The Main Thesis of the Book
Starting with the introduction, in the first few sentences of the book it says that “the greatest challenge to the life and witness of the church in our age is widespread moral confusion and denial of moral authority” (Mitchell, location 51) And also, “that’s the burden of this book: to help readers discover how biblical theology, Christian ethics, and contemporary science and medicine intersect in the real world where people are making life-changing decisions” (Mitchell, location 107). As well as, “the issues in bioethics [are categorized] under the rubric of ‘taking life,’ ‘making life,’ and ‘remaking life.’ The order of these categories represents the order in which the ethical issues have arisen historically” (Mitchell, location 125).
Looking at these passages and also a little bit of the history of hospitals, the Red Cross and medical care explained in Chapter 1, the authors seem to be telling us that, while hospitals, the Red Cross and medical care, especially in America, were once deeply rooted in and had their origins to Judeo-Christian compassion, that today, this is no longer the case (Mitchell, location 286). In fact, that medical care, especially in America, has so much distanced itself from its original intent, that it’s even difficult for believing physicians today to make ethical and moral decisions, rooted in the Word of God.
Style of the book
“Using a dialogue format, Mitchell, an ordained minister and university professor, and Riley, an experienced physician, talk openly and thoughtfully about how they as Christians think about a range of thorny ethical issues arising in their field of bioethics. Combining their backgrounds in theology, ethics, and medicine, Mitchell and Riley engage real-life moral questions in a manner easily understood by laypersons and yet useful to clinicians, pastors, and students (Mitchell, location 70).”
The style of the dialogue here gives the book almost an interview/discussion panel feel and I’ve often found myself imagining C. Ben Mitchell (CBM) and D. Joy Riley (DJR) sitting across from each other at an angle at an informal setting or similar to a TED talk, going over the different points and giving the reader a way to learn from their dialogue. I like this style very much because it doesn’t feel like a dry textbook with lots of facts to memorize, but rather a fluid flow of information that engages and makes me think about what was said.
One of the things I found quite interesting in this book was how the authors constantly bring up “problems” with medical care in reference to “American culture.” An example of what I mean by that can be found in regards to aging/anti-aging, discussed in Chapter 8: Aging and Life-Extension Technologies.
“Increasingly, Western culture – especially American culture – has come to loathe every facet of aging. Mushrooming interest in cosmetic surgery, obsessive consumption of antioxidants, and the technological quest for immortality are a phenomena of a relatively affluent and increasingly ageist society. We must resist both ageism and fatalism. Aging itself is not a disease to be conquered. Likewise, we do not have to accept stoically every limitation associated with aging (Mitchell, location 3503).”
While I do agree with this idea that Western culture has come to loathe every facet of aging, I don’t necessarily agree with the “especially American culture” portion. Having lived in Europe for over 20 years, I’ve found this statement to be true and just as bad (or worse!) in other Western cultures. What’s different about American culture is that it’s just more promoted by celebrities, Hollywood and the media. But even with the entertainment industry, the kind of person that is generally depicted in movies that is getting some kind of anti-aging treatment is some rich person from France or somewhere in Europe, not America.
Ironically, a lot of the technological advances in medicine also come from outside the US because the restrictions on what’s allowed and what’s not are different. There have also been many breakthroughs, especially in cancer research, that are banned in the US.
In terms of aging, as believers, we need to remember that this body is only temporary. Every single person that once lived, is alive now and will live one day in a body, already existed with God as a spirit and will continue to live as a spirit when their body passes away. Thinking of passages like Genesis 6, God limits our time here on the earth to 120 years. I heard a preacher once ask, what’s the drawback of human life? It has a 100% mortality rate. Instead of worrying so much about our bodies getting old and eventually dying, we should be concerned about what God put us on this earth to do and to do it. While maintaining good health is important, worrying about wrinkles and sagging body parts is just a distraction from what’s really important. As eternal beings, we need to be concerned about where and how we and the people we care about will be spending eternity when our bodies are gone. The book does a great job at pointing to this as well, which I was happy to see.
Ironically, it also mentions the “Russian 2045 Movement” at the beginning of Chapter 8:
“What do you get when you cross James Cameron’s idea, Robert White’s work with chimps, and the deep pockets of Russian Dmitry Itskov? Something called the Russian 2045 Movement, which is a robot that closely resembles a human from far away and close-up and contains a human brain and personality. This is not a joke. According to the company’s website, the project consists of four stages: Stage 1—called Avatar—is aimed at creating a robotic copy of the human body, controlled through a brain-computer interface. This stage is to be completed by 2020. Stage 2—Body B—to create an Avatar in which a human brain is transplanted at the end of one’s life. This stage is to be completed by 2025. Stage 3—Re-brain—to create an Avatar with an artificial brain, in which a human personality or consciousness is transferred at the end of one’s life. This stage is to start in 2030 and to be completed by 2035. Stage 4—Hologram-like body—A hologram-like avatar. To be started in 2040 and completed by 2045 (Mitchell, location 3282).”
Clearly, the Russian 2045 Movement is neither American nor purely Western. And this total obsession with youth and staying young, I would venture to say that this is a human “thing,” not a cultural one. I think this statement from CBM supports my venture: “Aging is not a disease to be cured but a reality of the human condition to be celebrated (Mitchell, location 3444).”
All in All
As the authors claimed at the beginning of the book, I do think that they “help readers discover how biblical theology, Christian ethics, and contemporary science and medicine intersect in the real world where people are making life-changing decisions (Mitchell, location 107).” Their playful discussion style explanations help a lot in absorbing the material and offer guidance and references to real-life situations that a reader can always go back to and lean on.
Mitchell, C. Ben and Riley, D. Joy (2014). Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families (B&H Studies in Christian Ethics). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.