A diverse group of Seventh-day Adventist medical experts, theologians, healthcare administrators and ethicists are currently engaged in an attempt to clarify the Church’s official stance on the controversial issue of abortion.
The denomination last offered guidelines, but not an official statement on abortion, in a 1992 document.
Beginning two years ago, the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference (BRI), which offers biblical and theological insight to the church on many issues, was tasked with preparing a statement that reflects Scriptural principles bearing on the discussion of abortion.
The BRI Ethics Committee has developed multiple drafts of a proposed document, on which there is ongoing dialogue with the Church’s Health Ministries department and the General Conference (GC) Bioethics Committee. The Bioethics Committee includes representatives from the church’s teaching hospitals and medical systems, as well as independent Adventist healthcare administrators and practitioners.
An August 27 action of the General Conference Administrative Committee (ADCOM) established a Working Group to continue development of the statement on abortion. The 26-member group includes representatives from Health Ministries, Women’s Ministries, Family Ministries, Education, Children’s Ministries, Ellen G. White Estate, Biblical Research Institute, Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries, Office of General Counsel, Public Affairs, senior administration, the General Conference Communication Department, and the Adventist Review.
Chaired by General Conference vice-president Artur Stele, the committee includes 23 members from countries other than the United States, including Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Finland, Norway, Jamaica, Senegal, Ghana, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Mauritius, Germany, and Chile. Six members are female; three of those are on the statement Writing Committee.
“The process of drafting any church statement should include representation from all segments of the church,” says Stele. “This important statement involves the participation of theologians, medical practitioners and clinicians, healthcare administrators, Church administrators, and both men and women.”
Stele went on to clarify the role of the Working Group. “The committee has been tasked with studying the BRI Ethics Committee draft, together with the 1992 guidelines,” he explained. “Further, the committee is to study and consider input and feedback from a variety of sources, including the GC Bioethics Committee.”
Quoting from the Committee’s Terms of Reference, Stele emphasized that the group’s third responsibility is to “prepare a draft of one unified statement that will clearly be based on biblical principles that underline the sanctity of life and recognize the exceptionally difficult cases/anomalies women can face.”
The announced goal is to bring a document to the floor of the General Conference Executive Committee, which convenes for its Annual Council in Silver Spring from October 9-16. An accelerated pace of writing committees and wider discussions by the entire Working Group is planned between now and an October 1 ADCOM meeting. The Administrative Committee will review the proposed document and decide whether to recommend it to the Annual Council session.
“This is a deeply sensitive topic,” says Peter Landless, director of Health Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “My prayer is that the outcome of the deliberations will positively benefit and strengthen the work and practice of our mission in all spheres.”
BRI director Elias Brasil de Souza agrees, saying “my hope is that this process will help church members and the Adventist community know where the Church stands on such a critical issue. It is important to the process that the results reflect faithfulness to Scripture.”
After a working draft has been reviewed by the 26-member committee at its September 4 meeting, a larger group of more than 30 representatives from the Church’s five healthcare systems in North America, members of the GC Bioethics Committee, and specialists from the denomination’s teaching hospitals, will be invited to a major discussion in mid-September.
Additional meetings of both the Writing Committee and full Working Group will also convene in the last half of September to incorporate the insights and counsel obtained from all parties participating in the discussion.
“As a health professional who understands how these statements will impact the lives of real people struggling with difficult decisions, I am encouraged by the process we are going through,” says Katia Reinert associate director of Health Ministries, and a member of both the Working Group and the Writing Committee. She concludes, “I feel confident that we will have a statement that will provide biblical and practical insight for future guidelines, taking into account the need for healing and wholeness of individuals and families living in a broken world.”