Religion and Medical Ethics

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Key Terms

Abortion: When a pregancy ends before birth, either by accident or on purpose.

Fertility treatment: (in vitro literally meaning in glass) When an egg is fertilised outside the body.

Suicide: When someone takes their own life.

Animal Testing: To try out drugs on animals to see if they work.

Cloning: To make an exact genetic copy of an existing thing.

Sanctity of life: Means that life comes from God and is sacred and holy. 

Medical ethics is about the issues of right and wrong which arise in the context of health care. 

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Fertility Treatment

IVF: Eggs are collected and the fertilised by sperm under lab conditions. The embryo is then              placed back in the uterus.

Artificial insemination: Sperm is taken from the woman's partner or a donor and placed into the                                    womb.

Surrogacy - A woman carries another couple's baby. Often used by homosexual couples. 

Fertility treatment is used when someone is unable to conceive naturally.

Issues:                                                      Advantages:

  • Cost - very expensive privately             > Eliminate genetic diseases
  • Genetic engineering                              > Couples unable to conceive naturally can have   
  • Low success rate                                    children
  • Against God's plan for life                     > Homosexual couples can conceive
  • Multiple births

'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you' 'God closed Hannah's womb'

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Christian attitudes towards fertility treatment


God has a specific plan for us, he chooses to create us. Using fertility treatments to conceive a child that would not normally be conceived is seen as going against God's plan. 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.' God is supposed to be the only one who can decided when a couple has a child - 'God closed Hannah's womb' - if God chooses for the couple not to have a child they should not be able to.


However the bible also teaches 'go forth and multiply' meaning any way of creating life is obeying this rule. Fertility treatment also follows Jesus' example as a healer and heals peoples' infertility. AGAPE: The most loving action is to offer medical help and create families through the God given gift of healing.

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Genetic Engineering and Cloning

  • Stem cell research: creating embryos to take out stem cells and then destroying the embryos.
  • Donor child: Creating a child with the same blood type as an existing child so it can be used as a donor if the other child becomes ill
  • Designer babies: choosing features of your child, e.g. eye and hair colour
  • GM: Genetically modified food (crops)

Christian views on cloning:

Christians have different views on cloning. Some Christians like Roman Catholics believe that cloning is wrong because it degrades the sancitity and uniqueness of life. They also believe that stem cell research is murder and morally wrong. 

Other Christians such as methodists and C of E believe that stem cell research is important as long as the embryo is destroyed before it is fourteen days old. They believe this because stem cells can heal people and Jesus was a healer. 

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Pro-choice: Abortion is the woman's right to chose. 

Pro-life: Abortion is murder and wrong.

Christian views:

Roman Catholics believe that abortion is never acceptable because it is equivilent to murder. The bible says 'thou shall not murder' - God created the child and so killing it is murder. 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.'

Most other Christian denominations would agree that abortion should be avoided if possible but will take into account different circumstances (age of mother, ****) and try to decide what the most loving course of action would be. 

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Suicide is when someone takes their own life. This can be done in extreme situations - if the person is mentally unstable or if they are in a situation (perhaps involving debt or family) that they can not see a way out of. 

Suicide is no longer illegal. 

Christian views:

The more traditional, Catholic view of suicide was very harsh, they believed that if someone commited suicide they went against the sanctity of life and God's plan for them - condemning themselves to hell. They had commited the gravest sin that they could not atone for (as they were dead) and so would go to hell. Due to the fact they could not repent of their sins they could not be buried on consecrated ground. 

Modern Christians are more sympathetic and believe that they should apply agape and try to understand any mental issues, offer support when needed. Samartians is a helpline that does this. They do not believe it is black and white regarding hell. 

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Euthanasia is taken from the two greek words, 'eu' meaning good and 'thanatos' meaning death. It is when someone who is terminally ill is helped to die. 

  • The term Euthanasia refers to when someone is helped to die faster than is natural
  • Active Euthanasia is a person is helped to die by an injection of strong drugs
  • Passive Euthanasia is nothing is deliberately done to cause death, but nothing is done to prolong life 
  • Involuntary Euthanasia is when someone does not ask or is incapable of asking for it - e.g. someone in a coma
  • Voluntary Euthanasia is when someone actively seeks it.

Christian views: Most Christians believe that Euthanasia is wrong and nobody has a right to bring about their own death - it should be planned by God. God can help anyone through difficult times. They believe that life is sacred and so should not be ended by humans. However many Christians believe that passive Euthanasia is acceptable, such as turning off a life support machine, as the person's natural life has already ended. 

Double effect: If the intention is to save a life, such as pain relief, it is also acceptable if it shortens the life. The intention must not be death. Applies to abortion, if the intention is to save the Mother's life it is acceptable if the child dies as an accidental, unpreventable result. 

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Animal Research

Cosmetic testing: When products like food additives and cleaning items are tested on animals Medical testing: When drugs intended for humans are first tested on animals.

Christians believe that humans are God's most important creation and that animals were made for humanity to protect and care for. Animals are not believed to have a soul or capable of having a special relationship with God. This is why most Christian's are happy to eat meat and to have pets. Treating animals with crueltly is a misuse of the special responsibilities from God. Most Christians, including Roman Catholics, agree that the use of animals for medical research is sometimes necessary, especially is it prevents the lose of human life. The Roman Catholic Church suggests that animals should not be given exaggerated attention when human beings are suffering. Overall, the view on animal cloning is that it is acceptable and useful although people should take care not to be unnecessarily cruel. 

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