John Wyatt on Bioethics and Creation

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Each year New College hosts a series of lectures which are open to the public and unashamedly present the Christian perspective on an issue that is relevant and important in our society today. This year the topic is bioethics and the speaker is leading international Bioethicist Professor John Wyatt.

The first of these lectures was tonight – the topic being Bioethics and Creation.  Here is my attempt at a summary of what he said, and to get in some of the gems that he said and I managed to write down. (Sorry if some of it is a bit random)

No-one comes to the consider the issue of bioethics with a neutral staring point. Everyone has their own presuppositions which will impact on their evaluation of the issues involved. As Christians our presuppositions come out of our faith. Something that is not to be forgotten is the great need for empathy in these discussions.

“Empathy is the way of the cross”

Some staggering stats that highlight the need for these discussions and the need for these discussion to be conducted with gentleness and grace

  • In the UK 90% of parents who are given a pre-birth diagnosis of down syndrome will choose to abort their child
  • 1 in 7 couples have fertility problems
  • 1 in 3 women will have an abortion at some time in their life

The dominant worldview amongst those who are the opinion formers of modern healthcare is Materialism. This view says that the cosmos consists of matter and energy and is limited to the physical, with no underlying purpose or meaning. ‘Human values, ethical commitments, and purposes are merely stories our brains have invented to give shape to our lives’. [from notes given out]. Materialism says ‘If you want facts you have to ask, if you want values you have to choose’.

The Enlightenment project seeks to be free from the limits of nature. It seeks to use scientific knowledge and technology to first enable us to understand ourselves (how the machine works) and secondly to improve on out humanity. It is the quest to understand and control ourselves through science.

Utilitarianism seeks personal autonomy as the ultimate good. The word autonomy literally means ‘I make my own laws’ (auto + nomoV). The ethical goal of this world view is the maximization of all personal choices, and medical science should be orientated towards this goal.

‘People have the moral right and the moral responsibility to confront the most fundamental questions about the meaning and value of their own lives for themselves… At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life… Freedom is the cardinal, absolute requirement of self-respect: no-one treats his life as having any intrinsic objective imortance unless he insists on leading that life himself, not being ushered along it by others.’ Ronald Dworkin

‘The right of individuals to procreate must give place to a new paramount right: the right of every child to enter life with an adequate physical and mental endowment.’ Bentley Glass

It is the inner self that makes decisions about what happens to the external self. Of course the flip side to all of this is that the lack of the ability to have choice, liberty, control etc is ethical evil and to keep a child that would fit into that category is wrong.

If autonomy is the right goal, why can’t I chose the sex of my baby?? This technology is available.

In these times there are 4 things needed to make a baby –

  1. Sperm donor (genetic father)
  2. Egg donor (genetic mother)
  3. Uterus (carrying mother)
  4. Care-giver (social mum)

These can potentially be 4 different people and don’t necessarily need to be associated to each other. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) makes it possible to test for almost any genetic variable prior to the embryo being implanted into the carrying mother. Tests can even be carried out on the embryo to test for risk percentages for things like Alzheimer’s and Breast Cancer.

Christian faith realises that all creation is orientated towards the purpose and plan of God. He has created not only the physical ‘stuff’ but the hidden moral order.

‘Biblical ethics (the way we should behave) is derived from biblical anthropology (the way we are made).’

Genesis 1:26 tells us that we are uniquely God-like beings. We are not self-explanatory… our meaning is found outside ourselves, in the one in whose image we were made.

We will never understand what it means to be human by medical science without first realising that we are a reflection of God’s being. Secular views of autonomy are nothing more than fantasy and myth.

‘We are most ourselves not when we seek to direct and control our destiny, but when we recognise and admit that our life is grounded in and sustained by God.’ Gilbert Meilaender

As the Godhead exists in community, so to be human is to be in communion, in relation with other persons.

Our creation in God’s image is both a reflection of what we already are, in the stuff of our beings, and also a promise of what by God’s grace we are to become. [from notes]

While we are uniquely made in God’s image, we are also made out of the dust, out of the same stuff as everything else! As such we share the frailty and vunerablilty of the rest of the world. This means that dependence on others is not a degrading and terrible reality. Rather it is part of the plan. We are meant to be a burden to each other! This is part of being called into a family, to share the burdens of life which God has given us. (Gal 6:2)

The life of family, including the Christian church family, should be one of ‘mutal burdensomeness’. The human person is the place where freedom and utter dependence are united’.

