A Review of Christian Bioethics

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My first introduction to bioethics came from Dr. C. Ben Mitchell when he gave me his newly published book, Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families (with Joy Riley). I was considering grad school and wondered if bioethics was the path that God was leading me towards. I devoured the book in a few days and then sent an application into Trinity Graduate School’s bioethics program. Two years later, I received my MA in Bioethics and have read countless books on the subject. While it’s unlikely that many pastors will run to graduate school like I did, it is almost guaranteed that people in their congregations will benefit from their giving this book a careful reading.

From birth control to dementia, the world of bioethics touches us all. And in a world in which cultural norms are moving further away from Christianity, leadership in the church must be informed and aware of these issues and consider them from a biblical perspective. Pastors and teachers must learn to shepherd their flock through the stormy waters of our MedTech age as they make bioethical decisions. Christian Bioethics is a compass that can help navigate these waters.

Mitchell and Riley approach bioethics from two perspectives. Mitchell is trained in philosophy and theology while Riley is a physician. Their unique perspectives provide both theological insight as well as scientific/medical facts. Written as if they were having a conversation, one offers commentary and asks a question—allowing the other to respond from their area of expertise. They use their training and expertise in the areas of theology, philosophy, and medicine to make complex issues readily understandable to the reader.

The book is divided into four sections. The first is an introduction to the world of Christian bioethics, providing a history of medicine and exploring some foundational concepts in bioethics. The remaining material is divided into three sections: “Taking Life,” “Making Life,” and “Faking Life.”

The “Taking Life” section begins with a Christian view on human life and moves to discuss abortion and physician-assisted suicide. Many times, in response to those topics, people in the church respond with a list of “don’ts” and move on. In Christian Bioethics, Mitchell and Riley give very practical steps for the church to engage on the issues as well as what the church can be for instead of only stating what we are against.

The next two sections, “Making Life” and “Faking Life,” delve into more complex issues like Assisted Reproductive Technologies and biotechnology. The chapter on infertility is particularly valuable for those in church leadership. This is an increasingly complex field as more couples than ever struggle with infertility and the desire to conceive. Christian Bioethics helps draw boundaries around what is and is not ethical for believers, and can help church leaders engage with their congregation to make a difference for God’s Kingdom.

These chapters follow a basic outline: a story dealing with the ethical issue to be discussed, discussion questions, then a conversation between Mitchell and Riley. The conversation typically starts with a brief history and introduction to the issue followed by any technical terms that readers need to know. Dr. Mitchell then discusses theological foundations that speak to the issue at hand. At the end of the chapter, there are practical ways to get involved and help people who are dealing with the issue. The chapters end with a conclusion that provides a Christian position and additional resources that give further insight. For the busy reader, the structure allows the book to be used as a quick reference for concerns that may arise. Each chapter can be easily sifted for a specific point (be that medical background or theological foundations).

Given the multiplicity of ways our lives are impacted by decisions surrounding medicine, science, and technology, the content of Christian Bioethics is vital for those in the church to understand. Thinking well about these issues is necessary for anyone who leads others in our medically and scientifically saturated culture. It is not just for those interested in the controversies surrounding stem cell research and euthanasia—it is for people who have grandparents with dementia or the couple who uses birth control or the family with the child who has an intellectual disability.

I heartily recommend Christian Bioethics. On the stormy sea of our MedTech age, it delivers on its promise as a useful and trustworthy guide for pastors, healthcare professionals, and families.