Religion and Medical Ethics

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: devinter
  • Created on: 27-03-16 17:47

The Sanctity of Life

All these issues are relevant to a concept called the ‘Sanctity of Life’.

This is the idea that human life is special – because human beings are made in the image of God, or because human beings were given a soul as a special gift from God. Because of this ‘special’ nature human life is sacred and should be treated accordingly – valued and respected. 

1 of 20

Abortion and the Law in the UK

Abortion and the Law in the UK

Contrary to popular belief abortion is technically illegal in the UK, unless it falls within the provisions.

These are:That an abortion shall be legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy if two independent doctors agree that:

  • Continuing the pregnancy and giving birth poses a greater risk to the health of the mother than a termination
  • Continuing the pregnancy offers a greater risk to the health of any existing children than a termination
  • Abortion is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the mother’s physical or mental health
  • There is a substantial risk that the child would suffer from serious physical or mental abnormalities.
2 of 20

Reactions to the UK law

Some people feel this Act goes too far and others that it doesn’t go far enough

In practice the risk of giving birth will always be greater than the risk of a termination, critics of the act say that it effectively allows ‘abortion on demand’ and encourages carelessness and casual sex

The father of the foetus has no legal right to object to the woman’s decision, or even to be consulted on it! This was tested again in the UK courts in 2002 and was upheld.

 Groups and individuals in support of a woman’s right to choose are known as ‘Pro-Choice’ Groups and individuals in support of the abolition of abortion on the grounds of the foetal right to life are known as ‘Pro-Life’

3 of 20

Abortion and Catholics

Abortion is when a pregnant woman deliberately seeks to end her pregnancy before it comes to term; this results in the death of the foetus

The Catholic Church takes the hardest line approach to abortion:

  • God decides whether or not a child should be born
  • A child is alive and ensouled from the moment of conception and to abort it is to murder it
  • All human life is sacred
  • As a result of these beliefs abortion is considered absolutely wrong by Catholics – even when it is the result of a **** or the mother is very young
  • Abortion may be permitted if it is absolutely necessary to save the life of the mother (doctorine of double effect)
4 of 20

Abortion and Other Christians

Other Christian traditions do not have the same strict teaching as the Catholic Church:

  • They probably agree that human life is sacred to God but may disagree that a foetus is human from the moment of conception
  • They may feel abortion treats life too cheaply or interferes with God’s plans
  • They may feel it is up to the individual and dependent on the circumstances.

For example abortion may be acceptable if:

  • There is a risk of serious disability
  • The mother is very young and/or the pregnancy was an accident
  • The pregnancy is a result of ****
  • A baby would put too great a strain on the existing family
  • Most Christians will try to put into practice the idea of agape and will look for the kindest and most loving solution
5 of 20

Biblical verses for Abortion

„Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.‟ Jeremiah 1:5

„So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.‟ Matthew 7:12

„So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.‟ Genesis 1:27

„The earth is the Lord‟s and all that is in it. The world and those who live in it.‟ Psalm 24:1

„The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.‟ Job 1:21

6 of 20

Fertility Treatment

Fertility treatment means medical procedures to assist conception Forms of fertility treatment include:

  • IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation): This is where sperm and eggs are mixed together in a laboratory and the resulting embryo(s) implanted into the womb
  • Artificial Insemination: The insertion of donated sperm into the uterus
  • Egg Donation: The extraction of eggs from a donor that can then be used as part of the IVF process for another woman

Fertility Treatments are allowed in the UK subject to the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act:

  • Frozen eggs, sperm or embryos cannot be used without the consent of both parties
  • Women may not be paid for the donation of eggs
  • Donors should remain anonymous unless the donation has been arranged between friends
  • Frozen embryos must be destroyed within a given time frame if they are not used
  • Couples seeking fertility treatment on the NHS must fit strict requirements of suitability although private treatment is available to anyone who can afford it 
7 of 20