One of the problems in considering bioethics is the word ‘reproduction’. This word has a factory sense to it and misses the point a little.

“We do not produce babies, we beget them.”

What we make is a product of will and control. What we beget is a gift from our being and is equal to us in dignity and status. Children are not created, they are to be accepted and respected as mysterious and wonderful and equal to us in human dignity.

In extraordinary, counter-cultural fashion, the biblical understanding puts sex and making babies as belonging together. Secular views today keep these very separate. In the UK the average age of first sexual experience is 16, and the average age of having a first baby is 27. It is this desire for years of sex which is not complicated by babies, that has lead to the elaborate contraception and abortion options.

Feticide (abortion) says that a vunerable, potentially injured baby is not one of us. But God has called this baby into existence and that very fact means that it is one of us. It is our family.

Every baby is a reflection of Jesus. Sometimes we see God more clearly in the broken, weak and malformed.

Some random notes from Q & A –

  • Adoption is a redemptive act & a sign of God’s grace
  • As Christians it is not good enough to oppose abortion – we must offer an alternative!
  • When considering the huge amount of info a newly pregnant couple can find out about their child with PGD we should note that with god-like knowledge comes god-like responsibility
  • There are 200,00 abortions per year in the UK
  • 99% will be for ‘social reasons’
  • 1% for medical reasons
  • Only a handful will be in order to save mum’s life

Tomorrow night’s lecture is Bioethics and Redemption. If you would like to come check out this page for info.

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5 thoughts on “John Wyatt on Bioethics and Creation

  1. Pingback: John Wyatt on Bioethics and Redemption « kt-rae

    • no problem – you have just reminded me I haven’t done the last one yet!

      no he didn’t give a reference. he said it in response to being asked about abortions that are in order to save the mother’s life – the point he was making is that its very rare.

      he has a book called “Matters of life and death” and i’m sure he would talk more about it in that book (although i think it is currently out of print in australia with a second edition coming soon)

  2. I have been thinking about this recently, and actually as a result of you & Kirst volunteering to babysit for us…

    Life with a disabled child can be extremely isolating and tiring… At the end of the day, no matter how hard the disability makes life, you have no option but to keep going… Disability has an impact on every aspect of family life… all the children in the family have to be able to cope…

    No wonder the easy option is to not have to deal with it at all…

    John & I believe that Grace is entirely as God intended her (Psalm 139) and that it is our job (and the world’s job) to love her despite her disability… And let’s face it, she’s pretty amazing!

    But even though she has taught me patience in abundance in the last 8 years, there are days when I am totally overwhelmed by medical and behavioural issues (and remember I take toddlers in my stride every day of the week!)… As are most of the other parents of children with disabilities I have met through Grace… John & I thank the church family of St Clements in Mosman for taking Grace one afternoon every month without fail to give us break… We also thank our friends who help out… We thank our friends who pray with us when we have concerns… And we thank volunteers who give up their time for free to advise/build solutions to problems…

    Yes, offering adoption is an option… but it’s pretty drastic… Maybe there’s another way…

    What a difference there would be if we make a regular commitment to help out to people who choose to have a baby with a disability… Not just at the beginning, but forever…

    What a difference we can make to people with disabilities if we take the time to hang out with them as friends (not carers)…

    What a difference the community can make if it allows disabled children to be properly supported in the same classroom as their peers instead of marginalized because of their disabilities…

    What a difference society can make by committing to looking after disabled children when their parents pass away, instead of leaving families with this major worry…

    What a difference society can make by donating to charities which provide specialist support, so that families don’t need to spend their lives on waiting lists for the next bit of crucial advice they need… or have to pay thousands of dollars to get information that most parents would never need to know…

    Maybe the argument isn’t just about right to live, but better rights for the living…

    EVERY DAY I thank God for the precious gift of each of my beautiful children, with their own abilities and gifts, and EVERY DAY I thank God for the many people who support us (in particular with Grace) and EVERY DAY I pray for the strength to keep going…

  3. sally – thanks for sharing this
    i totally agree with you and John that Grace is entirely as God intended and that she is pretty amazing. You and John are also pretty amazing.

    i guess for me this highlights that most Christians live in a state of ignorance about what life with a disabled child is like, and how we can help not just at the beginning but forever. i’m not sure how but i would like to change that

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