, and heatedly, debated by religious, scientific, and political leaders.

Frances Kessling, president of the Washington-based Catholics for a Free Choice, said “there is no definitive statement on which everyone agrees” on when life begins.

“Theologians differ on when a fetus gains a soul,” Ms. Kessling said. “Dozens of distinguished scientists, including 11 Nobel laureates, have argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that science does not tell us when a human person's life begins.”

Dr. Land said that if the beginning of life is determined by the age of viability - when a baby can survive outside the womb - that line will be constantly changing. But it would remain constant if the basis is life begins at conception, when the sperm enters the egg.

“That is scientifically true and of course it's also biblical,” he said.

Dr. Land believes the Bush administration “gives every indication to being the most friendly pro-life administration to be in office since the Roe v. Wade decision.”

The Lenawee County Right to Life's Sixth Annual Focus on Life Dinner will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Ritchie Dining Hall on the campus of Adrian College in Adrian, Mich. Ticket information: 517-265-6068 or 517-467-7991.

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