Announcement: NY Times Essay Contest “Calling All Carnivores: Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat”

 

Recently, the New York Times announced an essay contest inviting readers to advance in 600 words or less their best arguments in support of meat-eating. In its contest promo, the Times cites a perceived failure of meat eaters to adequately engage the moral question raised by animal liberationist Peter Singer and other advocates of veganism. As the Times’ editor states,

[T]hose who love meat have had surprisingly little to say. They say, of course, that, well, they love meat or that meat is deeply ingrained in our habit or culture or cuisine or that it’s nutritious or that it’s just part of the natural order. Some of the more conscientious carnivores have devoted themselves to enhancing the lives of livestock, by improving what those animals eat, how they live and how they are killed. But few have tried to answer the fundamental ethical issue: Whether it is right to eat animals in the first place, at least when human survival is not at stake.

Given the fact that strict (ethically-motivated) vegetarians comprise a minute segment of our nation’s population — and this despite several decades of intense advocacy by Singer et al. —  it would seem the Times‘ readers would be within their rights simply to demand a more compelling argument for the vegetarian option. Indeed, many, if not most, may be tempted altogether to just turn a deaf ear to the Times’ invitation.

For those of you who appreciate the value in thinking deeply and engaging others on questions of social ethics, I commend to you the challenge laid down by the Times. Whether or not your essay will ultimately be judged as print-worthy by the paper’s select panel of judges that includes Singer himself, the exercise may still be highly profitable. You’ll need to work fast as the submission deadline is April 8th.

For more information, see the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/tell-us-why-its-ethical-to-eat-meat-a-contest.html

 

Ethics in Human Reproductive Research

For today’s blog, I’d like to continue a discussion begun by  Heather last week concerning the research of Jonathan Tilly’s group at Mass. General that was recently reported in Nature (Medicine) magazine (White, Y. A. R. et al., http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm.2669/).  Briefly, Tilly and his colleagues claimed to have demonstrated a residual capacity of adult (human) ovarian tissue to produce new eggs (primary oocytes) contra the longstanding theory that the number of such were fixed at or shortly after birth. This residual capacity lies in the retention of “germline stem cells (GSCs),” which Tilly’s group isolated, extended, and then manipulated to produce a crop of oocytes.

Heather made several good points relating to the potential applications of Tilly’s research. The concerns I wish to raise relate more to the ethics of the research itself. First, we need to consider the source of the ovarian tissue used in the study – specifically, the GSCs were derived from the excised ovaries of women undergoing “sex reversal” surgery (SRS). It is tragic, to say the least, that some human beings consent to the extreme mutilation of their bodies in pursuit of a distorted view of gender and personal fulfillment. We may all agree that “gender confusion” is a condition in need of remediation, but the remedy is not to be found in a surgical manual. To make use of genitalia harvested from SRS, if not constituting outright complicity, at the least risks projecting an affirming attitude for a morally-bankrupt project.  Furthermore, women inclined to pursue SRS may also be emboldened by the prospect that their election of SRS could contribute to the advance of reproductive science.

Second, Tilly’s research raises significant ethical concerns in its use of a live mouse to nurture the developing human oocyte. Though Tilly mixes and matches species with no apparent concern, this farming out of the earliest stage of human reproduction to a murine surrogate truly warrants  the Midgley “Yuk factor” rating. Even more, this insertion of human flesh into the body of an animal  smacks of bestiality, which Scripture unequivocally condemns.  In creating various lifeforms “according to their kind,” God established an important boundary for our exercise of dominion over the animals. Differences in kind are to be valued and respected and not overrun by merging dissimilar flesh. I hesitate to claim that all forms of xenotransplantation are morally out of bounds. Prostheses of animal origin that are rendered inert prior to implantation into the human body (e.g. pig heart valves) would seem to raise fewer issues than the transfer of viable tissue that integrates in some fashion with the host. That distinction, I admit, rests chiefly upon intuition.

Your thoughts?

Q&A: On the Observance of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

 

 1) What do we mean by the phrase “Sanctity of Human Life?”

Specifically, we mean to communicate the biblical truth that each and every human life, being made in the very image of God, is a special object of God’s love and concern (Gen 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9).

God is no respecter of persons, and so we ought not to be either. Every human life, no matter how young or old, no matter how functional or dysfunctional, is truly worthy of our love and deepest respect. While human life is not to be worshipped, it is to be valued greatly and protected.

