Thursdays feature guest bloggers. Today’s post is by Michael Kapottos. Michael holds a master’s degree in Bioethics from Case Western Reserve University and is a 2nd year medical student at the Liberty University College of Medicine.
Physician assisted suicide. Stem Cell Research. Racial Disparities. Withdrawal of life-support. Organ donation. Some of the most disputed and hotly debated news stories of our time are centered on bioethical issues and the impact they have on our society. While these issues create exciting primetime news stories, what really is bioethics? And, why should evangelical Christians even care about bioethics?
“So, what is bioethics?” Friends, family, church members, and even complete strangers asked me this question when my wife and I decided to make a huge move for me to go back to school and study bioethics. It became obvious to me that most people had a very poor understanding of what bioethics is. Although Christians had strong opinions on bioethical issues, they often had little more than a superficial understanding of the issues with which bioethics deals. Others even thought bioethics was a dangerous topic in which Christians shouldn’t engage.
Bioethics is an interdisciplinary field involving medicine (the subject of bioethics), philosophy (What is morality anyway? And why should society care?), law (often the arbiter of ethical issues in healthcare), and perhaps, most importantly theology (what does God and the Bible say?). It is the examination of the difficult areas of medicine, healthcare, and bio-technology and the moral implications of each for individuals and society (including the church!).
When studying bioethics, the goal is to differentiate between what we should and shouldn’t do (or allow) in matters of life, health, suffering, and death. Put simply, bioethics asks, “Should we do what we can do?” This question is increasingly important as medical technologies become almost limitless.
So, why should Christians care about bioethics? As Christians, we seek to understand and experience life, health, disease, suffering and death in light of the sovereignty of God, and in a manner that follows His commands because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christians are called to be a light in a dark world, differentiating what Scripture says about bioethical issues from what the world says. In order to fulfill this calling, we must first have a thorough understanding of the issues, know what Scripture has to say, then correctly apply biblical truths. Doing so requires an adequate understanding of the science of ‘bio’ and the moral implications of ‘ethics’.
Bioethics will affect every single one of us on a personal level at some point. Some will face decisions about medical care for an elderly parent at the end of their life. Others will walk through a debilitating disease with a friend. Perhaps all must weigh the consequences of new healthcare legislation. Countless couples attempt to navigate the many medical technologies when facing the inability to conceive. We all encounter life, health, disease, suffering, and death.
For the Christian, bioethics involves, not only determining the right thing to do when confronted with a difficult dilemma, but also developing the Christ-like characteristics necessary for sound judgements. Becoming a morally responsible decision-maker is a lifelong journey and cannot be reduced to figuring out the right answer at a particular moment of crisis. Bioethical decisions must be made within the context of continued spiritual maturity, as most issues simply do not have a single right or wrong answer. These decisions depend upon life-long cultivation of wisdom from God.
Ultimately, the goal for Christians engaged in bioethics is not just increased knowledge, but seeking wisdom that comes only from God through Scriptures. Wisdom demands that we be prepared for what may come. This can only be done by carefully constructing a Biblically based approach to difficult issues. Bioethical dilemmas typically arise suddenly, and at times of personal and family crises. If we have not taken the time to seek out a Godly response, we’ll be unable to navigate the difficult questions and, instead, rely upon situational ethics and emotional responses.