Basic bioethics: Why Christians should care about bioethics | ERLC
Post Date: 06/30/ . Explicitly Christian perspectives on bioethical issues are being published in a variety of places, including journals such as Ethics. Ethical Method in Christian Bioethics: Mapping the Terrain. Post Date: 08/04/ Author: In such cases, what does it mean to take a biblical perspective on these issues, or to develop biblical moral norms? What should Bible-oriented . Mar 23, To aid in the basic understanding of bioethics for Christians, I'm starting either the Christian perspective on bioethics will achieve a dominant.
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Is it an activity to which Christian scholars should devote their professional activity and to which Christian health care professionals should pay heed? Or, rather, is bioethics such a hopelessly corrupt field that our only appropriate response is to recoil from it in disgust and opposition? While the field of bioethics certainly has numerous enthusiasts, many others have questioned the legitimacy of this interdisciplinary enterprise that has all but taken over the way we engage in serious discussion about ethical issues in medicine and the life sciences.
In recent years bioethics pioneers such as the late Fr.
Richard McCormick and lawyer Wesley J. Smith have taken bioethics to task on moral grounds, arguing that the field as conducted today too often does moral harm to medicine and society. McCormick wonders in the May 1, issue of America whether bioethics has become "a moral vacuum," while Smith complains in the April 3, edition of The Weekly Standard that in "mainstream bioethics, human beings per se have no special rights or moral value.
The term "bioethics," like architecture and theology, refers to both a process and a product. The process of bioethics consists of critical reflection on the moral dimensions of health care and medical science.
Basic bioethics: How Christians should think about bioethics (part 2) | ERLC
The product encompasses the literature and resources amassed in journals, books, conference programs and other places. In addition to these familiar distinctions, bioethics also refers to the social structures in which these discussions take place and in which the products of the enterprise are displayed. As is the case with architecture and theology, bioethics refers to a social institution, a convergence of people from diverse professional groups which comprises a community in which bioethics is done.
Critics of bioethics might be referring to the product of certain bioethicists, to the process of bioethics itself or to the dominant institutional arrangements that make up bioethics. Perhaps some critics wish to target all three of these. Bioethics is without doubt the best developed of the many fields of applied professional ethics that have emerged in the past few decades.
Almost all hospitals have ethics committees usually mandated by accreditation agenciesand such grassroots work is mirrored at the more theoretical level by a network of bioethics centers, journals and conferences. Importantly, bioethics has obliged medical professionals to share these intriguing and critical discussions with lawyers, social scientists, theologians and philosophers. Given the strong monopoly physicians had long enjoyed over the right to speak to the ethical questions surrounding human health, how did it ever fall into the hands of philosophers, theologians and others?
In part, this shift was due to the 's advent of new technologies in biomedical science, which rendered dilemmas in medical ethics too "public" to leave to medical specialists alone. Biomedical ethics began to see the need to draw upon the wisdom of the broader community, upon philosophical and theological work. Although confessing some "temerity" as a theologian presuming to speak on medical ethics, pioneering Christian bioethicist Paul Ramsey nonetheless insisted in his book The Patient as Person that: The problems of medical ethics These are by no means technical problems on which only the expert in this case the physician can have an opinion.
They are rather the problems of human beings in situations in which medical care is needed. Birth and death, illness and injury are not simply events the doctor attends. They are moments in every human life. I would here like to offer a very preliminary analysis of patterns of ethical methodology among Christians weighing in on contemporary biotechnology debates. Obviously, the question of method comes into play every time a scholar undertakes any intellectual project. Unfortunately, fixation on disputes about method often mars academia, at times making it impossible for scholars ever to take a substantive stance about anything.
Especially because I have always understood my work as an ethicist to be in service to the church, I have avoided extensive methodological tangles whenever I can. The people in the pew do not care as much about the ethical method that is used as they do about the normative moral guidance that is offered on the issues of the day.
Contemporary biotechnology concerns, however, raise methodological issues that cannot responsibly be avoided. When we fail to do such methodological reflection, but pronounce in an ad hoc fashion on biotech issues anyway, the flimsiness of our thinking is quickly revealed.
