Medical ethics Refs
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The Bible was written long before mankind devised genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization and organ donation. Yet God knew that dilemmas of conscience would arise because of these things, and although they are not directly discussed in the Bible, he has given us the moral principles on which to base our judgements.

James 5:13-18

In Bible times, medicine was shrouded in superstition with little knowledge of anatomy, physiology and microbiology. Until
the last 100 years or so, there was little change in medical technology. It is only in recent years that we have had so
much choice about the nature of treatment and the option for medical intervention for everything from cosmetic surgery and
contraception to life-saving surgery.

Some people today hold the view that all sickness can be overcome by prayer without the need for conventional medicine.
This belief can extend to denying medical or surgical intervention to oneself and even one’s children.

There is no doubt God can choose to heal miraculously. In James’ day, without miraculous intervention from God, there
was often not much anyone could do to heal the sick.

1. Is James saying that prayer should replace medical intervention, or supplement it?
2. Does prayer always lead to healing?
3. Is prayer for the sick now obsolete because we are capable of treating many conditions medically or surgically today?
4. To what extent can medical intervention be permitted free rein? Are there limits to what should be permitted?
5. What should our attitude be toward our bodies in the context of medical intervention? (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

There is only the space to explore a few issues here. This brief discussion is not meant to suggest that any of these issues is
simple, nor that the same answer applies in every case.

Abortion
Elective abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy. There are many reasons why a woman might have an abortion and each requires consideration in its own right.

God sees a person in all his potential before he is born; his whole life is laid out before him. The decision to cut off that individual from any hope of knowing God and experiencing life must not be taken lightly. The sixth of the ten commandments is “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

It is an awful tragedy that so many couples are desperate to adopt children, yet in the same hospitals in which hopeful couples queue for infertility treatments, babies are being aborted every day.

See Psalm 139:1-16. If God knows us individually before birth, does this mean each of us is a unique individual before birth?
If so, when does this unique existence begin?


Discuss the scriptural principles and practical implications of each of the following. In each case, could abortion be justified? What sort of support could/should be offered to a couple or mother facing this decision?

1. Continuation of the pregnancy will result in death or serious illness for the mother.
2. Tests show the baby has a deformity or disease which will be severely debilitating or fatal after birth.
3. The mother is underage.
4. The mother is in an unsuitable family situation.
5. The pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
6. The baby would interfere with the mother’s career or she does not yet feel ready for the responsibility.

Assisted conception
Many infertile couples seek medical assistance to have a baby. This can range from hormonal and other non-invasive treatments to enhance fertility, through techniques such as IVF, to donor sperm and eggs and even surrogacy.

Surrogacy is when one woman carries a baby on behalf of another woman. A form of surrogacy was practised in biblical
times. Abraham’s wife Sarah gave him her maidservant as concubine in order to have children “through her” (Genesis
16:1-4). God permitted men to have more than one wife in Old Testament times, but this was never ideal (Matthew 19:4-5).
To have sexual relations with someone other than your spouse in order to have children would be adultery.

Concubine: a secondary or inferior wife, often a slave.


One form of assisted conception is in vitro fertilization or IVF. This involves taking the eggs and sperm of a couple and allowing fertilization to occur in the laboratory. (“In vitro” means “in glass”; that is, in a test tube). The embryo(s) are then implanted back into the mother and the pregnancy continues in the normal way.

1. Would it be acceptable to use donor sperm or eggs in order to conceive a child?
2. Would IVF be acceptable if the eggs and sperm used were from a married couple?
3. Usually many embryos are produced but they are not all implanted at once. Unused embryos are frozen for later use, almost all of which are eventually destroyed. Is this creating and destroying life? Is it wrong?

Blood donation
Blood transfusions are given in cases of life-threatening blood loss. The transfused blood supplements the patient’s own
blood until the patient’s body replaces what was lost. To refuse a transfusion can result in the patient’s death.

These procedures were unknown in biblical times, yet some people today are vehemently opposed to them. They cite the
prohibition against eating blood:

But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.
(Deuteronomy 12:23)

This prohibition was first given to Noah after the flood. Genesis 9:4 It was repeated in the law of Moses and in the requirements on Gentile believers in the New Testament. Acts 15:29


1. Is blood transfusion the same thing as eating blood?
2. What reason did God give for prohibiting eating blood?
3. Is it appropriate to give blood to save the life of another person?
4. Are we still prohibited from eating blood?
5. What was wrong with eating “the life”?

