Brief Review of "A Dialogue on Ethical Issues of Life and Death."
This book is written by Rocco J. Gennaro, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. It attempts to approach the applied ethical problems of euthanasia, abortion, animal rights and capital punishment from the varied viewpoints of four fictional characters (Larry, Maria, Mark, and Carol). This approach is a refreshing and accessible method for beginning readers of applied ethics to acquire a “bird’s eye view” of what the key issues actually are.
The first chapter offers an introduction to the common ethical theories relevant to ethics. It discusses ethical egoism, utilitarianism (with the distinction between act and rule-utilitarianism), the Kantian categorical imperative, God’s command theory, and ethical relativism.
The author seems to hold a moderate view on the various ethical issues, but is nevertheless vocal against the religious conservative. Gennaro tries to be fair when evaluating the various positions. His attempt at fairness, however, does not translate to an equal treatment of all views. Although it is understandable that Gennaro has his preferred viewpoint, the reader will appreciate the fact that he does not actively promote a particular position. It would be nice to see a more balanced treatment of the minority positions, no matter how politically unsavory they seem to be.
The ethical issue of abortion gets the most detailed treatment in this book when compared to the other issues. Gennaro is right in stating that the concept of person in ethics is the crux of the problem. This book presents the person as one who has consciousness, reasoning ability, self-motivated or voluntary behavior, the ability to communicate, and self-consciousness. But such a concept of person would easily be repudiated with reductio ad absurdum. For example, some patients with severe dementia, mental retardation, or in a coma would not qualify as “person.” Hence, they do not have the right to life, and the killing of such patients would not tantamount to murder. Surely the law and conscience (and many bioethicists) would not agree with such a conclusion. Gennaro makes the distinction between genetic humans and persons, as well as potential and actual persons. He also briefly addresses the problem of rape and incest, and discusses abortion within the guiding principles of autonomy and beneficence.
From the Christian perspective, it is clear from Scripture that life begins at conception with the zygote (also known as conceptionalism; cf. Psalm 139:13-16, Jer. 1:5). From God’s perspective, the zygote is a person with both body - albeit not fully developed - and soul. From such theological reasoning alone, the Christian reader ought to understand that the right to life begins with conception. Of course, the obvious theological or pastoral dilemma lies in the clinical decision to abort the conceptus in order to save the mother’s life. Even so, as John Frame has rightly commented, “Is it in fact justifiable to kill one human being to save the life of another? This question is one which I cannot now resolve. At any rate, our decision even in such a case must be based on the assumption that the child is indeed a human being.” And I, too, will not pretend to have any answers to that clinical dilemma at this moment in time.
In any case, it would be troubling at best to know that a particular Christian doctor has approved of, or even performed, abortion. If abortion is rightly called murder in the eyes of God, then the Christian doctor or mother who has willfully aborted the child cannot escape the judgment of Scripture.
I would advise my Christian friends to get hold of this book, and to familiarize themselves with the common philosophical and secular arguments for and against abortion. Finally, I would like to urge all my Christian colleagues and friends to support relevant bioethical, political and legal decisions that is consistent with their faith in the Bible as the Word of God.
PS: This book is available in the libraries belonging to National Library Board of Singapore.
A Presentation on Abortion at the Various Trimesters of Pregnancy
by Sword and Spirit