 

2) What is the origin of the practice of observing a “Sanctity of Human Life” day each year?

President Ronald Reagan began the annual tradition. By his proclamation, January 22, 1984, the 11th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, marked the first national observance of the Sanctity of Human Life. That tradition has been continued by some, but not all, presidents since Reagan.

Political observances aside, Christians across the denominational spectrum have annually been calling attention to the tragedy of abortion on demand ever since the Roe v Wade decision (Jan 22, 1973).

Roe v Wade was a wake up call. Specifically, it awakened evangelical Christians in America to the responsibility of being salt and light (Matt 5:13—16) in a culture that was growing increasing callous towards human life.

 

3) What does it mean to be “salt and light?”

Being salt and light entails bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on a lost and dying world. Preaching and personal evangelism are of paramount importance to the task, but they are incomplete and often rendered ineffective if our words are not matched by lives radically altered by the Gospel.

A life radically altered by the Gospel is one that is no longer controlled by fleshly desires and worldly thinking, but rather, it is in tune with God. It values what God values, and it finds deep and abiding joy in obeying His commands.

What is it, then, that God commands of His people?  Here is the answer He gave through the prophet Micah:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?   (Micah 6:8, NASB)

 “Doing Justice” – that is what Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is about.

Among other things, “doing justice” demands that we advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, that we uphold the interests of the weak over and against the schemes of those who would oppress them.

Human Life is under attack, and doing justice demands that Christians concern themselves with the problem and minister accordingly.

 

4) In what ways is human life under attack today?

Human life is under attack across its entire spectrum. On the back end, it is threatened by the evil of euthanasia. The notion that killing can be a genuinely compassionate ministry to the aged, disabled, and/or infirm is a lie borne straight from the pit of Hell.

Even towards the healthy, we see in our culture a blatant disregard for the value of human life. Murder and violent crime are the obvious signs, but no less concerning is the disregard for human life that permeates much of what passes these days for entertainment.

For the Romans, the sinful appetite for violence was satiated at the Coliseum; for Americans, the appetite is no less strong though the venue for its satisfaction may be different. Yes we have our sports arenas for modern-day gladiatorial contests that feature all the violence without, it is hoped, the killing (e.g., UFC);  but we also have our television viewing rooms, our video game stations, and comfortable cinemas where, for our viewing pleasure, human bodies are violated, desecrated, and discarded like rubbish.

Now, what generally gets the most attention at Sanctity of Human Life observances is the assault on human life on the front end, and elective abortion in particular, which has claimed over 50 million lives in the US since Roe v Wade.

Many, frankly, have grown tired of the public controversy over abortion and just wish it would go away. But, absent a mass awakening in our country to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the killing will continue. As the Christian’s charge to protect the innocent and vulnerable is neither optional nor in harmony with the worldly ethos of our day, we may expect that the controversy will continue.

We can take heart, however, in the fact that we stand in good company for Christians have been battling the evil of infanticide from the Church’s earliest beginnings. In Roman culture, it was socially acceptable for fathers to abandon unwanted babies on the doorstep of the family home – death by exposure largely served the same purpose that abortion does today. Convinced, however, that all human life is a gift of the Creator God and thus to be valued and protected, early Christians not only refused to participate in the horrific practice, but even more, they rescued many an abandoned child.  As they did so, they provided a powerful witness to the love of God and his gracious salvation extended to helpless sinners.

Human life on the front end is also threatened in our day by the effort to control reproductive outcomes and, in particular, the attributes of our progeny. Whereas the Romans had to wait and see what “nature” delivered, nowadays we have the increasing capacity  to determine what first goes into the womb.

Implicit to the drive to select children of a specific type or kind is the judgment that some children are not worth having.

In China, that judgment has manifested in a higher abortion rate for female offspring that has left the population with an enormous gender imbalance. That imbalance poses for China serious threats to peace and order – both internally, and with its neighbors.

Here in the U.S., gender selection is occurring, though not on the same scale as in China. Its not that we are any more humane, however, its just that our focus has been more on the elimination of babies perceived as defective.

And so, for example, those among us who lived in the days prior to pre-natal testing recognize that we have in our midst fewer children with Down’s Syndrome. Current estimates are that somewhere close to 90% of children identified through pre-natal tests as having Down’s Syndrome are now aborted.

