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During this Christmas season, as believers celebrate the Messiah’s birth, it is worth looking afresh at the problem of bioethics.
In times of pain, suffering, and loss of control, appeals to compassion and autonomy can make the “right to die” seem reasonable and attractive, and PAD seem forgivable—or even sanctioned. Despite the appeal of PAD, believers can be trusted to discern its wrongness when we make loving and impassioned appeals to historical Christian theology. Every believer can wield a sanctified moral reasoning that cuts carefully and humbly through the noise and appeal of popular notions of love, compassion, and autonomy.
At our core, we are predisposed to our own self-centered values, and we have no right to place those standards like a template over a person like Dan. We cannot judge another’s “quality of life” based on our one-sided prejudices. We need the biblical worldview to supplant our preconceived notions about life and its value. We need to give up our subjective criteria and accept an objective, transcendent worldview that ascribes true life-worth to someone like Dan.
In the 23 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I have watched its most celebrated ideals erode and crumble under a double standard. I had the honor of serving on the National Council on Disability when the ADA became law, and ideally, it was intended to guarantee the basic rights of Americans with disabilities. Many saw the ADA as a law which would help move society beyond the premise that one is “better off dead than disabled.” I am amazed, however, at how much people’s fears of disability have eroded the most basic of human rights, especially now that so many more people are surviving disabling conditions. And when society’s fundamental fear of disability provides the framework to legislate policy, the outcome can only result in a double standard.
Bioethical dilemmas are being explored everywhere. Moral questions embedded in the application of medical technology are not reserved for elite medical roundtables. Rather, ethical decisions are the prevailing substance of entertainment. Stories do touch our souls.
The prevailing cultural narrative, woven into routine dialogue and highlighted throughout the entertainment industry, turns on how the individual alone must define what is good using one’s internal moral compass. The frame of reference for making optimal moral choices is exclusively located within the uniqueness of the autonomous person, who applies private and personal criteria to achieve happiness, wholeness, and significance.
In The Abolition of Man—published nearly 75 years ago—C. S. Lewis speaks indirectly, though perhaps prophetically, to our current complexities—reminding us that there is truly nothing new under the sun. In the title chapter of the book, Lewis asks the question, “In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?” Are we able to have the control over Nature and live the autonomous lives we desire? In our attempt to understand and fully live out what it means to be human, is it possible to conquer those aspects of Nature we believe hinder, diminish, or destroy our flourishing, thereby solidifying our humanity?
Christianity provides the radical answer that humans are created in the image of God, or the imago Dei (Gen 1:26–27). But what exactly does this mean? Until the mid-twentieth century, Christian thought on the imago Dei focused on uniquely human capacities, usually reason and morality. But if a capacity is absent, or damaged, does this mean that the imago Dei is degraded? A focus on capacities risks dehumanizing the very old, the very young, or those with disabilities. Recent advances in archeology and history provide scholars a much richer context for understanding how the Bible uses the word “image”—one which goes beyond mere capacity.
Throughout various points of the church calendar we are reminded of how God establishes the value of human life, namely, by the incarnation of God the Son—Christ. No doubt, this divine affirmation is needed now more than ever in a context where discussions on the value of all human life are a part of everyday conversation. But this post isn’t a typical bioethical argument, although it has implications for it given the importance of the subject, namely the human embryo. While other issues could be discussed, for our purposes here we offer some suggestions for thinking through one important issue concerning the embryo, the problem of so-called embryo glut (i.e., excess), which, we think, affords Christians an opportunity for redemptive action, i.e., the rescue of a human life frozen in a perpetual state of inactivity.
For those with eyes to see, the movie WALL-E (Disney and Pixar, 2008) can be something of an apocalypse, revealing God’s Kingdom and stoking a Christian imagination. 800 years from now the remnant of humanity exists on the Axiom, a space cruise ship. The high-tech deck chairs supporting their overfed/corpulent bodies double as hovercraft to move them around the ship. All interaction between humans is mediated by a device. Every hobby is virtual. Every meal comes in a cup. The trip on the Axiom was initially billed as a five-year cruise. But 700 years later, the remnant is unaware of any other existence, or indeed, of their ancestral home which had been so thoroughly trashed (literally) that it can no longer support life of any kind.
Zac and Sally Crippen host Vernacular, a podcast that explores human flourishing through a broad range of categories, from sports, creative media, and food to philosophy and science. This interview highlights their work, experiences, and advice relating to bioethics.
We are at a relatively early stage in developing digital social networks. With Facebook, smart phones, and GPS, we can find what we are looking for and track our friends with comparative ease. Interconnectivity is developing to the point at which, when we are sent electronic communications, algorithms identify what we might like on the basis of the included content. Satellite and CCTV offer some degree of surveillance, but not to the extent provided by the Bentham Grid. The narrator tells us that in 2023 “you can’t do anything in New York City without the Grid knowing who you are and where you are.” Merely science fiction? Read on.
Throughout the last century, the spirit of the age exhibited a voracious appetite for human life. Medicine became the source for myriad racial enmities and immoral projects catalyzed by ascendant science and reckless medical research that was completely oblivious to the dignity of human life. The contingent bioethical lapses reflected the impact of social Darwinism on an age of physicians who primarily acted as scientists, not healers.
As more and more of our friends, neighbors, and family members get vaccinated, it occurred to me that it would be helpful to offer some biblical counsel on the topic. As Christians, we must take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) as we consult both God’s Word and His world (i.e., scientific research) to discern whether the COVID-19 vaccine(s) are helpful and wise. To that end, I want to offer a set of biblical touchpoints to consider as you think about this issue.
In Chasing Methuselah, Todd Daly examines the modern biomedical anti-aging project from a Christian perspective, drawing on the ancient wisdom of the Desert Fathers, who believed that the Incarnation opened a way for human life to regain the longevity of Adam and the biblical patriarchs through prayer and fasting. Daly balances these insights with the christological anthropology of Karl Barth, discussing the implications for human finitude, fear of death, and the use of anti-aging technology, weaving a path between outright condemnation and uncritical enthusiasm. Below is an interview with Daly on his book.
Every day at noon, she poured her heart out with vocal fervency before God. This experience of God as lovingly gentle and as one who invites us into his presence with the full spectrum of our human emotions comforted me throughout my life. I grew up loving God and his Word, attended church regularly with my family, and received salvation when I turned seven. However, that same inviting love and acceptance has not always been reflected in the church, with some holding unintentionally negative or stereotyped attitudes of me as a person with a disability.
If the risen and glorified Jesus is holey, wholly, holy, and our aim in discipleship is to look more like Him, then how do we disciple in brokenness (holey)? How do we embrace the whole, not simply neurological, person (wholly)? How do we form followers of Christ who look like Him (holy)?
What is the purpose of a pastor? Is it to stand in front of a congregation, eloquently preaching from translated and exegeted original language notes? Should his or her leadership model the values of the world, where his congregants follow his lead because he sways them by the intellectual prowess and physical abilities that society so values?
The questions regarding the sanctity of human life are complex with developments like this. No longer direct questions of who lives and who dies, but questions like “What does it mean to be human?” Where are the boundaries between the human and the non-human? Where is the line between correcting things that are broken and enhancing abilities and even creating new capabilities?