August 24, 2017

Biblical Bioethics

Wally Morris

Forty one years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that states may not place “excessive” restrictions on abortion. For all practical purposes, this decision legalized abortion for just about any reason.

England made abortion legal in 1967 and China has used abortion as a population control for decades. Millions of babies, the most innocent and helpless of human life, have died for the convenience and profit of others.

But medical ethics involves more than the issue of abortion. Stem-cell research, euthanasia, organ donation and when to terminate treatment are some of the many areas where people struggle to find answers. Many people struggle for answers because they begin with wrong assumptions and principles. For example, if the question of when human life begins could be satisfactorily answered for everyone, then questions of when human life should legally be protected are easier to answer.

Two Biblical principles give insight and clarity to these issues. First, human life is unique, deserving dignity and respect because all humans are descendants of Adam. Genesis 1:26-27 teaches that man was created in the image of God. We may not know all the details of what that phrase “image of God” means, but one truth is clear: Only man has the image of God; animals do not.

And because all people are descended from Adam, then all people bear the image of God, even if that image is marred and deformed through sin, disease or accident.

Second, human life begins at conception. The Bible does not tell us everything, but the Bible does tell us enough. Psalm 137:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:5 are two texts that reveal the working of God in the unborn. The only position that is consistent with the Bible and with what we are learning about the life of a baby before birth is that human life begins at conception.

Otherwise, all we have left is ethical chaos and pragmatic, convenient demagoguery (which even a casual look at bioethics journals will show).

Does believing that human life begins at conception solve all the ethical problems? No. In fact, it will create a few problems. But it is the only position that fits the evidence, Biblical and scientific.

What is so revealing is that many people will never accept that human life begins at conception, no matter what evidence is presented. Many have a personal agenda of “me first” and no amount of Bible, logic or science will change their minds. What principles they have are based on convenience and comfort, not what is right or true.

A person’s attitudes about the weak, those with disabilities, the sick, the dying and the unborn are a picture window into his soul and what he really believes about God. Babies who are born with severe deformities and elderly patients with painful, terminal illnesses are situations that test and refine our thinking about God.

The Bible explicitly states (many times) that God is sovereign over life and death, health and sickness, the good and the bad (Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Isaiah 45:6-7). After a person rejects the sovereignty of God in these areas, ethical confusion dominates the thinking.

For example, what degree of abnormality justifies abortion, and who will decide? What is “quality of life” and what criteria will we use to decide? How does a person really know his heart? Does he wish to terminate life because of compassion for the one suffering or does he have other motives? How can we be sure what our motives are?

Although those who support abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research and euthanasia believe they are honoring human life by their actions, in reality they are dishonoring human life by sacrificing the most helpless and weak for the strong. One day, the strong will become the weak and will themselves be used for the benefit of those stronger.

Bioethics without a Biblical basis is essentially ethics without boundaries and a confusing and empty quest for answers. In today’s pluralistic America, those who believe the Bible have a duty and right to speak out in support of life and oppose a culture of death.


Wally Morris is the pastor of Charity Baptist Church, Huntington, IN, and blogs at A Moment of Charity.


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