It will quickly marginalize our voices in a public ethical conversation that we may only have one chance to participate in before some of these issues are decided. Evangelical Bioethics and the Use of Scripture The question of bioethical methodology is especially acute for those working within the conservative Protestant branch of the Christian community. The typical evangelical way of approaching a moral question is to turn to the Bible for direct citations relevant to the issue at hand.
If we want to know what to think about war, marriage, homosexuality, drinking, suicide, or economic ethics, we turn to the Bible for moral commands that address these issues. Millions of evangelicals attempt to direct their steps in precisely this manner.
Much of the time, when we turn to the Bible in this way we are blessed with all of the insight that we need. But the issue is much more complex when it comes to issues that the Bible does not directly address. How are we to discern God's moral will about stem cell research? Or the mapping of the human genome? These scientific discoveries and technological applications are not--and could not have been--addressed in the Bible because they are new innovations in human life.
What should Bible-oriented Christians and Christian scholars do when they run into moral issues that the Bible does not and cannot address with clear moral injunctions? This is a question that has occupied the attention of a number of biblical scholars and Christian ethicists in recent decades. An entire sub-literature in these two overlapping fields has developed in order to explore the broad question of how the Bible should be interpreted by Christians in shaping the moral life, and the more narrow issue of how to employ the Scriptures in relation to moral challenges not addressed in Scripture.
It is not difficult to understand why this is so, given the difficulty of keeping up with developments within bioethics proper.
Basic bioethics: Why Christians should care about bioethics
However, this lack of awareness has perhaps contributed to certain weaknesses in the bioethics offered by evangelical Christians to this point. I have observed the following patterns: Some try to retain the reflexive pattern of applying biblical injunctions by appealing to biblical texts that are dubiously interpreted as speaking directly to the issue at hand.
One example of this tendency is seen with regard to the issue of abortion. But alas there is none to be found. Therefore, most evangelicals build an anti-abortion case by citing texts such as Psalm These passages celebrate the very origins of life in the womb and acknowledge life as a divine creation.
They affirm the awesome goodness of God and God's creation.Christian Online Dating Advice: Does God Want You to Online Date to Find a Christian Spouse? 7 Tips
They indicate that God has a purpose for every human life and makes plans for his people even before they are born. These texts are certainly relevant to abortion; however, they do not address the issue directly, a fact routinely pointed out by those who reject the pro-life position.
Basic bioethics: How Christians should think about bioethics (part 2)
Working from these citations is probably not the best way to make the case against abortion. On issues such as abortion or homosexuality, for example, conservative Protestants will sometimes employ the natural law tradition to buttress their biblical claims. This is a rich and fruitful tradition that offers considerable resources for contemporary Christian bioethics.
But it is also a complex tradition, which has found its home in the Roman Catholic Church rather than within Protestantism, which historically has tended to view it with suspicion.
It is methodologically incoherent to graft the conclusions drawn from Catholic natural law theory into evangelical ethical arguments, especially if stripped of the philosophical, theological, and ecclesiological context within which natural law theory generally functions.
We just "know" the right position on an issue because it is the way "our kind of people," or our employers, or our opinion leaders, or our instincts, direct us.
Everyone must acknowledge the power of such factors in their decision-making, but we certainly cannot settle for this assortment of factors as an ethical methodology. Difficulties with deriving moral norms directly from biblical texts actually reveal a vulnerability in evangelical ethical method that transcends bioethical issues and that has been noticed by observers outside of our tradition for many years. Any Christian moral tradition that hopes to remain at all relevant to contemporary society must devise a way of addressing a whole range of moral issues that the Bible does not directly mention.
More radically, a failure to find a way to address the gap between "then" and "now" may lead some thoughtful evangelicals to finally reject the validity of a biblically-oriented approach to morality in favor of models drawn from other Christian or non-Christian moral traditions. Rather than creating or exhausting this vulnerability, the field of bioethics has simply revealed it with acute clarity.
Thus, to sharpen our approach to bioethical methodology will not only help improve our bioethics but also our general ethical method--and our everyday moral decision-making.
The lack of direct biblical moral injunctions requires those who are interested in what Scripture says to read the Bible in a different way. Rather than looking for what is not there, scholars are forced back from the moral injunction level to other types of scriptural moral resources. Unless we make all of our moral judgments idiosyncratically, however, particular decisions are usually rooted in some structure of moral norms.