 

Reproductive medicine has not only yielded an increasing capacity to control the makeup of our children, it has also created a huge “surplus” of human embryos. Most of these embryos have been consigned to the freezer. Few will ever come to occupy a womb, but instead, most will either expire on the freezer shelf or be dissected and destroyed in a medical laboratory.

To assuage the conscience uneasy about embryonic experimentation, researchers and their supporters tell us that these embryos are not really human beings or “persons,” but we know better. We were all embryos at some point, just as we were infants, and then toddlers, and then children, and so on.

From conception onward, we are who we are: individual persons known and loved by God and, thus, to be loved according to His command: as neighbor. Neighbor love is sacrificial, but note, it sacrifices not the interests of the one being loved, but rather, those of the one who loves. Killing an innocent neighbor can never be a genuinely loving thing to do.

 

 5) So, what is the Christian to do?

First, we must recognize the assault against human life for what it is. Most fundamentally, it is spiritual warfare. We face an enemy, Satan, whom the Scripture describes as a “murderer” (John 8:44) who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).

Second, we must then utilize spiritual weapons.

1)    The Gospel Truth

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls sin for what it is, but doesn’t leave the matter there;

It also proclaims in Christ Jesus redemption and forgiveness to all who would repent and place their faith in Christ Jesus;

It is lived out through daily ministry to neighbor – word and deed must be in sync.

2)    Prayer

Much prayer is required. We are up against a mighty foe, and so, we must call upon the Most High God

3)    Guarding our hearts and minds

We must take care to not let that which is unwholesome and impure to capture our hearts or minds;

This is not a call to disengage from culture, but rather, a reminder of the need to filter it and deny it a controlling influence.

 Third,  we get involved  i.e., we seek to be salt and light.

1)    Through personal evangelism

Hearts and minds must be transformed by the Gospel. Yet, as the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans declared, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

2)    A personal, social ministry – several avenues exist

Making other people’s problems our own; sharing burdens

Working with agencies whose aim it is to uphold the value of human life

Advocacy in the Public Square: telling the truth in love, pointing our culture to God’s vision of the good life

Announcing the 2012 SVME Waltham Student Essay Contest

 

SVME 2012 Student Essay Contest Flyer

 

Founded in 1994, The Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics (SVME) seeks to promote thoughtful and respectful public discussion on ethical issues arising in, and relevant to, the practice of veterinary medicine. In that effort, The SVME has long recognized the importance of student participation and development in the field of veterinary ethics. And so, with the generous support of The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition,  The SVME is pleased to announce The 2012 SVME Waltham Student Essay Contest. The contest is open to any student presently enrolled (part-time or full-time) in a graduate or undergraduate degree program at an accredited institution of higher learning. The author of the winning entry will receive

  • $1,000 cash award; and a 
  • $1,000 travel stipend to attend the 2012 annual meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association for the purpose of present the winning essay at the SVME plenary session.

 

The topic for this year’s contest is

“On the Question of ‘Human Exceptionalism’ and Its Bearing upon Veterinary Medical Ethics”

 

Complete instructions, a brief description of the topic, and essay evaluative criteria are posted on the SVME website (http://www.svme.org/Default.aspx?pageId=528502 ). Send completed essay via email attachment (Microsoft Word or Adobe ‘pdf’ document) to Dr. Erik M. Clary, Chair of SVME Student Essay Committee at [email protected] Deadline for submission is Saturday, April 14, 2012.

 

 

Darwinian Theory and Ethics

 

In another forum, I recently posted an essay that asked readers to contemplate the message being communicated in PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) slogan “Meat is Murder.” The post generated much stimulating discussion. I found particularly interesting the efforts of some respondents to bring evolutionary theory to bear upon the question of meat-eating, partly because I had just finished reading Rod Preece’s book, Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution: The Historical Status of Animals. In that work, Preece throws cold water on the notion that Darwin’s theory of evolution facilitated the rise of a more compassionate animal ethic. As Preece states (p.359-360),

“The much vaunted claim that increased sensibility to animals was stimulated by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution does not stand up to careful scrutiny. The sensibility has existed in perpetuity, and to the extent that it became more pronounced in the Darwinian age, its consequence was anything but Darwinian. In fact, those whose source of inspiration was quite other than Darwinian displayed a far greater sensibility to animals, at least on the issue of animal experimentaton. [In the preceding chapter, Preece identifies Christians as the chief advocates who brought about change for the better in late nineteenth-century attitudes and practices towards animals]”

As Preece notes (p.347), Darwin defended vivisection at a time when others were denouncing it with great force. Even as he experienced some emotional discomfort over his killing and dissecting of animal subjects, Darwin nonetheless defended animal experimentation, including that which was intended purely for the sake of gaining knowledge, and so too did many of his followers.