Surrogacy is at present not adequately covered by the law:

  • A mother is legally the woman who gives birth to the child regardless of her biological/genetic relationship to it (modern science means a woman can carry a baby with no genetic relationship to her)
  • Surrogacy contracts may be drawn up but will not be enforced by the courts
  • Commercial surrogacy is illegal – the only money that may change hands is for legitimate expenses incurred by the surrogate 
8 of 20

Christians and Fertility Treatment

The Bible says that childlessness is God’s decision; however the writers were unaware of the possibility of fertility treatment and Once again this is an area that Christians disagree on

Catholics take the view that:

  • God has a plan for everyone; if children are part of His plan for you then you will have them
  • Artificially creating children is interfering with God’s role of creating life
  • The Bible prohibits the spilling of seed (sperm) on the ground; this is sometimes interpreted as being against sperm donation
  • Since ‘spare’ embryos are created and then either frozen or destroyed this is endorsing murder
  • Using donated eggs or sperm can be seen as introducing a third person into a relationship  

Protestant Christians may share some or all of these views or they may believe:

  • Fertility treatment can cure great unhappiness and is therefore the most loving way to behave
  • Jesus was a healer and treating infertility is a form of healing; therefore God and Jesus would approve and is treating others as you would wish to be treated
9 of 20

Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering means any procedure involving the genetic manipulation of an unborn child. This includes cloning and the so-called ‘designer baby’, both of which remain illegal in this country

However, genetic research has been used successfully to create babies whose genetic material can be used to treat genetic illnesses in their siblings. This is a form of stem cell treatment. Experimentation on stored embryos is forbidden by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act; the same is true of stored eggs and sperm.

This prohibition includes cloning, stem cell research (without specific permission) and mixing of human and animal DNA.

10 of 20

Christians and Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is an extremely modern issue and many people, including Christians, are undecided about it

Working with human embryos is potentially problematic for Christians because of the Sanctity of Life; a human embryo is still a human being, in the image of God and therefore sacred

Another potential problem is the idea that only God has the right to give and take life, and God has a plan for all individuals

Some people may use phrases like ‘playing God’ to condemn work on genetics; this means that people who are creating or changing life are doing things and interfering with things when they have no right to

On the other hand, Christians may focus on the healing potential of such study and the removal of suffering from so many lives if it is successful

Some Christians have argued that since the Earth was left in our care, and since the things that go wrong in the world were caused by the Fall of Adam and Eve  we have a duty to put things right if we can, scientific research is a way to do that. 

11 of 20

Biblical teachings on fertility treatment and gene

„Hannah had no children… because the Lord had closed her womb.‟ 1 Samuel 1:2, 6

„God blessed them and said to them be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.‟ Genesis 1:28

„Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.‟ Psalm 139:16

„The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.‟ Genesis 2:7

„Do you not know your body is a temple to the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.‟ 1 Corinthians 6:19

12 of 20


Euthanasia is sometimes known as assisted suicide; it literally means ‘good death’ and is used to refer to people who are being helped to die by others. There are several ways in which euthanasia can be described:

  • Passive: Where a treatment is withdrawn and/or nature is allowed to take its course so that the patient dies of their condition
  • Active: Where some action has to be taken to cause death (e.g. an overdose) as the patient’s condition is not sufficient in itself to kill them, or where they would be ill and in pain for a long time first
  • Voluntary: Where the patient is able to make their views known and ask for help to die
  • Involuntary: Where the patient cannot communicate their views and wishes

Passive euthanasia is legal; withdrawal of treatment is permitted with consent of the patient or their family

Active euthanasia is still illegal despite a number of recent high-profile cases and this seems unlikely to change  All patients seeking euthanasia need to pursue their case through the courts

13 of 20


Suicide is the taking of your own life, without help from anyone else

Contrary to popular belief suicide has been legal in Britain since the 1960s

Suicides may now be buried in consecrated ground and failed suicides are not subject to prosecution

However, if the attempted suicide has resulted in a waste of police of time and resources then a criminal prosecution may result.

