Critique of Bioethics with Reference to Abortion, Suicide, Euthanasia
and Christian Response to the Right to Life
Rev. J.S. Santharaj
EMC, 59, Jeremiah Road, Vepery, Madras 600 007
Today "life" is at a greater risk and at the point of extinction than at any other time in history. Though on the one hand scientific development, advancement are there yet we see the stark reality that humans have become so brutal and violent in liquidating or destroying all forms of life including human beings. Some time back one of the daily newspaper stated that a girl child of just seven years was sold for just 1Re for sacrifice by the child's father due to poverty. The father did not value the life of the child more than his own life. Further it is stated that more babies are killed through abortion than all the people killed by wars. Today due to advancement methods, medicine, techniques etc. are found to prolong life, to save life or even to terminate life. Along with success comes dilemma (1). If a dying patient is sustained through respiration at what point does life and death become blurred. When is the border crossed. Life is complex and answers do not come easily. Due to advancement man can create life as he wishes or wants, or extinguish life as he wishes and wants. Since man is a moral being this raises knotty questions and the field which tries to answer or deal with such dilemma or questions is Bioethics. In trying to answer, a person needs to have sense of justice, human dignity has to be maintained and the common good must be sought. There are hard choices to be taken, there is anguish and humiliation (2). Thus Bioethics deals with "Life". Thus in life and death situations one needs to choose life. Ethics deals with right conduct, behaviour. Choices and decisions needs to be made. An ethical dilemma poses a conflict not between good and evil but between one good principle against another good. Choices are hard to take and decisions are made to influence a large plethora of society (3).
Thus in this paper I will
try to deal with what bioethics is all about in the light of abortion,
suicide, euthanasia and its implications. We realize that Bioethics
is a vast subject and therefore we want to limit and focus our
attention on the above three. We will also see few ethical models
and their view of life. From all this we will bring about the
Christian response to the right to life. We do trust that we will
be able to evolve some viable and meaningful model for enhancing
and affirming life in all its totality, wholeness and fullness.
2. Meaning of Bioethics Related Terms and Relevance
Unless we know the meaning and definition we cannot proceed therefore it is appropriate to analyze these terms:
Bios (Gk) It is a period or course of life. It is life extensive - vita Quam vivimus. The means by which this life is sustained. The survival and Quality of life (4).
Zoe - (Gk) Is also life and distinct from Bios. It is elevated into ethical and spiritual sphere. It is life intensive vita Qua vivimus. The vital principle. It is not mere survival but how best one lives with the given limited resources, time etc. (5).
Psuche - (Gk) Breath of life. close relation to zoe. the vital principle. Here it refers to the soul as the seat of will., desires and affections (6).
- means conduct, as human beings endowed with a moral conscience
we ought to know how to respond, react meaningfully to ethical
issues. We live in complex situations with various possibilities
and it is precisely in such context we are called to choose and
make decisions that will affect us as well as the society we live
in. Since bioethics deals with scientific and technological advancement
and further the field is wide, large and enormous it is good to
limit to few ethical issues that pertain to life namely abortion,
suicide and euthanasia.
3. Ethical models to tackle ethical issues
Ethics is a vast subject and people have developed few models. It is in that light we can think through some of the ethical issues. Bioethics is considered as one branch of normative Ethics. "Norm" talks about "standard" or "rule". What meaningful norms or rules must be taken into account as one tries to deal with such knotty problematic issues.
(I) Teleological model: This model was postulated by J. Stuart Mill. One can use end or purpose is given importance. One can use any kind of means but the end must be good. An act is moral if it brings more good than bad. The greatest good for the greatest number. This model is called utilitarianism (7).
(ii) Situation Ethics model: Founded by Joseph Fletcher in 1950. In this model the emphasis is on the situation and love. He says that Christian morality does not blindly follow moral rules but acts from love and sensitivity to a particular situation and the needs of those involved (8).
(iii) Deontological model: This model is founded by Immanuel Kant. Duty is supreme. The rightness and wrongness of an act or decision etc. is judged by whether it conforms to moral principle or rule. An act is moral only if it springs from what is called as good will. all persons have equal worth (9).
Apart from these we have
the conservative, liberal, and moderate model. In the light of
these models we will see regarding abortion, suicide and euthanasia.
The meaning of abortion miscarriage is to have premature delivery of baby, arrested development.
