Bioethics: A Reformed Look at Life and Death Choices

chd-inside.jpgIf there has ever been a lime when Christians need to be prepared to deal with bioethical issues, the lime is now. There are so many complex conflict” and controversies in this area that Christians need to be equipped to know how to think biblically, clearly, and rationally about; and the time to do that is not when issues arise. I am referring to things like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, assisted reproduction, and assisted suicide. At a time when the entire medical science realm has created many different choices about many different things, the average Christian is not equipped or prepared to think through their ramifications.

A couple of examples will illustrate my point and they are dealt with in this important little book on bioethics. Bioethics is written by Ruth Groenhout, a professor who teaches philosophy, philosophical anthropology, health care ethics, and other philosophy courses at Calvin College. She has also written numerous articles on health care ethics in a number of publications. One example is how do we define life and death? That seems to be a straight forward question; however, with medical science’s ability to “prolong” what we might call life and with other options now at their disposal, we have to ask what is morally acceptable from a Christian perspective and what is there that tends to make medical science idolatrous. There are disagreements over the answer to such a question. When does life end and who makes that decision? When does DPA, durable power of attorney, and DNR, do not resuscitate, come into play? The DPA for example takes precedent over any other. And who has the right to say, do not resuscitate? How do you decide between two people who gets the organ that each needs to live? Or what about a husband and father of three facing a tough decision of whether to donate his matching kidney to his son who is on dialysis?

Groenhout does not dodge the hard questions. Is hospice care the same as murder? When is it right or wrong to plug in a life support system? However, she encourages Christians first of all to have a clearly biblical view of God and man. What does it mean that man is the image of God and what are some of the implications that concept offers for bioethical issues? One of the things I appreciated about Groenhout’s honesty in raising these issues is that we need to know how to think about these things before we are under the pressure of the crisis of the moment. I like her concept of a principled based reasoning, especially from a biblically clear position. I was also intrigued by the idea that while the DPA does take precedent over any other, and while often without it the immediate family has the responsibility for making those decisions, when a person is a part of the Christian community, what role does the extended body play in that process? Is it necessary for people to face those situations in isolation and loneliness?

The book reminds us that when we speak of man being in the image of God, it not only applies to his healthy state but his sick one as well. Christians should read and study this book. The church should be challenged to think about its role as it is called to embody the love and grace of God to its members.

I think the real challenge Bioethics brings to us is how to keep medical science in a servant’s role and not in an idolatrous role. There are times when it is absolutely wrong to mechanically keep a person alive, and we need to know how to do principle based reasoning at such a moment. A question posed by the author and well worth our discussion and consideration is, what is good death? What is different about that from death that is not good?

We must not run from those issues but neither should we be too consumed with them. A Christian perspective based on biblical reasoning and thinking will prove to be a tremendous asset when one is called to face some of these issues and their concomitant decisions.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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