Now, one may wish to argue that on the matter of animal ethics, Darwin was simply blind to the ramifications of his theory – that somehow, common descent via natural selection provides the basis for a no-kill stance. Others insist, however, that Darwinian theory provides adequate justification for our making use of animals for food, fiber, etc. As one medical researcher once told me not too long ago, the consequence of evolution is “we won!” and so, as “victors” in the struggle for life, subjugation of other species is our natural right.

The appeal to Darwinian theory by advocates of polar opposite views on the issue of meat-eating raises an important question about the connection between evolution and ethics – specifically, is there one? Can we truly find the basis for ethical judgment in the narrative of “survival of the fittest?” Only, it would seem, if we are content to leave ethics at the level of mere description of what happens in nature. But then we wouldn’t truly be talking about ethics as most seem to understand it – a sense of oughtness that regulates, and even trumps the natural impulse. Preece notes two significant vegetarians and animal advocates, Leo Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw, as examples of animal advocates who perceived the inability of Darwinian theory to deliver the moral sense (p.346). As Tolstoy put it, “Darwinism won’t explain to you the meaning of your life and won’t give you guidance for your actions.”

The problem to which Tolstoy points is often labeled as the “is-ought dilemma.” Uttered almost in passing by David Hume three centuries ago, the is-ought dilemma came to the forefront in discussions of evolutionary ethics through the writings of George Edward Moore, a philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Principia Ethica, Moore spoke of the “naturalistic fallacy” in reference to Herbert Spencer’s attempt to derive ethical principles from an evolutionary narrative. The problem, Moore argued (and Hume before him), is that determinations of value (what is good as opposed to what is bad; i.e. what ought to be pursued) are of an entirely different category than statements about what transpires in nature. To argue that some natural property or process is morally superior entails a categorical shift that requires the importation of values that nature cannot, in and of itself, supply. So, we may make many correct observations about the behavior and biological needs of animals, but those in and of themselves do not yield moral guidance; only when united to the moral presupposition that the animal’s nature ought to be respected, might they come into play.

Ardent Darwinists protest the charge of fallacious reasoning. Among them are E. O. Wilson, who has asserted that there is no dilemma as “ought” is simply an “is” that needs no further justification. Ought, he believed, consists in what our ancestors chose to do and then codify into law (see his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge p.275). More sophisticated is Michael Ruse who has argued that Hume and Moore have it exactly right and that the solution lies in simply giving up the search for an objective basis for ethics. Nature has, Ruse argues, foisted upon the human species a highly effective deception – specifically, an ingrained sense that right and wrong transcend the individual. Morality, he believes, is simply smoke and mirrors that masks the selfish core ‘bequeathed’ by natural selection. (See Ruse’s recent essay  “The Biological Sciences Can Act as a Ground for Ethics,” in Ayala and Arp’s 2009 book,  Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology).

In the end, Wilson and Ruse argue that morality is a purely natural phenomenon – that nature (matter), and nature alone, provides both the basis and content for ethics. I, myself, am quite skeptical of such a proposition, partly because I fail to see how such can treat human freedom and responsibility as anything more than mere illusion. Deep down, we all know that not every natural impulse is to be acted upon. In denying the natural impulse, we bear witness to the fact that we are more than molecules and atoms arranged in space and time for chemistry (matter) cannot break free from the laws of physics (it is, in fact, the predictability of matter that makes science and technological innovation possible). The capacity to contravene the natural impulse derives not from the material but from an immaterial aspect of our nature – what some call “spirit” or “soul.” Apart from this immaterial reality, there is no accounting for the human freedom and moral agency, among other qualities.  If we are purely material beings, then strict determinism is our lot.

