Can Christians ethically receive a vaccine that used aborted fetal cell tissue in its development? Is there something more to being pro-life than simply opposing abortion? Can a well-reasoned Christian abiding by a consistent pro-life ethic use birth control?
What if a loved one wants to die so they insist on physician-assisted suicide to hasten their death? How do Christians navigate clear health disparities between white Americans and their black and brown brothers and sisters? Finally, can a Christian receive an organ from a pig so they can live longer?
If you have not previously considered these questions, the time will come, due in part to the rapid advancement of science, in which each person must account for their answer to each of these questions in the course of their daily life.
The problem is that when a Christian takes these questions to Scripture, the text does not clearly and persuasively answer any of these questions. Given that we believe the Bible is totally true and without error, how do we interpret Scriptural principles in light of modern contexts?
What do I know about biomedical ethics?
As an introduction, I currently study biomedical ethics at Duke University. Before Duke, I majored in Medical Humanities at Baylor University. As a byproduct of my Texan roots, I am passionate about street tacos and college football (Sic ‘em Bears!).
My dad is a minister and my mom graduated from seminary, so not only did I grow up in the church, but a significant portion of my childhood conversations and experiences revolved around topics of faith, Christian theology, and a life in ministry.
I attended Baylor University with the intention of becoming a nurse, but during my sophomore year I realized nursing was not for me. While flipping through the course catalog, I came across the major Medical Humanities. Despite not knowing what Medical Humanities was but intrigued by the course listings, I switched majors with spiritual guidance from my parents and residence hall chaplain.
I fell in love with biomedical ethics during the first class of my new major. The rest of my college classes were tailored, in some way, toward bioethics. Upon graduating from Baylor, I moved across the country to Durham, North Carolina, to study biomedical ethics from a theological perspective.
It is here I return to my initial assertion.
Incredible medical strides
Biblical authors, even under the direction of the Holy Spirit, could not imagine modern medicine’s capabilities.
Through the research and development of the world’s greatest scientists and physicians, we can:
- edit the human genome,
- perform surgery on a pre-natal infant who has been removed from their womb and then reinsert the baby into the mother,
- and we can even now develop a vaccine in under a year to protect humans from a deadly respiratory virus.
Should we marvel without proper consideration at the advancement and sheer scope of modern medicine, it is easy to forget our Christian convictions of what is proper, moral, and God-honoring.
What do you know about biomedical ethics?
I believe medicine is a gift from God to be enjoyed by humans to promote the flourishing of everyone within the context of their community for the ultimate purpose of relationship with God.
Further, I believe this conviction about medicine is a conviction each Christian can bring to bear. To accomplish this task, however, is much more difficult than we wish it were.
Medicine is intricate. The human body is complex. A trip to the doctor often results in more questions and frustrations than it resolves. I understand all these sentiments.
Yet, this does not relieve the Christian’s responsibility to think well about medicine.
My desire is to enter into conversations through a series of essays about some of the most pressing biomedical issues of the day. Like I said before, the Bible does not directly speak to any of the issues we will consider, but I believe we can apply biblical reasoning and theological principles to the topics of consideration and arrive at a conclusion in accordance with the mind of Christ.
This is not to say there will be homogeneity on every issue. In fact, I expect there to be disagreement with some of the points I argue for. It is entirely possible that two Christians can remain within the confines of orthodoxy and still come to two different conclusions concerning the same issue. Such a predicament is OK.
What is important about the theological task before us is to consider the issues well and act Christianly upon our conclusions. In doing so, we promote the well-being of ourselves and each other.
6 concerning topics in biomedical ethics
Practically, in the next few months we will consider the following six topics in biomedical ethics I believe are important for Christians to know:
1. Medicine in a fallen world
Even as science reflects this broken humanity, medicine can be used for good and promote human flourishing. How do Christians best navigate the fallen nature of science in light of the good it can bring?
2. A consistent pro-life ethic
In a post-Dobbs world, the question of what it means to be pro-life is central to the debate. Does being pro-life merely mean oppose abortion, or does it encompass a framework far more robust than questions surrounding the beginning of life?
Read more in “What does it truly mean to be pro-life today?”
3. Family planning and birth control ethics
Tangential to the question of what a consistent pro-life ethic encompasses, family planning and birth control are rarely given consideration in these conversations. This article will consider the ethics of birth control and whether it is compatible with a Christian ethic of life.
4. Physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia
Both topics are receiving a bit of conversation right now, but the frequency in which they will be considered will increase. Is it permissible for a Christian to pursue physician-assisted suicide as a means to a good death? Further, if physician-assisted suicide is permissible, can we ethically permit euthanasia?
5. Health inequalities
The health outcomes of black and brown Americans are significantly worse than white Americans. Why is this the case, and what impact does the Christian commitment to the poor have on this disparity?
Organs can now be grown in a lab and inserted into a human for normal function and use. Is this ethical? Further, what does the Christian tradition have to say about transplantation, and what do these questions reveal about the deeper question of what is a human?
Our commitment to ethical thinking
As you might notice, certain topics aren’t included, like abortion or gender affirmative care. This is not because they are not important; it is because there is already respectable theological writing on these issues.
While it is necessary to think and dialogue about these topics, our Christian commitment to ethical thinking does not suspend the role of the fruit of the Spirit in our thought and speech. Should we pursue proper thought without proper disposition or attitude, we have missed the call of Christ to be gentle, humble, and loving toward our neighbors.
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 simultaneously concerned with the human body as well as how Christ’s body acts among themselves and with the world.
Let us be an example of doing both with the spirit of truth, grace, and humility.