Bioethics & Timeless Truths For Changing Times
The rate of technological and cultural change is so fast and comprehensive in these days in which we live that futurist Alvin Toffler has likened the phenomena to waves sweeping over society and labeled the feeling of disoriented perplexity that settles over us in the wake as “Future Shock”. Many of these changes appear to be so profound that the pressure to abandon traditional values and beliefs from academia, media, government, and even certain factions within organized religion can feel overwhelming. However, there is more at stake than whether we send letters to acquaintances via the post office or through the computer electronically. Rather, such radical shifts of the paradigms through which we sift reality and experience will ultimately impact how we see ourselves and how we value other human beings.
With the technical complexity inherent to many of the latest developments in the fields of biology and medicine, it is easy to fall for the assumption that ethics and morality in these disciplines would better be left to the highly educated such as scientists or philosophy professors. The field of bioethics is a relatively new area of study in comparison to the totality of human knowledge. Because of its frontier nature as ethically uncharted territory, it is a discipline in desperate need of a solid Christian presence as it is pretty much a wide open field in which the ambitious and enthusiastic can plant their flag in the hopes of persuading the masses as to the propriety of a respective position.
As Christians, it is the fundamental assumption of the believer that all truth is derived from God as revealed to us either directly from His word (the Bible), deduced from reflection upon His word, or discernable from His creation construed in the light of His word. II Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is given inspired of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Likewise, Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of his hands (NIV).”
Since this is the case, God’s law is written across the whole of creation. Try as men might to ignore or escape these binding commandments, they ultimately cannot and are seared by their own consciences as evidenced by the responses that often border on violence as typified by homosexual militants reacting whenever someone responds with anything less than a standing ovation or lavish government subsidies for this particular lifestyle. Romans 2:14-15 says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”
Though the Bible might not address specific bioethical issues directly by name such as stem cells and cloning, a number of the Good Book’s foremost passages and doctrines serve as the foundation to a Christian response to these kinds of challenges arising in the world today. As the basis to all divine law contained within both the Old and New Testaments, the Ten Commandments serve as the guiding principles for all healthy relationships with both God and man. Prominent among these is the injunction “Thou shalt not murder.”
This admonition was not handed down arbitrarily just so God could laud his authority and power over us. Rather, this commandment was set in place as recognition of man’s unique status as a creature made in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This image of God in each individual is so sacred that no individual should be able to take the life of another without serious consequences. Genesis 9:6 warns, “Whoever sheds the blood of man; by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
Thus, the fundamental consideration in regards to these complex issues arising as a result of advances in biotechnology is that of personhood. As these scientific developments promise more and more of the things we as human beings crave the most in our earthly lives such as freedom from disease, prolonged life, or even enhanced abilities and children designed to our specifications, it becomes easier and easier to view other human beings as a means to achieve these goals for ourselves rather than as those whose lives we would like to see improved.
For while all of the issues raised in a cursory bioethics survey start off with noble-sounding justifications, when we look behind the lofty pronouncements, many of us would be shocked by the staggering numbers of bodies concealed behind the curtain. Perhaps one of the first bioethics debates to grip the public consciousness was no doubt abortion.
Those opposed to the practice argued that the procedure so dehumanized the unborn that the utilitarian allure of convenience would prove so seductive that the value would be invoked to justify the disposal of other members of the human family not measuring up to some arbitrary standard of productivity or quality of life. Since the time of its legalization, abortion has continued to divide the American electorate. This barbaric practice has been joined by a plethora of additional bioethical conundrums and outrages.
If anything, the potential of human cloning and the use of stem cells harvested from either fetuses falling victim to the abortionists knife or embryos purposefully formed in a laboratory to destroy in order to collect these genetic components garner even more headlines. At the other end of the spectrum of life, physicians are intervening to end the lives of those deemed a waste of recourses such as in the case of Terri Schiavo. This woman would have undoubtedly remained alive if she had not been denied basic nutrition and hydration, actions that could cause considerable legal trouble with the likes of PETA or the Humane Society should you decide to inflict such appalling mistreatment upon the family dog.
