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 –
- Sperm donor (genetic father)
- Egg donor (genetic mother)
- Uterus (carrying mother)
- 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.