There are, in fact, numerous obstacles to naturalistic ethics. One of the more helpful reads along this line is L. Russ Bush’s book, The Advancement: Keeping the Faith in An Evolutionary Age. Whether or not one is sympathetic to the Christian worldview, Bush’s book offers readers a helpful resource as it lays out in clear language the challenges posed in adopting the naturalistic worldview that typically undergirds evolutionary accounts of ethics and morality.

Your thoughts?

Human cloning “breakthrough?”

 

Last week, Joe Gibes commented on the BBC’s report on the scientific “breakthrough” of  Dieter Egli and his colleagues at the New York Stem Cell Laboratory. As the BBC and other news agencies presented it, Egli et al derived human embryonic stem cells through a “cloning” technique, but as Joe correctly noted, no clones were produced. In transferring the nucleus of an adult skin cell to a nucleated human egg and retaining both sets of DNA during subsequent embryonic development, the researchers had actually  created not clones but  genomic hybrids with, I would add, a generally lethal defect (triploidy).

I see nothing sinister behind the imprecise language, and I don’t think Joe does either. It is, in fact, understandable as the method employed was essentially a modification of the technique (“somatic cell nuclear transfer”) that Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute used 15 years ago to create “Dolly” the sheep, the world’s first clone of an adult mammal. The chief difference is that Wilmut et al transferred the donor nucleus to an enucleated egg.

Cloning adult mammals is, to put it gently, no piece of cake. In their ground-breaking publication that introduced Dolly to the world, Wilmut et al reported making 434 attempts to fuse a nucleated donor cell  to an enucleated egg. That effort yielded 277 (63.8%)  zygotes (“fused couplets”) which they then transferred to ligated sheep oviducts for culture. Of those 277,  247 (89.2%) were recovered and of those, only 29 (11.7%) developed to a transferable stage (morula/balstocyst). As a fraction of the original 434 eggs, that represents 6.7%. Now, 14 years after the initial report of Wilmut et al, the process of producing clones from adult mammalian cells remains highly inefficient.

The “Holy Grail” of cloning, as Joe and others have put it, is not a cute little lamb, but a human embryo. Most researchers in the field recoil at the idea of cloning to reproduce full-sized copies of ourselves, but they salivate at the prospect of creating disposable, embryonic miniatures whose genomic identity would purportedly constitute for their “parents” the key to great medical benefit. Human biology, however, has proven quite resistant  to such designs, and that, I would submit, is the “story behind the story” of Egli et al. The whole reason these researchers moved to the hybrid model was because of their inability, and that of many others before them, to produce an embryonic human clone using techniques that, albeit with great inefficiency, have proven successful in animals.[1] What the BBC and others tout as a “breakthrough” is, in fact, little more than an affirmation of the status quo in human cloning research.

Whether human biology will continue to frustrate the dogged efforts of Egli and others to produce a human clone, only time will tell. But at this stage, reality certainly mirrors fiction as the quest for the “Grail” remains exactly that – a quest. Sadly, this quest to clone ourselves exacts a great toll as it drains finite resources and, more concernedly, does great violence to human dignity with its reduction of human life to an object of mere utility.  That we would dump the quest and focus our health resources elsewhere seems a right and sensible thing to do, but I’m not banking on that happening soon as many a policy-maker and researcher are “all-in”  in the gamble on so-called “therapeutic” cloning. That researchers have already discovered a method for re-programming adult human cells to a pluripotent state that requires neither a human egg donor nor an embryonic intermediate reveals the ongoing quest to produce a human clone to be less about advancing good science and medical therapy and more about satisfying a prior agenda.


[1] Sheep (1997), Mouse (1998), Gaur (2000), Pig (2000), Mouflon Sheep (2001), Cat (2002), Cow (2002), Goat (2002), Rabbit (2002), Deer (2003), Horse (2003), Mule (2003), Rat (2003), Wildcat (2003), Dog (2005), Banteng (2005), Ferret (2006), Swamp Buffalo (2006), Gray Wolf (2007).  See the US Food and Drug Administration online publication “Technology Overview: Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer and Other Assisted Reproductive Technologies” at http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/animalcloning/ucm124765.htm

On Licensing Abortion Clinics

 

Should abortion clinics be required to meet minimum standards for patient access, medical record-keeping, sanitation, etc., as are medical facilities in which invasive procedures are performed?  More than twenty states have decided that question in the affirmative, including Virginia, whose State Board of Health is set to vote this Thursday on licensing regulations that would affect clinics in which 5 or more first-trimester abortions are performed per month.

