Introduction

The debates are everywhere. “60 Minutes” tells us euthanasia is common (although technically illegal) in Holland. Physicians argue whether placing a baboon’s heart in an infant girl is good medicine. Proabortionists fight to protect their current legal advantage, and the rest of us fight to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand.

In vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination, prenatal diagnosis and surgery, organ transplants, mechanical life-support systems, and many other advances have made the biblically ordained three score and ten years almost a certainty—even for many of the severely handicapped and ill. And yet, because of the ethical questions involved, it is sometimes difficult to identify these same technological advances as blessings or curses.

Today technology can maintain biological life for months and years even after brains have long since ceased to function. Do we keep the physical body going even after the person we once knew is no longer “there”? We find ourselves in a spiritual far country where signposts telling us what direction to take in the cases of severe suffering and disability are written in an unfamiliar language—if they exist at all.

The stakes are high. Christians hold individual life to be sacred, of inestimable worth before God. Yet Christian theology also teaches that death is not the ultimate enemy and that physical life is not the ultimate good. As science draws closer and closer to reducing life to a test-tube variable, the inevitable questions about who decides the questions of life and death, and the priorities placed upon those decisions, loom large.

Theologians, physicians, and pastors struggle to develop guidelines ...

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