The Future Emergence of Bioethics

A similar spectrum of responses from those writing within the Christian tradition is already evident as the questions of Bioethics 2 begin to focus discussion. The advent of in vitro fertilization in the late 1970s heralded a developing agenda in which the focus would cease to be on the old clinical ethics with its dilemmas grouped around the sanctity of life and move to the new manipulative powers of biotechnology. However, one decisive difference is now evident. As a range of fundamentally new questions is raised for biomedicine and the human good, the Christian mind is one generation removed from the influence of Ramsey and still further from the older tradition of candid theological engagement with the earlier issues of bioethics. The prospect of cloning and germline genetic interventions, coupled with crucial policy issues focused in patent law, reveal the paucity of Christian resources since the fundamental questions of anthropology that are at stake in these debates have been comprehensively neglected by theologians and Christian bioethicists alike. C.S. Lewis's prophetic essay The Abolition of Man is widely quoted in the near-absence of more recent and more detailed theological reflection on what is widely agreed to be the most serious set of questions ever to have confronted the human race.

These unfolding questions raise the most profound concerns, both for the Christian understanding of human procreation and of human nature itself. The significance of such basic theological themes as the nexus of marriage/ sexuality/family and the nature of human being itself are at stake, as the frontiers of the debate move from whether and when life may be taken to the logic of procreation-reproduction and the manipulative capacities of biotechnology to re-make human nature. It is for Christians an open question whether it is worse for life that is made in God's image to be taken, or for life to be made in an image of our own devising, in a wholly fresh assault on the sanctity and dignity of human being. There is no greater need than for fresh exploration of the significance of both the imago Dei and the incarnation of Jesus Christ for our human nature in light of the new, emerging powers of biotechnology and cybernetics. The challenge to Christian theology is both to articulate the distinctive implications of the Christian understanding of human nature for Christians themselves, and then, with equal vigor, to translate that understanding into public terms, drawing on the common language and values of our cultural tradition and engaging in arguments from natural law. Christian thinkers have so far shown little appetite for either of these tasks.

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