Book Review — Bio-Engagement: Making a Christian Difference through Bioethics Today

March-April 2001

REVIEWED BY REV. PATRICK T. McCORMICK, ST

Bio-Engagement: Making a Christian Difference through Bioethics Today
By Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Scott E. Daniels, and Barbara J. White, eds.
William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI
2000, 265 pp., $22.00 (paperback)

This thoughtful, articulate, practical, and wide-ranging anthology brings a critical, reflective, and conservative Christian voice to bioethics, one clearly grounded in a distinctively biblical world view and obviously committed to making itself heard. This book is written more or less as a manual for evangelical Christians interested in engaging and challenging the underlying assumptions and applied policies of a post-Christian society, particularly as these apply to certain specific questions in bioethics.

In a series of essays from a host of interdisciplinary but highly compatible voices, these conservative Christian authors call upon Christian professionals, educators, pastors, and citizens to wake from their cultural slumber and take a decidedly prophetic stance against what the editors perceive as a largely indifferent and unfriendly academic, legal, and cultural milieu.

The result is something of a handbook on evangelical Christian bioethics, mixing equal parts theory, homiletic encouragement, and practical advice. In several essays, such as Brian Mahwhinney's "Christian Leadership and Public Policy," Nigel M. de S. Cameron's "The New Medicine and the Education of the Christian Mind," and Francis Beckwith's "Is Statecraft Soulcraft? Faith, Politics and Legal Neutrality," the authors lay out what they see as the fundamental polarities separating the (conservative) Christian and post-Christian world views and offer critical arguments against the unchallenged supremacy of secular liberalism. Other pieces, such as John F. Kilner's "A Biblical Mandate for Cultural Engagement" and Barbara White's "A Call to Moral Leadership," seek to motivate Christian physicians, teachers, and voters to dust off their distinctively religious consciences and bring these biblically informed, moral perspectives and arguments into the fray of academic, cultural, and democratic debates.

In articles such as Dónal P. O'Mathuna's "The Vertical Context," Teri N. Goudie's "The Media and its Opportunities," and Gregory Rutecki's "Paradigm Lost? New Techniques for Engagement in Medical Education," readers are offered specific advice about grounding their moral vision in a rich prayer life, improving their skills as media communicators, and upgrading their evangelical outreach to a postmodern audience. My own personal favorite was David A. Sherwood's "Common Ground and Conflict: The Study of Professional Ethics," which provides interested educators with an intriguing (and irenical) model for illustrating the overlapping elements and tensions between a Christian world view and generally accepted professional norms.

Although supportive of many of the arguments and insights in this book, Catholic and more moderate or liberal Christian readers will notice some differences between their own take on Christian bioethics and that of these authors. To begin with, the focus of the present collection is almost exclusively on questions related to abortion, euthanasia, and sex education. Even in the section titled "Health Care," there is little, if any, mention of a right to basic health care or a need to reform our society's medical delivery system to make it more accessible to the poor. Indeed, the text seems decidedly uninterested in how issues of class, gender, and race affect health care in America, or what duties we have to provide for those who fall through our admittedly ragged social safety net. Given the book's rather thorough critique of our secular society's underlying cultural beliefs, and in particular of America's nearly idolatrous worship of personal autonomy and individualism, this seems like a striking oversight. Second, in their debate of postmodernity, the authors rely on a very particular biblical world view, one that seems distinctly untouched by Christian feminism and quite apodictic about the immorality of homosexuality. Although one might not get the impression from this collection, at least some of the major ethical debates in contemporary bioethics are going on between and among different Christian perspectives and voices. And, not all of those Christians who disagree with a conservative agenda have been co-opted by a post-Christian culture or academy.

Finally, in spite of our opposition to numerous unjust practices and structures in contemporary society and medicine, modern Catholic readers would be likely to see more commonality and bridge-building opportunities in the bioethics crisis and might be interested in discovering what the church and Christianity have to learn from — and not just teach — the world around us.

Rev. Patrick T. McCormick, STD
Associate Professor, Christian Ethics
Gonzaga University
Spokane, WA

 

Copyright © 2001 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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