C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley.Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2014. 224 pp. $24.99. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christianbook.com
At the beginning of his Christian Personal Ethics, Carl Henry quips, “The question of right and wrong elbows itself into prominence wherever human beings exist.” (p. 21). Issues of morality intersect at every road of human life, including questions regarding medicine and the body. In Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families, C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley provide a road map for the the numerous intersections between morality and medicine, particularly from a Christian perspective. Theirs is a helpful and stimulating introduction to the main bioethical issues facing humanity, relating how Christians can enter the conversation from a biblical point of view. Every Christian reader will benefit from this text as it touches on issues every Christian must eventually face including death and dying, aging, infertility, abortion and more. The conversational tone will engage a multiplicity of readers, and the reliance upon recent research and case studies will make this book relevant for years to come.
The book takes a dialogical approach, with the authors engaging one another by asking questions and probing deeper into issues via dialogue. Many readers will appreciate this, though some may not. The authors confirm their commitments to Christian orthodoxy as a platform for ethical dialogue (p. 4–5). Chapters 1 and 2 (Part 1) establish a Christian framework for bioethical discussion. Here the authors lament the decline of the Hippocratic oath as a foundation for modern medical practice. From this point, the authors provide three additional parts helpfully titled Taking Life (Part 2), Making Life (Part 3), and Remaking/Faking Life (Part 4). Each chapter begins with a relevant case study and questions for reflection before diving into the heart of the discussion. This allows readers to reflect on their own response to a given situation before hearing what the authors wish to say. This format also lends itself to small group discussion. Throughout the text, the authors reflect on recent medical research and provide a primer on the current consensus regarding the bioethical issues in question. Also helpful are basic biological explanations for certain procedures including IVF (in vitro fertilization) and the process of cloning. On this note, the graphs and illustrations could have used a professional touch, as they seem to come straight from a Power Point presentation. This is an aesthetic comment, however, and has nothing to do with the content.
The majority of the technical medical discussion comes from D. Joy Riley, while C. Ben Mitchell provides helpful Christian categories for thinking on these issues. Both are trained in the field of medical ethics, training which is evident throughout the text. That being said, both interact well across the entire spectrum of bioethical issues represented here from a Christian perspective. Biblical interaction is more generous in some chapters than others, and some may wish to see more. These authors provide readers with a launching pad to reflect on bioethical issues from a Christian perspective. Missing is a deeper reflection on Scripture, history and theology. With this in mind, the end of each chapter affords readers with a handful of texts and articles for those wanting deeper analysis. Mitchell and Riley champion the imago dei and a biblical anthropology. This position undergirds their commitment to humanity not simply for humanity’s sake, but as a unique creation from a unique Creator. The range of responses to bioethical issues demonstrates that theological considerations are rare among the crowd. Mitchell and Riley help readers to find a Christian voice amidst the modern cacophony of bioethics. They close by saying, “The cost of commodifying our humanity is losing our humanity.” (p. 187). If nothing else, this conclusion makes Christian Bioethics a worthy purchase for any Christian reader.
Thanks to B&H Publishers for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!