Educating the church about how to think about bioethics

Janie Valentine’s post on Monday about a Christian health sharing ministry considering the surgical treatment of ectopic pregnancy to be the moral equivalent of abortion points out a major concern related to the church and bioethics. This is particularly a concern regarding the evangelical Protestant church and bioethics. With its hierarchical structure the Roman Catholic Church has a way of connecting the well considered thoughts about bioethical issues that are expressed by Roman Catholic ethicists with the ministries of the church. Protestant churches, and evangelical Protestant churches in particular, have a significant disconnect between those who think deeply about and write about bioethical issues and those who are doing ministry.

The issue of whether to cover the costs of surgical treatment of ectopic pregnancy illustrates the need for people within the church to learn how to think about bioethics and other ethical issues. It is not that we need to have some established evangelical set of ethical positions on issues, but rather an understanding by people in the church of how to properly analyze and think about an ethical issue. Over centuries of thought Christian scholars have recognized the principle of double effect as a good way of analyzing moral dilemmas in which doing something that is good, such as saving the life of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy results in the unwanted bad affect of the death of an embryo. It is clear that we should not focus solely on consequences and do things that are wrong even to save a person’s life, but it is reasonable at times to do good things that have unintended but foreseeable bad effects. There is a way of thinking about ethical issues that has been well established by Christian ethicists over the years which many in the church are not at all familiar with. That is a problem.

The question is how those of us who understand how to think well from a Christian perspective about moral and ethical issues can communicate that to the church in general. Over the past eight years I have been trying to do that by teaching at a Christian university. My thought has been that if we teach students who will be the future leaders of their churches how to think well about ethics they will help their churches think well about those things. However, what I have learned is that only a small minority of the students at what I consider to be an excellent Christian university actually get enough education in ethics to be able to do that. Somehow we need to convince the church that learning how to think well about moral and ethical concerns from a distinctly Christian way of thinking is important for the life and health of the church and methods to accomplish that need to be established.

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Steve PhillipsTom West, MDTerrill Wade MD Recent comment authors
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Terrill Wade MD
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Terrill Wade MD

YES!YES!YES! I am so with you. The ignorance within the church membership concerning how to think ethically about all of the new health issues has been of increasing concern to me over the last 10 years . I have tried various methods during the years to educate the church body, ranging from an adult Sunday school class, to a series on the challenges of infertility treatments advertised to the larger Christian community in Richmond, to a one-day pastoral ethics convention. The attendance was usually very poor, and I have come to realize two facts: a) The average Church member is… Read more »

Tom West, MD
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Tom West, MD

Over 20 years ago, I came to the conclusion that there was an acute need for Medical Bioethical information in the local church to understand and develop opinions on the current science and its effects on their fellow man. I had formed an unreasonable expectation that because I felt this topic was essential to a modern Christian view of life, as I saw it, that others knew enough to be of the same persuasion. This was not and nor is now the case. While trying to get Pastors onboard with the importance of this topic to modern life presenting this… Read more »