Almost every day in the media we hear of a new and shiny medical development that promises to bring hope and happiness to the world we live in. From gene therapy to saviour siblings, it can be easy to only see the end result of these advances and the potential alleviation of a particular form of human suffering, but not look at how we got there or the potential implications.
In 1 Corinthians 10:23, we read that many things are possible but not everything is beneficial and constructive. How do we navigate the array of issues in a way that honours God and his word and is worthy of the calling we have received?
As Christians we need to be equipped to engage well with medical ethical issues and in so doing point to Christ.
A BIBLICAL FRAMEWORK
The morality behind our ethics is dependent on our worldview. One helpful framework is to look at an ethical issue through the lens of the global story of the Bible - creation, fall, redemption and restoration.
For instance, DNA is not specifically mentioned in the pre-industrial, agricultural narrative of the Bible. But understanding that God is the creator and sustainer of all life may help inform our response to new advances.
Alongside a biblical perspective, let us remember that all truth is God’s truth and that there are also “non-religious” arguments from specialists which can be compelling.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 women will undergo an abortion in their lifetime. Abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967 and is permitted if two doctors agree that one of five specified grounds have been met. For example, it is legal if before 24 weeks, the risk of injury to the mother’s physical or mental health is greater than that of the abortion.
The main arguments for abortion are: ‘my body, my choice’ (autonomy), ‘it’s just a bunch of cells’ (what constitutes a person) and preventing suffering of the child, mother or family as a result of the pregnancy (compassion).
There is evidence linking abortions with detrimental mental health consequences and prematurity in subsequent pregnancies.
The abortion debate is emotive and polarising and we need to be aware that there are those among us who may be personally affected.
Jesus was sent into this world through an unmarried teenager. He was a 16-cell embryo and a 12-week old foetus and even in this small and vulnerable state was recognisable as our Lord and Saviour. As we respond let us first listen well, and then speak truth, full of grace and seasoned with salt.
Last year over 2500 children and young people were referred to the UK Gender Identity Development Service, up 25% from the previous year.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity/expression differs from that typically associated with their biological sex. Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.
There is an increasing push to make changing one’s gender a streamlined and de-medicalised process based on self-declaration.
This is grounded in the arguments of relieving the distress caused by the conflict (compassion) and allowing for self-definition based on a person’s own self-defined truth (autonomy).
Some with gender identity incongruence experience real distress from this and evidence also suggests that these individuals are more likely to have other psychological conditions. De-medicalising this complex condition could deprive these individuals of crucial assessment and advice from mental health professionals. One study found that thirty years after undergoing medical transition, the suicide rate was 19 times higher among transgender adults than among the non-transgender population.
We should be questioning whether puberty-blockers, hormones and irreversible surgery are the most beneficial way to address gender dysphoria.
God created us male and female but we live in a broken world filled with disease, distress and disorder.
What hope can the gospel provide to those affected as we sensitively engage? Let’s speak of the real hope in the face of suffering and brokenness offered by Jesus Christ.
Euthanasia is where someone intentionally kills a person whose life is felt not to be worth living. Although illegal in the UK, there has been increasing pressure from various groups to change the law. The main arguments are: “It’s my choice” (autonomy), “my suffering is unbearable” (compassion) and “care costs too much” (economics). The prominent cases in the media are often complex and do not represent the average dying patient.
As Christians, we are to uphold the sanctity of human life made in God’s image, and to have Christ-like compassion for those who suffer.
Suppose your grandmother was diagnosed with a terminal illness such as cancer. The law currently protects those who are vulnerable (such as the elderly, the disabled, and those unable to speak for themselves), but if the law was changed to legalise euthanasia, there could be undue pressure on your grandmother and the family to hasten death.
Employing faith-based arguments with non-Christians is often not immediately effective. Nevertheless, we can still talk about (on terms they might accept) the excellent provision of palliative care (‘killing the pain, not the patient’) and the current protection of the law for the vulnerable.
Opinion polls suggest that many are unsure about this issue and so may be persuaded once they’ve heard these arguments – so let’s be encouraged to speak out credibly as Christians for those who can’t speak for themselves.
Pointing to Jesus
With advances in healthcare and medical technology, we are coming across more ethical issues. The prevailing secular principles (to the exclusion of all others) of individualism and autonomy mean that we cannot ignore these conversations as followers of Christ.
Although living in an increasingly hostile and Godless culture, we should not despair and withdraw but rather welcome these as incredible opportunities to speak into our society with words of wisdom and hope, with graciousness and pastoral sensitivity, remembering that people may be personally affected by these issues.
In our conversations, we can with joy and conviction point to a creator God who made us in his image and values life; a God of justice who cares for the weak and vulnerable; a relational God who loves us and gave his only Son for us.
Jesus came to reconcile us to God, empathise with our sufferings, comfort us through the Holy Spirit and point to the glorious future hope we have where there will be no more pain or suffering.
HOW CAN I BE BETTER EQUIPPED TO ENGAGE?
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) unites and equips Christian doctors, nurses and midwives to live and speak for Jesus Christ.
CMF gives a united, powerful and credible voice for Christians in healthcare to speak out in society. If you work in healthcare, CMF can help you serve your church by equipping you to explain these issues overcoming any fear or anxiety in engaging in these conversations for the sake of the Gospel.
CMF also produces an excellent range of easily accessible online and print resources for all ranging from contraception, infertility and abortion to transgender and euthanasia
Dr Rachel Owusu-Ankomah is a Surgical Doctor, CMF Head of Student Ministries and part of Brixton Local Church
Dr. Felicia Wong is a General Practitioner, CMF Head of Graduate Ministries and part of Christ Church Earlsfield