B603: Religion and Medical Ethics

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Key Words

Abortion - the deliberate termination of a foetus.

Fertility treatment - Medical treatment for people who want to have babies but are unable to conceive naturally.

IVF - In vitro fertilisation. A form of fertility treatment where egg cells are fertilised by sperm outside the womb.

Cloning - Making an identical genetic copy of something.

Animal testing - Using animals as the participants of scientific experiements.

Suicide - The act of killing yourself intentionally.

Euthanasia - Comes from the Greek words eu (good) and thanatos (death). Means good/easy death. The act of killing someone painlessly.

Dignity - The quality of being worthy of respect.

AI - Impregnating a female with male ***** using methods other than sexual intercourse. A type of fertility treatment.

Sanctity of life - The belief that all life is sacred, holy and belongs to God.

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RC views on abortion

  • Roman Catholics disagree with abortion because, they believe that all life begins at the moment of conception, therefore, abortion is murder (which goes against the Sanctity of life and the sixth commandment "do not murder").
  • Also, Catholics believe that all children are a gift from God.

I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.

Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995

  • However, Catholics believe that if the mother's life is at risk and she needs medical treatment to save her life, but as a result of the treatment the foetus will be lost, it is acceptable. This is known as the "Doctrine of double effect". An example of this is an ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo implants itself in the fallopian tube)
  • The "Doctrine of double effect" is acceptable because you are not intentionally ending the life of the unborn child, it's just a negative side affect to the treatment in order to save the mother's life.

72% of Catholics in Australia say decisions about abortion should be left to individual women and their doctors. (Survey for Family Planning Australia and Children by Choice, Melbourne, Aug. 1996.)

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Other Christians' views on abortion

  • Church of England oppose abortion, but they recognise there are some situations where abortion is morally acceptable. Also, it they recognise that it is sometimes necessary in order to save the mother's life.

The Church of England combines strong opposition to abortion with a recognition that there can be - strictly limited - conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative.

General Synod

That in situations where the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother a termination of pregnancy may be justified and that there must be adequate and safe provision in our society for such situations.

Church of England General Synod, 1983

  • Methodist Church believe abortion is evil, but sometimes it's the lesser of two evils.
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Key Christian teachings about abortion

  • "do not murder" (Exodus 20)
  • "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jeremiah 1:5)
  • "God made man in his own image" (Genesis 1:27)
  • The Sanctity of Life: All life is holy and belongs to God, therefore it's precious and it should not be destroyed.
  • 72% of Catholics in Australia say decisions about abortion should be left to individual women and their doctors. (Survey for Family Planning Australia and Children by Choice, Aug. 1996.)
  • "Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life ... from the moment of conception until death." (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
  • "I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral." (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995)
  • "Frequently man lives as if God did not exist, and even puts himself in God's place... He claims for himself the Creator's right to interfere in the mystery of human life. Rejecting divine law and moral principles, he openly attacks the family." (Pope John Paul II, 2002)
  • The Church says that human life begins when the woman's egg is fertilised by a male sperm.
  • "Man does not become human until he recieves the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7)
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RC views on fertility treatment

  • Most Catholics disagree with fertility treatment because children have not been created naturally, and God has intended for them not to have children. "Hannah had no children...God had closed her womb" (Psalms 139:13)
  • Also IVF involves spare embryos being destroyed and this is murder because they believe in ensoulment (the belief that the soul enters at conception). It goes against "do not murder".
  • AIH is wrong because it involves male masturbation which is a sin for Catholics.
  • AID is wrong because (see above) and also because it involves a third party, meaning that it's considered to be adultery (which is a sin, "do not commit adultery" Exodus 20).
  • Roman Catholic Church teaches that infertile Catholics can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children (Roman Catholic Catechism 2379).
  • However, some Catholics may say that fertility treatment is acceptable (as long as no third party is involved) because Jesus taught, "love your neighbour as you love yourself".
  • Also, in the Bible it says "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28)
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Other Christians' views on fertility treatment

Other Christians may accept because:

  • Jesus taught compassion (agape), "love your neighbour as you love yourself" (Matthew 22:39) and "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31).
  • AIH is acceptable because the egg and sperm are from the husband and wife.
  • The discarded embryos are not foetuses (could be argued about the doctrine of double effect.
  • God gave us the knowledge to create fertility treatments, therefore we should use our knowledge to help people who are unable to concieve naturally.
  • Jesus performed miracles and perhaps fertility treatments can be seen as a modern miracle.
  • Christians believe family is important.
  • Church of England and the Methodist Church support IVF.
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Key Christian teachings about fertility treatment

For:

  • "Love your neighbour as you love yourself"
  • "Do unto others what you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31)
  • "Man does not become human until he recieves the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7)

Against:

  • "Do not murder" (Exodus 20), because ensoulment happens at conception.
  • "Do not commit adultery" (Exodus 20), referring to AID.
  • "Hannah had no children...God had closed her womb" (1 Samuel 1:2-6)
  • "God made man in his own image" (Genesis 1:27)
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RC views on cloning

In the UK embryos are allowed to be created for stem cell research and this raises issues:

  • Catholics believe this is wrong because they believe ensoulment happens at the moment of conception, thus it's murder.
  • However, some Christians believe we should use our God-given knowledge to care for all people and this could involve using cloning.
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Christian views on euthanasia and suicide

  • Some Christians are against euthanasia, because of the Sanctity of Life, (the belief that all life is sacred and belongs to God).
  • Also, "your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
  • Futhermore, there is a "time to be born and a time to die" (Ecclesiastes 3:1) and some Christians believe only God has the right to give and take a life.
  • Also, all human beings are equally valuable, so someone in a persistent vegetative state, although seriously damaged, remain living human beings, and so their intrinsic value remains. So it would be wrong to treat their lives as worthless and to conclude that they "would be better off dead".
  • Some Christians are against suicide because they believe that only God has the right to take a life, and it's wrong to interfere with the process of dying.
  • Christians recognise that people who want to commit suicide need help, e.g. counselling. A Christian, Chad Varah set up the Samaritans to help support people who are considering suicide.
  • An alternative to euthanasia could be hospices, (hospices provide pallitive care to terminally ill people) - founded origninally by Dame Cicely Saunders.
  • However, other Christians believe that we should respect the other person's decision about the end of their life and we should accept their decisions to refuse burdensome and futile treatment.
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Christian views on animal testing in medical resea

This is where animals are used in medical tests, often to find cures for human diseases.

  • Some Christians belive humans are the pinnacle of God's creation and we have dominion over them. In Genesis God says "let them rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air...".
  • Other Christians believe humans are "stewards" and their role is to take care of animals because as humans we have a special responsibility to look after the Earth.
  • Charities such as CAFOD and Christian Aid are working towards putting this responsibility into action.
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