For example if someone stood on the roof of a building for five hours threatening to jump off it they would be committing the offence of wasting police time, although a prosecution is unlikely

14 of 20

Christianity and Suicide

Christianity and Suicide

Human life is sacred and the human body is a ‘temple to the Holy Spirit’; the same rules that apply to killing other people could also be applied to the way in which people treat themselves  

Life is a gift from God and God has plans for how everyone’s life will go; ending it prematurely is a sign of a lack of faith in God

 Suicide is universally agreed to be a sin, but there is disagreement over whether it is a sin God will regard with compassion or not

The Bible does not actually specify the final destination of suicides

15 of 20

Christianity and Euthanasia

Active euthanasia is generally regarded as wrong by most Christians because:

  • Killing is wrong regardless of motive
  • Taking life is the prerogative of God and euthanasia interferes with that prerogative
  • There is a purpose to everything that happens and people live until their death as part of God’s purpose

Passive euthanasia is much more likely to be viewed as acceptable by Christians because:

  • There is no obligation to try to keep people alive in all circumstances
  • If God wishes that person to live then God can still act to keep them alive; it also leaves their death as matter of God’s choice
  • Prolonging a life of suffering is not as loving and compassionate an act as allowing someone to die with dignity
16 of 20

The Doctrine of Double Effect

The Doctrine of Double Effect

This is a Catholic teaching but it may be used by other Christians and even members of other faiths

It can be used in cases of euthanasia or abortion or other cases where a wrong action may result in a ‘greater good’

 The doctrine is that as long as the intention of an action (such as giving a dosage of medication) is good then a bad result, which was not the primary intention, is acceptable

Examples of Double Effect in action:

  • If the intention is to relieve intolerable pain, and as a side effect of the large dosage given to achieve that, the patient dies sooner than would otherwise have been the case
  • If a pregnant woman will die without a treatment that will result in the termination of her pregnancy
17 of 20

Animal Experimentation

 Animals are used in scientific research in a variety of ways, including:

  • Testing drugs and other medical treatments
  • Studying behaviours
  • Studying responses to particular kinds of injury or illness
  • Genetic research

Pigs are now beginning to be bred with organs that can be transplanted into human beings; this is because of a shortage of human organs for donation

These uses for animals are controversial because:

  • They may cause pain and/or mental distress to the animals
  • They prevent animals living their natural lives in a natural way
  • Animals may be artificially given diseases or injuries in order for scientists to study them
  • Treatments that work on animals may not work on humans and vice versa 
18 of 20

Christianity and Animal Testing

Humans are God’s most important creation, being made in his image and the rest of creation was given to the human race to rule and control. Animals do not have souls and are therefore not capable of a special relationship with God in the way that humans are

However, most Christians would agree that animals still deserve respect and have value since they are part of God’s creation and treating animals with deliberate cruelty is a misuse of the power God gave to humanity.Despite this, most Christian Churches recognise that animal research is sometimes necessary Both the Catholic Church and the Church of England agree that animal experiments can be tolerated, provided:

  • They are reasonable
  • This type of testing is required by law
  • The intention is to improve the quality of human health and to save lives or to improve medical and veterinary understanding
  • The animals receive careful and sympathetic treatment both during their lives and in the manner of their dying.

The Catholic Church in particular emphasises that with so much human suffering in the world, exaggerated care and attention to animals is wrong.The majority Christian view is that the use of animals is acceptable provided unnecessary suffering is avoided

19 of 20

Biblical teachings for Animal testing

"A good man takes care of his animals, but wicked men are cruel to theirs.‟ Proverbs 12:10

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Genesis 1:28

God's concern for animals is shown in other places:

And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?

Jonah 4:11

20 of 20




suicide is spelt wrong in the title

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Christianity resources »