Story by Theresa Smith
Photos by Slaven Gujic
GCU News Bureau
Sue Stratman’s doctor advised abortion, warning that her daughter might inherit the same heart condition of her son, Daniel. But Sue and her husband, Jay, were unwavering in their pro-life beliefs and she continued her pregnancy, giving birth to a healthy daughter who is now 31 years old.
This anecdote was one of several that Stratman shared with the audience at Grand Canyon University’s second annual Bioethics Conference, "Human Dignity: Clash of World Views."
Her first challenge occurred after he was born with a heart defect, requiring open-heart surgery when he was five days old, and again at age 8 and age 10. In July 1996, Daniel underwent a routine hernia surgery but emerged with significant brain damage, blindness and the inability to walk because, she said, the anesthesiologist failed to set the blood pressure machine and set the anesthesia too high for too long.
Stratman not only forgave the anesthesiologist and other hospital workers, she continued a faithful life of service, caring for all of her children, sharing her story in a book by Dianne C. Reynolds, "When Losing is Winning'' and making speaking appearances like the one on Monday.
The audience of GCU students and local church community members, included Morgan Clarke, a junior psychology major who was moved by the Stratman family’s experience.
“When Sue and her son Daniel presented that impacted me the most, just her story of grace and forgiving people for something that,’’ she said. “He went in for hernia surgery and came out … not that he has any less life in him, but that they were able to forgive that hospital. I think that is God’s grace. Her resilience is a strong character trait that I admire. It was great to hear from her. She stuck to her convictions in being pro-life and advocating for her son and advocating for her daughter who wasn’t born yet.’’
Stratman and Daniel were among four speakers at the event, which began with Chapel speaker Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of the nonprofit organization Joni and Friends. Among other initiatives, the organization provides wheelchairs for people all over the world. Tada has been confined to a wheelchair since she was injured in a 1967 diving accident.
Raising the bar
“Joni’s message resonated with our students, ’’ said Kimberly LaPrade, Dean of the College of Education, noting the thousands of students at GCU Arena who gave Tada two standing ovations.
“Our students have their heart for service; they will roll up their sleeves to help with Joni and Friends. To have Joni kick us off and then to follow with these great speakers was a highlight. As far as this being the second annual conference, this just raised the bar from last year, so we’re on that trajectory. It was a collaborative effort: the College of Theology, the College of Education, the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin, along with events services, food service, security, faculty, and then the community brings all that together. It doesn’t get better than that.’’
After Chapel and lunch, the event moved a few hundred yards to the First Southern Baptist Church, adjacent to campus. Critical Mass, GCU's a cappella ensemble, performed an assortment of energetic religious songs, followed by the opening remarks of GCU President Brian Mueller and a prayer by Dr. Tim Griffin, Pastor and Dean of Students, who served as the emcee.
Scott Klusendorf shared his powerfully logical and passionate pro-life message, guiding the audience through strategies to debate people who favor abortion. He emphasized the lack of difference between an unborn human and a born human, as in what justifies the killing of the unborn?
The four main differences, as enumerated by Klusendorf, are Size, Level of development, Environment and Degree of dependency, remembered with the acronym SLED.
In terms of size, for example, Klusendorf reasoned that if killing a toddler is immoral and illegal, then so is killing the smaller human, the unborn. Similarly, how does being a less developed human, the unborn, disqualify the unborn from protection?
In terms of environment, the changes from the womb to outside the womb should not affect the value of a person, according to Klusendorf. As for dependency, toddlers need their parents for nutrition and safe surroundings, just like the unborn, and dependency should not disqualify the unborn from being treated as a person, meaning free to be born.
“They assume the unborn are not human, so when you are arguing with people on this issue ask them, 'Does it apply to killing a toddler?'" Klusendorf said.
“People will say, ‘Why don’t you trust women to make their own personal decisions? Can you trust a woman (mother) and father who are beating a toddler in the privacy of their home?'"
He also compared the development of a human to that of a Polaroid camera -- the picture is there, and it slowly appears on the photo paper.
“From the one-cell stage you were already there; we just couldn’t see you because you were still developing,’’ he said. “That is the embryology of it.’’
He exhorted his audience to follow three steps: 1. Clarify the issue; 2. Defend your pro-life position with science and philosophy; 3. Challenge your listeners to be intellectually honest.
Defending the unborn neighbor
Klusendorf made this call to action: “Step up and defend your unborn neighbor. State your case for life. GCU students, I am glad that you are equipped to defend what you believe and to be ambassadors for life.’’
In an interview afterward, he said, “Our country is having a huge argument over two key questions that impacts every student at Grand Canyon University, every one of their parents, and their kids and grandkids for generations to come. Our nation is quabbling over the question of what makes humans value and is moral truth true with a capital T, or is it just a preference like choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla?
"You have to know how to answer those two questions if you are a Christian. And if you don’t come to conferences like this, then you are going to have to find a way to learn yourself how to answer them. I’d rather come to a conference where I can be taught how to think about these things and get resources to think them through logically and biblically than to be left on my own. So I absolutely affirm a conference like this.’’
After Klusendorf’s intellectually oriented speech, courageous, heart-filled tales were told by Sue Stratman, who included comments from Daniel, via lip reading – for two years after the botched hernia surgery he could not speak, and his atrophied vocal cords have not regained their volume.
Another anecdote Stratman shared represented another moral dilemma. After traveling numerous times from their St. Louis home to Florida for treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which improved some of Daniel’s functions, the doctor strongly advised the family to travel to the Dominican Republic for stem cell transplants from aborted fetuses.
“We refused,’’ Stratman said. “We will not compromise our Christian worldview. Daniel’s life gives glory every day. God has been sovereign and faithful to us.’’
In a most recent example, Daniel prepared for a trip to Israel by listening to the entire Bible seven times.
Grieving loss at the start of life
The final speaker, Suzanne Helzer, a nurse manager at First Way Pregnancy Center in Phoenix, works daily with women in crisis pregnancies. Helzer, a recent cancer survivor, shared her story of being a teen mom and giving up her baby for adoption. Now, she works with families who are dealing with loss at the start of life, including from abortion, miscarriage and stillbirth.
“When grief of pregnancy loss is not handled well PTSD can develop,’’ she said. “Also, prolonged grief can affect future pregnancies and future children.’’
Helzer advocates for “maximizing the opportunities for parenthood. What were the hopes and dreams for the child? So momentos are important and allowing time for decisions to avoid regrets.’’
In that vein, Helzer spoke of things parents can do before saying goodbye to their child, including naming the child, holding the child, bathing the child, putting lotion on the child, dressing the child, taking photos and planning the child’s funeral.
“Opportunities like these should be provided at all hospitals and birth centers,’’ she said.
Helzer also spoke of involving the entire family in the grief process.
Clarke said afterward, “We don’t really focus on that part because we are thinking about the mother being the one carrying the child. But fathers create a very strong attachment before the child is even born, so it is important to focus on the family as a unit instead of just the mother.’’
Clarke recently completed a child and adolescent development class and is taking an adult development class.
“We are studying the grief process, loss and death and mortality right now,’’ she said. “I wasn’t expecting to come here today, so I am really excited and glad that I did. I definitely learned a lot and I am going to use it in my classes too.’’
The impactful conference concluded with a panel discussion involving all the speakers. It was quite interesting as audience members asked insightful questions ranging from tips for arguing with a pro-abortion utilitarian to placenta cord blood banking, to use of cooling cots to extend the life of a baby who is dying, to the grief experienced when one twin survives and the other dies.
Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].
GCU Today: Conference addresses faith and science