Organ donation
Organ donation may be used to save the recipient’s life. Some organs such as bone marrow or a kidney may be removed while the donor is still alive. Others such as hearts, lungs, corneas and livers are removed after death, in which case the recipient’s life is saved as a direct result of the death of another.


Some people feel that the body of a deceased person should not be desecrated by organ removal.

1. Is there a scriptural precedent for this?
2. Is the power of God to raise our bodies from the dead and restore them to life limited by their state of decay or the absence of parts? (See Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, Genesis 3:19; Revelation 20:4)
3. Would organ donation from an animal be acceptable to God?

Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering is a broad issue. It covers a range of practices from selective breeding of crops and animals to direct
manipulation of the genetic code. Some benefits to mankind include better crop and livestock production, control of major
insect pests and diseases, and the cure or prevention of many deformities and diseases.

However, few things that mankind has devised have been wholly good; there is often a “down side” to new technology. It
is difficult to believe that genetic engineering of humans would be done solely for the benefit of the sick with no element of
pride, covetousness or greed. The only true improvement to human make-up will occur at the return of Jesus when his
faithful followers are made immortal and sinless.. 1 Corinthians 15:50-54


1. Your child is born a haemophiliac. By implanting genetically modified cells into the child, the body can manufacture the blood clotting agent required. Then your child could live a normal life and stop having frequent blood transfusions. Would this genetic modification be wrong?
2. Is it moral and scripturally permissible to alter a person’s genetic make-up for any reason?
3. Is it acceptable to alter the genetic make-up of any aspect of God’s creation?

God creates and sustains life:
Genesis 2:7; Job 12:10; Psalm 104:29-30; Ezekiel 18:4; Acts 17:25.
Do not kill:
Genesis 9:6; Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 24:21; Matthew 19:17-18.
The unborn child:
Psalm 119:73; 139:15-16; Isaiah 49:5; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41.
Sexual relations:
Genesis 16:1-4; 30:3,9; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 7:2; Ephesians 5:3; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8; 22:15.
Blood and life:
Genesis 9:4-6; Leviticus 17:11-12; Deuteronomy 12:23; Acts 15:20,29.
Sickness and healing:
2 Chronicles 16:12; Isaiah 38:1-5; Mark 1:32-34; 5:34; Luke 5:31; John 11:4; 1 Corinthians 11:30; Colossians 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:23; James 5:14-15.


1. Suppose your father has been in a major car accident and is on a life-support system in critical condition in hospital.
The doctors say there is little chance of him recovering consciousness. They ask you whether you wish to turn off the life-support system.

(a) Would it be wrong to agree to turn off the life-support system?
(b) Suppose the doctors had said he would probably regain consciousness, but would have no ability to communicate. Would that change your decision?

2. How far should a Christian married couple go in seeking assistance to conceive a child? Can you justify your opinion from the Bible?
3. In Bible times, people sometimes treated each other with great brutality-when it came to conquering cities or exacting
revenge, children were not pitied any more than adults. God himself ordered the destruction of entire communities. How can you reconcile this view with the image portrayed in Psalm 139 of a loving God who takes a personal interest in each of us?
4. Is it appropriate for a Christian to take a career in medicine? What about biotechnology such as genetic engineering?


1. What should be a Christian’s attitude toward:

(a) their own illnesses?
(b) others’ illnesses?

What practical assistance should we give to those who are sick? Find examples and instructions in the Bible.
2. Are any or all forms of contraception acceptable? Are there some forms of contraception which actually cause a very early abortion? Are there any scriptural precedents for or against contraception? (Start by looking at Genesis 38:8-10.)
3. Find some examples in the Bible of childless couples. Was childlessness viewed any differently in Bible times than
now? What can we learn from their approach to this dilemma?

 
• Life and death decisions by Orr, Schiedermayer and Biebel (published by NavPress, 1990). An excellent and thoughtprovoking book exploring many medical issues.
• Wrested scriptures by Ron Abel (published by The Christadelphians, Pasadena). Pages 66-67 discusses blood
transfusions.

 
18. Death
20. Sexual morality
49. Suffering
60. Marriage

 
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