Even though the strongest and most direct moral case is the one that boldly stands upon the Word of God as its ultimate foundation, Western culture has become so “de-theized” (the very thing that causes human life to be devalued in the first place) that if one does not introduce these theories and concepts surreptitiously at first, one may find oneself excluded from the public policy debates where these kinds of decisions are made. In “Moral Choices: An Introduction To Ethics”, Scott Rae provides a framework through which the believer can introduce Biblical principles into these debates without initially coming across like some kind of “religious lunatic”. In today’s philosophical climate, all it takes to get that slur hurled at you is to question the prudence or propriety of the increasingly popular urge to copulate with anything that moves (or even with that which doesn’t according to the necrophiliacs who, if you search hard enough, probably endow a professorship at some prestigious university or a public interest lobbying group at some swanky office building not far from Capitol Hill).
A professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Ethics at the Talbot School of Theology, Rae shows that all truth is God’s truth and how the best philosophical thinking reflects this foundation. These seemingly disparate approaches to knowledge (faith and reason) find a connection through natural law. This approach to jurisprudence and ethics holds that there are certain principles binding upon all people with slight variations that produce the kinds of circumstances under which human beings thrive. These include the universality of heterosexual marriage, respect for private property, and prohibitions against murder.
“Moral Choices: An Introduction To Ethics” equips the reader to ferret out the hidden moral assumptions of those opposed to the Judeo-Christian approach to these issues. A number of the alternative ethical systems explored include utilitarianism (the right option is that producing the greatest good for the greatest number), ethical egoism (the morality of an act is determined by one’s self-interest), emotivism (morality is merely an enunciation of the inner feelings of an individual making an ethical pronouncement), and relativism (right and wrong change depending upon the context of a particular situation with there being no eternal absolute). It is emphasized that the advocates of these positions cannot accuse the Christian believer of bias and not being objective unless nontheists want to shoot themselves in the foot as well.
“Moral Choices: An Introduction To Ethics” provides the student with a multi-step framework of analysis that will assist the individual in weeding through complex issues that they may initially find intimidating and beyond their expertise but which can be more easily comprehended once boiled down to their constituent parts (105-107). These steps are listed as follows: (1) Gather the facts (one should obtain as much information about a specific case as possible). (2) Determine the ethical issues (these can be stated in the form of the conflicting claims at stake). (3) What principles have a bearing on the case (these are the principles at the heart of each competing position)? (4) List the alternatives (these consist of possible solutions to the moral dilemma). (5) Compare the alternatives with the principles (in this step one eliminates the possible solutions by determining their moral superiority or propriety). (6) Consider the consequences (in this step, one contemplates the implications of the alternatives). (7) Make a decision after analyzing and contemplating the information.
While this is important information, none of it will do any good unless Christians and those troubled by the disregard for human life sweeping across the culture get their message out to the wider public. Most will assume that as common everyday people not holding positions of influence in either academia, the medical profession, or within the formal ecclesiastical structure of the organized church that there is little that they can do to assist in this daunting struggle. However, with the advent of certain technologies as revolutionary to the realm of communications as the breakthroughs in genetic manipulation are to the field of biology, their voices can reach farther than they might initially imagine.
With technologies such as blogging and social media, independent voices laboring on their own (often derided by critics as geeks in pajamas) have coalesced into a source of opinion and information that in certain respects is coming to challenge the predominance of the mainstream media. Therefore, Christians can very easily use the new media to get their position out to the public regarding a wide range of bioethical issues.
Fundamental to the Christian understanding of the discipline is the pivotal role personhood plays regarding many of the issues at the forefront of bioethics. However, a number of voices within the Transhumanist movement (the ideology that humans should incorporate into their bodies mechanical or genetic enhancements so that the species might move beyond the the limitations inherent to our own nature) believe the definition of personhood should move beyond run of the mill human beings to include cyborgs, androids, and genetically engineered human/animal hybrids.
One doesn’t have to be an expert in robotics or genetics to warn of the human rights horrors that would likely result should such a line of research be allowed to advance too far beyond the stages of theoretical speculation. One merely need to have seen a few of the Borg episodes of Star Trek and point out what this kind of tinkering backed by a communistic outlook leads to.
The future is there for those that want it the most. It will either go to those that believe that the masses exist for the benefit of the elite as the push onward towards their New World Order. Or, it will go towards those that view each individual as being created in the image of God, existing within a framework of divine laws that allow the individual to live life to its fullest while protecting each of us from the dangers on the prowl in a fallen world.
by Frederick Meekins