Most pressing bioethics issue

In yesterday’s post Mark McQuain asked the readers of this blog what they consider to be the most pressing bioethics issue in the context of a call for our president to establish a bioethics council. He referred to my recent post on reproductive ethics and the manufacturing of children. I think that is important. I also think that abortion including the aborting of children with developmental abnormalities such as Down syndrome, euthanasia, and the treatment of children with gender dysphoria are very important. However, my most pressing concern related to bioethics in our society is freedom of conscience.

It is important that we express clearly the value of human life and how that impacts how we understand the ethics of things such as reproductive technology, abortion and euthanasia, but we are living in a time in which many do not listen to reasoned arguments about what is right. Much of our society believes that what is right is determined by how they feel and they desire to be free of any limits on what they can do. They also believe, somewhat contradictorily, that they should be affirmed in being able to do what they desire by having society help them do it; even if that means that others need to do things that they believe to be wrong. Our society is losing the concept of any objective moral values. Without objective moral values it does not make sense for someone to refuse another person’s request for help in fulfilling their desires based on conscience, particularly conscience informed by an objective understanding of right and wrong. If there is no objective standard on which to refuse such a request the refusal must involve some sort of personal rejection of the one making the request.

Thus we have ACOG saying their members must affirm patients who desire an abortion. Canadian physicians may soon be required to affirm their patients’ desire for euthanasia. There is a push for physicians, psychologists and others to be required to affirm the desire for a confused child to be identified as having a gender that is in conflict with the child’s biological sex. As Cheyn Onarecker has discussed in his posts yesterday and last week, there are some prominent ethicists who give reasoned, although faulty, arguments against rights of consciences for physicians.

The elimination of rights of conscience threatens the ability of not only Christian physicians but all people of strong moral conviction in all professions to practice their professions without violating their consciences. If allowed to go unchecked the demand to affirm every request by every person in the name of pluralism and personal liberty will leave every profession in our society without those who are most conscientious. It will also lead to the demise of ethics as a disciple. If our society really believes that there are no objective moral truths and everyone should be free to pursue his or her desires and enlist others in that pursuit, then any statement that an action is wrong will not be seen as a particular understanding of what is right and wrong which can be civilly discussed, but as an unfounded personal attack on someone who desires to do that action. Thus there will be reason to shut down all ethical discussion and the discipline of ethics will be forbidden.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Robin DiSilvestro
Robin DiSilvestro
3 years ago

I whole heartedly agree with your article, however, for me, the most difficult part of the exercise of the rights to be a Christian as a whole (i.e. not leaving your Christianity at the church door) is that the term “morality” is a ill-defined and elusive concept in today’s ego-centric or increasingly hedonistic society. How do we continue to defend morals, when everyone has a different understanding of what “morals” are? Logic dictates that if the premises of an argument are not agreed upon as truth, then the conclusion cannot be perceived as valid either. I have no problem with the chicken and the egg conundrum because I am a creationist. I do not have a clue how to talk to someone who refuses to at least agree upon basic concepts, whether it is truth or morals.

Susan Aiello
Susan Aiello
3 years ago


I discovered this site while reading about bioethics in relation to Charlie Gard. I wish to tell writers here what a wonderful and valuable site this is.

As a Catholic, I truly appreciate your efforts to bring Christianity into the field of bioethics. Frankly, bioethics without Christianity frightens me, because as you say, Mr. Phillips, we are living in a world in which people make up their “morals” as they go, based on whatever motivates them in the moment.

Thank God for TIU, and for this site. There are so many writings to read here!