Can Christians ethically receive a vaccine that uses aborted fetal cell tissue in its development? Is there anything more to being pro-life than simply opposing abortion? Can a well-reasoned Christian with a consistent pro-life ethic use birth control?
What happens if a loved one wants to die and insists on physician-assisted suicide to hasten their death? How do Christians address the obvious health disparities between white Americans and their black and brown brothers and sisters? Finally, can a Christian receive an organ from a pig to live longer?
If you haven’t thought about these questions yet, the time will come, thanks in part to rapid advances in science, when everyone will have to account for their answer to each of these questions as they go about their daily lives.
The problem is that when a Christian addresses these questions in Scripture, the text does not answer any of these questions clearly and convincingly. Since we believe the Bible to be completely true and without error, how do we interpret biblical principles in light of modern contexts?
What do I know about biomedical ethics?
As an introduction, I am currently studying biomedical ethics at Duke University. Before Duke, I majored in medical humanities at Baylor University. As a byproduct of my Texas roots, I have a passion for street tacos and college football (Sic ’em Bears!).
My father is a pastor and my mother is a seminary graduate, so not only did I grow up in the church, but a significant part of my childhood conversations and experiences revolved around topics of faith, Christian theology, and life in the Ministry.
I attended Baylor University with the intention of becoming a nurse, but during my sophomore year I realized that nursing was not for me. While leafing through the course catalog, I came across the great Medical Humanities. Even though I didn’t know what medical humanities was, but intrigued by the list of courses, I changed my major with the spiritual guidance of my parents and the residence chaplain.
I fell in love with biomedical ethics in the first class of my new major. The rest of my college classes were tailored, in one way or another, to bioethics. After graduating from Baylor, I moved to Durham, North Carolina, to study biomedical ethics from a theological perspective.
This is where I return to my initial statement.
Incredible medical advances
The biblical authors, even under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, could not imagine the capabilities of modern medicine.
Thanks to research and development from the world’s leading scientists and doctors, we can:
- modify the human genome,
- performing surgery on a prenatal infant who has been removed from the womb and then reinserting the baby into the mother,
- and we can now even develop a vaccine in less than a year to protect humans against a deadly respiratory virus.
If we marvel without considering the advances and reach of modern medicine, it is easy to forget our Christian beliefs about what is appropriate, moral, and God-honoring.
What do you know about biomedical ethics?
I believe that medicine is a gift from God that humans can take advantage of to foster individual flourishing in the context of their community with the ultimate goal of establishing a relationship with God.
Furthermore, I believe that this belief regarding medicine is one that every Christian can put into practice. However, accomplishing this task is much more difficult than we would like.
Medicine is complex. The human body is complex. A trip to the doctor often leads to more questions and frustrations than it solves. I understand all these feelings.
However, this does not absolve the Christian of his responsibility to think carefully about medicine.
My desire is to engage in conversations through a series of essays about some of the most pressing biomedical issues of the day. As I have said before, the Bible does not directly address any of the issues we will examine, but I believe we can apply biblical reasoning and theological principles to the topics under study and come to a conclusion consistent with the thought of Christ.
This does not mean that there will be homogeneity on every question. In fact, I expect disagreement on some of the points I make. It is entirely possible for two Christians to stay within the bounds of orthodoxy and yet come to two different conclusions on the same issue. Such a situation is acceptable.
What is important in the theological task before us is to consider the issues carefully and act Christianly on the basis of our conclusions. In doing so, we promote our well-being and that of others.
6 concerning biomedical ethics topics
Specifically, over the next few months we will examine the following six topics in biomedical ethics that I believe are important for Christians to know:
1. Medicine in a fallen world
Although science reflects this broken humanity, medicine can be used for good and promote the flourishing of humanity. How can Christians best deal with the fallen nature of science in light of the good it can bring?
2. A consistent pro-life ethic
In a post-Dobbs Around the world, the question of what it means to be pro-life is at the heart of the debate. Does being pro-life simply mean opposing abortion, or does it encompass a much stronger framework than issues surrounding the beginning of life?
Read more in «What does it really mean to be pro-life today?»
3. Ethics of family planning and birth control
Along with the question of what a consistent pro-life ethic encompasses, family planning and birth control are rarely considered in these conversations. This article will examine the ethics of birth control and determine whether they are consistent with a Christian ethic of living.
4. Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia
Both topics are currently the subject of much discussion, but the frequency with which they are discussed will increase. Is it permissible for a Christian to resort to physician-assisted suicide to achieve a good death? Additionally, if physician-assisted suicide is permitted, can we ethically permit euthanasia?
5. Health inequalities
Health outcomes for black and brown Americans are far worse than those for white Americans. Why is this so and what impact does Christian commitment to the poor have on this disparity?
Organs can now be grown in the laboratory and inserted into a human for normal function and use. Is this ethical? Furthermore, what does the Christian tradition have to say about transplantation, and what do these questions reveal about the deeper question of what a human being is?
Our commitment to ethical thinking
As you may notice, some topics are not included, such as abortion or gender care. It’s not because they aren’t important; it’s because there is already respectable theological writing on these questions.
While it is necessary to reflect and dialogue on these topics, our Christian commitment to ethical thinking does not suspend the role of the fruit of the Spirit in our thinking and speech. If we pursue proper thinking without a proper disposition or attitude, we will miss Christ’s call to be gentle, humble, and loving toward our neighbor.
Therefore, as we engage together in the months ahead, let us approach these conversations with an attitude of grace and a desire to understand. God is concerned with both the human body and how the body of Christ interacts with one another and with the world.
Let us be an example by doing both with a spirit of truth, grace and humility.