In noting the support of staunch pro-life advocates for the proposed regulations, the editors of The Washington Post have raised their pens in moral indignation, writing that “IF SOMETHING about anti-abortion advocates pressing for “safer” abortion clinics rings false to you, trust your instincts.”[1] The editors were specifically targeting the Family Foundation and  the Virginia Catholic Conference, arguing, in effect, that consistency demands that abortion opponents disavow any serious concern for the health of women who choose to abort their children. One cannot, the editors would have their readers believe, advocate both for the criminalization of elective abortion and for the health of women who opt for abortion.

Sadly, The Post demonstrates in this “editorial board opinion” the willingness of supposedly “upper-tier”journalists to chuck the most basic rules of critical thinking when defending some cherished social ideal or policy. Surely they know they have committed the classic error of posing a false dilemma, which assumes only two options exist when, in fact, others are possible. It is not only possible for opponents of abortion to care about the health of the abortion clinic’s clientele, but such is a present reality as pro-life pregnancy crisis centers across our country routinely demonstrate in their ministrations to the health and well-being of post-abortive women. A commitment to the sanctity of human life, most pro-lifers would argue, requires not only concern for the baby’s life, but for the mother’s as well. So, while there should be no expectation that pro-lifers would cease from their efforts to outlaw elective abortion, one ought not to be surprised to see them advocating for the health and safety of aborting mothers.

Truly, as it concerns the issue of consistency, advocates of abortion who would stand in the way of regulating abortion clinics as medical facilities are in a tough spot. They generally desire that elective abortion would be viewed as healthcare (see my post from June 27, 2011), but when it comes to treating it as such, they object. The Post’s editors are willing, they claim, to accept some regulations, but not those requiring a significant outlay of capital. To that, I suspect, many hospital administrators will simply respond “Welcome to our our world!” Meeting medical facility regulatory requirements is, no doubt, a burden, but it is one that must be borne out of concern for patient safety and well-being.


[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/targeting-bortions/2011/09/01/gIQAS7Fa2J_story.html

Final Reflections on “The Scandal”

 

This past week, Fox News reported on the circumstance of Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor and leader in Iran’s growing evangelical movement whom Iran’s Supreme Court has determined may be executed  if he persists in refusing to renounce his Christian faith.

The news of Nadarkhani’s predicament served as a reminder to this reader of the serious stakes involved in identifying with Jesus Christ. Not all Christians are called to martyrdom – and my prayer is that Yousef would be released without further harm – but we are all called to assume the risk, and this because loyalty to God comes first and that loyalty entails fidelity to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is  offensive to the unbelieving soul. Even as we endeavor to live our lives in a winsome way (1 Cor 10:32-33) – we ought not be surprised if ridicule, scorn, or even violence come our way as we proclaim the gospel message in both word and deed.

As I continue to reflect upon “The Scandal,” (see prior posts)  I think often about the question of content for a Christian bioethic. Some professing Christians argue largely on pragmatic grounds for the public casting of Christian bioethics in a “publicly accessible” language (i.e. purely philosophical argument). A more robust bioethic – one replete with theological warrant – has its place, the thought goes,  in discussions among those operating within a Christian worldview,  but not in the broader debate where Christians encounter nonbelievers who are skeptical, if not overtly hostile, to the Faith.

So, a number of questions arise: Can we truly be faithful to the Christian mission when confining theological argumentation to intramural bioethical discourse?  Can the “doing” of bioethics be rightly compartmentalized from the task of evangelization or the bearing of prophetic witness in a decadent culture?  Is it truly unethical, as some maintain, for physicians to evangelize their patients?

And finally, as I think about our brother Yousef Nadarkhani, I find myself asking, “What cost am I willing to endure in my identification with Christ in the public square?” Christian martyrdom, or the prospect thereof, forces a confrontation with truth both for the believer and the unbeliever. It demands from all a consideration of ultimate value  – specifically, is Jesus really worth dying for? To think in these terms may help us navigate the question of how best to formulate our “public” bioethics.

Your thoughts?

