Last week I popped into the café just down the road to grab some breakfast before our weekly staff meeting. As I was waiting I picked up a discarded newspaper and came across this headline:
“Pope rejects arrogance of IVF”.
Apparently, in speaking to delegates at a Vatican conference on treating and diagnosing infertility the Pope advised his audience –
[… ]to resist “the fascination of the technology of artificial fertility”. The Pope cautioned the experts against “easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator”, an attitude he indicated that underlay the field of artificial procreation. 1.
Another newspaper indicated that there had been significant backlash to these comments, with some going so far as to describe the Pope as archaic and out of touch. 2.
Of course, I wasn’t surprised to hear about this kind of passionate reaction – after all, I expect that there would be just as many individuals who vehemently oppose the Pope’s stance on IVF, as there are those who are staunchly supportive of it.
Whatever your own personal response to the Pope’s comments might be, one thing is certain – ethical discussions about the use of medical technology when it comes to the beginning and end of life nearly always produce strong and divergent reactions amongst people.
And it’s not hard to see why is it? Trying to work out what medical science can and should – or perhaps can and shouldn’t do – in the midst of awful human suffering is rarely an easy task. Why is that? Well, because underlying those discussions is the gut-wrenching pain of a couple who are unable to conceive, the heart-breaking sorrow of an unborn child diagnosed with a severe disability, the sheer agony of watching a loved one suffer, the utter frustration and fear of not being able to do anything to stop their pain.
When we talk about bioethical dilemmas, what we are really talking about is people’s lives.
And that’s why I am so thankful for John Wyatt’s book Matters of Life & Death: Human dilemmas in the light of the Christian faith.
Matters of Life & Death seeks to present a Christian perspective on a number of central ethical dilemmas which have been raised by modern medical practice. Thankfully, the author is in a unique position to accomplish this very daunting task. As John Stott writes in the foreword – Wyatt is a trained and experienced medical practitioner with extensive knowledge of medicine, biology, genetics and reproductive technology. He is a respected academic and professor of ethics. He is a mature Christian man whose faith informs his thinking. And finally, he is a vulnerable human being who weeps with those who weep.
In other words, what Wyatt offers is a ‘view from the coalface’. His book reflects his own personal struggle to understand what is going on in the world of modern medicine and the attempt to develop an authentic Christian response. (Pg 16)
For me, that is the keyword that sums up Matters of Life & Death – authentic. You see the thing that I appreciate most about this book (and there really is a lot to appreciate!) is the fact that from the outset Wyatt seeks to remind us that we must never, ever take bioethical discussion into the realm of the hypothetical. He writes –
As Christians we must never reduce medical ethics to cold theology and unfeeling moral principles. We must never forget the human pain that lies behind every ethical dilemma […] Before everything else our first duty is to empathize, to enter into the experience of human pain, despair and perplexity. We must wrestle with these ethical dilemmas not with anger, hatred or judgement in our voices, but with tears in our eyes. For empathy is the way of Christ. (Pg 24)
Wyatt’s book is not about problems… it’s about people.
As we spend the next month thinking about Matters of Life & Death, there may be times when we are gripped by deep personal sadness or sorrow, when we might relive awful dilemmas which we have had to face, agonising decisions which we have had to make. There might be moments when we feel overwhelmed by painful and fearful memories, when we might find it all too easy to forget that there is no longer any condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.
My prayer is that in those moments Wyatt’s words will echo in our hearts and minds. Because he is right, isn’t he? In order to save mankind, Christ entered into our world as a man. Empathy is indeed his way, and so it must be the way of those who follow him.
About this month's contributor:
I became a follower of Jesus sometime in late high school and now, a 'few' years later I am the Women's Ministry Trainer & Coordinator at St Matthias, Centennial Park. All that means is that I get to spend my days with the women of St Matthias, reading God's Word with them, joining them in prayer and training and equipping them in their service of God and his people. What a privilege!
The other important things to know about me are: 1) I don't drink coffee (Coke Zero is my poison of choice!) 2) I persevered with LOST until the second last season and then gave up in despair 3) I am an unashamed Snuggie owner and 4) I have a very unhealthy appreciation (although, my friends call it an unnatural obsession) for the musical Les Misérables.
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