I was doing some political web surfing, and came across a website called Christ and Pop Culture. One of the blog owners posed a question about needle exchange programs and harm reduction, which I think is interesting:
There has been a resurgence of interest in the harm reduction program of Needle Exchange. The basic philosophy behind the program is that if drug users will swap out their used needles for clean ones then there may be a decrease in the spread of both HIV and Hepatatis C. The problem with the program is that it does turn a blind eye toward drug abuse and even enables abuse and addiction. So as a Christian what do you think is the right response to such a program? Do you think Christians should support it or reject it?
I think this is interesting because it’s a huge, messy question. It makes my brain explode with more questions, but I didn’t ask there, because the question was addressed to Christians, and don’t qualify. Here are some of the questions that came to mind:
Do Christians think that addiction is a condition of willful moral or spiritual degeneracy? Is there a Christian position on the nature of addiction? How did they arrive at this position? Biblically? If it is a condition of willful moral or spiritual degeneracy, then is it consistent with Christian values to turn a blind eye to addicts in general, to let them follow their path to destruction? If so, wouldn’t that be turning a blind eye to the innocents who may be infected by the diseases spread by dirty needles, like people who receive tainted blood transfusions or the unwitting sexual partners of addicts (last I heard, black men have the highest rate of HIV infection)? Is it Christian to allow people to, say, infect a fetus with HIV, because giving a clean needle to the carrier would be condoning their behavior? How is this consistent with an pro-life position which supports and encourages intervening in the destruction of a fetus?
Or, do Christians believe that addiction is a serious mental/behavioral/physical condition that some people need help and therapy to overcome, if they overcome it at all? If so, then wouldn’t keeping people alive be more important than worrying about the appearance of impropriety in doing so? (
I’m thinking of Jesus washing the feet of prostitutes. Never happened! Sorry…) And if addiction is an overwhelming condition, then how would the appearance of condoning addiction be relevant – who cares what it looks like? Is the appearance of righteousness more important than actual righteousness? What if we’re talking about smoking cigarettes: Would it be less of a conundrum to bring the same principles of harm reduction to smokers, by, say, offering nicotine replacement options or supporting anti-smoking legislation so that others are not on the receiving end of their second-hand smoke?
If Christians do not support harm reduction programs because they do not want to mitigate the consequences of addiction, should they, then, take their ministry into the trenches? I mean, if you believe that addiction is a willful moral or spiritual degeneracy, and therefore deny addicts the life-saving help provided by social workers who work in the trenches with addicts, shouldn’t you replace this help with something? Maybe, “No you can’t have a clean needle, but I’ll give you some lunch and you can listen to The Word.”? Could you be in the trenches with an addict and deny him a clean needle, knowing that he has a wife?
Those are a few of the questions that question inspired.
I’d like to ask Pastor Dunham to do a little research on the subject of harm reduction. Instead of seeing harm reduction in terms of its most controversial incarnation, perhaps he could look at needle exchange as part of a whole philosophy of addiction treatment – as a logical part of a continuum. If you move down the scale of controversy, you’ll find that harm reduction is about a couple of things. 1. Giving options to addicts, who – by the very nature of addiction – feel they have no options. The recognition of options is the gateway to recovery. 2. Protecting people who are harmed by someone else’s addiction.
Suppose, for instance, that – in the spirit of harm reduction – an alcoholic decides that he’s not going to quit drinking, but he won’t drive when he’s been drinking. Would a Christian refuse to give the guy a ride home or refuse to call a cab for him? How is this different from refusing to give a heroin addict a clean needle?
I’m not Christian. I was raised in Christian schools and studied the Bible in great detail, but… he wasn’t asking me. I know that we have some Christians here, and I wonder how you would answer the pastor’s question. I guess he’s wondering, too.