“The Scandal” Examined

As advertised in my last blog, the CBHD conference that concluded this past Saturday gave participants much to consider and much encouragement in being about the task of “doing” Christian bioethics. The combination of a highly relevant topic, excellent speakers, and an engaged audience made for a great conference, perhaps the best that I’ve attended over the past 4 years. For those CBHD staff and leadership reading this blog:  Thank You for all of your hard work!

As I mentioned before, the topic of the conference was “The Scandal of Bioethics,” by which it was meant the diminished theological voice in public bioethical discourse. Several speakers affirmed the reality of a secularized public square that is increasingly hostile to a theologically grounded bioethics, yet, there was no room for defeatism. Rather, conference participants were encouraged to persevere and there was much positive discussion on the shape and content of a Christian bioethics.

As I reflected on “The Scandal” in preparation for my paper presentation, it occurred to me that there is really a scandal within “The Scandal.” Specifically, it is the facilitation of secular bioethics by those claiming the label of “Christian theologian.” In my paper, I focused on the introduction of the personhood distinction, a staple of secularist bioethics, by then-Episcopalian-theologian Joseph Fletcher in his 1954 book Morals and Medicine. I argued that what Fletcher really was doing was not Christian theology, but speculative philosophy. And so too many Christian ethicists today as they build their ethics around human personhood, social justice, or a presumed common morality, to name but a few cherished starting points.

It is one thing for an unbelieving culture to deny Christians entry to the public square, but quite another for Christians to excuse themselves, be it through separatism or accommodation. Christians must be willing to remain engaged, but with a bioethic that faithfully represents the moral truth that God has graciously revealed in Scripture. Such is our duty and privilege in the larger context of the wonderful Christian mission

Thinking about Christian Influence in Public Bioethics: CBHD Annual Conference July 14-16

 

 

This week, the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity will host its 18th annual conference on the campus of Trinity International University.  I hope to see you there.

I have attended the last three of these conferences and each time, I have gone away challenged to think more deeply about bioethics while at the same time encouraged to be about the work of being “salt and light” in a culture that desperately needs “true truth.”  I expect this year will be no different as we gather to contemplate “The Scandal of Bioethics.”

What is “The Scandal,” you may ask?  Well, here’s how the conference organizers describe it:  “Originally conversant with Christian moral reflection, bioethics has emigrated from bedside consultations to interdisciplinary research, public policy debates, and wider cultural and social conversations that all privilege secular discourse.”

Gilbert Meilaender, whom I consider to be one of the most thoughtful and articulate bioethicists (past or present),  put his finger on this shift in bioethics more than a decade ago, commenting “Many of the early figures in the bioethics movement were scholars in the field of religion, and in the several intervening decades bioethics has largely fallen into the hands of scholars trained in other disciplines” (Body, Soul, and Bioethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 32).

So too did H. Tristam Englehardt, Jr., another highly regarded bioethicist and scheduled speaker for this year’s conference, in his book The Foundations of Christian Bioethics. As Englehardt observed, “During the 1960s and early 1970s the various Christian bioethics flourished at the vanguard of bioethical scholarship, so that in this period one could not have given an adequate account of medical ethics or bioethics without taking account of the work of Christian thinkers such as Ramsey and Hauerwas. Yet, just as secular bioethics assumed an important role for public policy, Christian bioethics receded in cultural significance and force” ( Exton, PA: Swets & Zeitlinger, 2000, 12).

As we consider “The Scandal” this week, my hope is that we will spend some time in collective retrospection. However tempting it may be simply to look outward in our search for a cause – and certainly, who can deny the secularizing pressures within post-modern culture – I would submit that there is good reason to first look within the camp of “Christian Bioethics.” As for why I believe such to be the case, the answer awaits you in Room 125 of the Rodine building on Trinity’s campus on Friday, 7/15 at 2:10pm.  [yes, this is a shameful advertisement . . . how low one can sink in the effort to boost attendance numbers at his own presentation!!! . . . complicating that effort, however, is the fact that there are some excellent topics for the other papers being presented in that same time slot, including multidisciplinary bioethics, dementia care, posthumanism, among others].

For those of you inclined to do some preparatory thinking in advance of this week’s conference,  I commend the following brief essay for your reading:   Michael Banner. “Introductory Remarks: Christian Ethical Reasoning.” Transformation 1998 (Vol. 15, No. 2, 15-17).