Sometimes due to weakness shock etc. there is miscarriage and the child dies. It is not in our control. It is a kind of natural death. In premature delivery the doctors and various others do go about in trying to save the baby yet the baby dies once again it is natural. Sometimes the baby survives. In case of abortion where the child dies it is a traumatic experience for the mother and the family as a while.
But abortion becomes controversial or creates a dilemma when the child is abnormal or with defects, or child through illegitimate means or rape, can one resort to abortion? It is precisely in such situations critical questions are raised namely at what point of time does life start in the womb? If there is a risk factor and the mother's life is in danger can the child be aborted in which case whose life becomes valuable. Has the mother got the right to decide of aborting the child. In such cases abortion is conscious and it pertains killing. can we call the fetus a human being.
This brings us to the point what is the moral status, ethical impact and legal policy. The legal policy is in 1967 England legalized abortion. It legalized for two reasons namely if the life of the mother is at stake then one can resort to abortion (namely lesser evil i.e. if the mother is saved another child can be produced) If the fetus is allowed to develop the fetus will suffer all kinds of malfunction, serious abnormalities and therefore wise to terminate. The moral status is since human beings are moral beings abortion raises issues like guilt, since legalized human beings are the less affected finds many loop holes and continues to force abortion on the weak women. It is the woman who undergoes untold misery and agony. it is said more children are aborted illegally and that creates mental and moral degradation and ultimately man is responsible for such atrocities and cruelty.
Ethically is abortion right or wrong, good or bad. The conservative view: Fetuses have the same rights as we humans have namely the Right to life and not to be killed. From the moment of conception a single living entity with a genetic identity exists. It is not that fetus has got potential to become a human being but fetus is a human being with all potentiality. Thus every abortion involves loss of life (10). Further pregnant women as well as the fetuses have the right of life. Abortion is one of the most neglected public health issues in India and women are paying a terrible price. In 1971 India passed legislation namely The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) that gave women the right to safety and legally terminate a pregnancy. Yet after 25 years it has meant little for the majority of our country's women. It is said 20,000 women die of unsafe abortion and that is called Double death syndrome. Further 15 million illegal abortions world wide. In fact India has the highest number of abortions namely 4 million. Since 1971 illegal abortions have increased. It is precisely in such context and situation we need to find means of life, enhance life (11).
In the liberal view, fetuses
have no right to life because a "being" must have the
capacity to envisage the future, to have self consciousness, have
the concept of "self" since a fetus doesn't have these
therefore no right to life (12). In the moderate view one tries
to take a middle path, in between conservative and liberal. It
neither wants to affirm life nor deny or destroy life. This kind
of view is dangerous. It is better to be pro life or anti life
The meaning is self murder or murder. It is said suicide is on the increase in the developed countries. In the world it is said the highest number of suicides take place in Japan because of competition and pressure especially in business and education. It is said that in India, Tamil Nadu is the leading state in suicide cases. Suicides take place due to various reasons namely dejection, disappointment, depression, failure, rape (hard to face society and carry the stigma) poverty, life is not worth living and therefore death is better. Morally suicide is through some kind of artificial and violent means. Josephus says "Suicide is death which gives liberty to the soul and permits the soul to depart free from all calamity" (14). For the Greeks and Romans there was no law against suicide.
Sometimes we hear and witness heroic suicide. Today people lay down their life for their country's honour or for one's faith or belief on one's God. We also hear of Romantic suicide: films depict there more dramatically and visually. Just because the society has not recognized or allowed the lovers to get married they together commit suicide. Some of the suicide points in our will stations bear testimony to such incidents (15). Pessimistic suicide is for people who felt that death is better than life.
All these may be different kinds of suicide, yet suicide is taking one's life forcefully. Suicide is a crime against the state. During the Roman Empire the way of suicide was a way out of an intolerance situation. They said God gave life and God gave men the still greater gift of taking one's own life away.
Seneca says "Foulest death (suicide) is preferable to cleanest slavery" (16).
We need to look at suicide from the moral, legal and ethical view point. Since humans are moral beings, to commit suicide is not easy. The person goes through all kinds of mental strain and agony. Further if a person succeeds in suicide O.K. if not the person goes through terrible dejection and finds it hard to face life. Further suicide does not solve the problem. The moral question is at stake only in heroic suicide. To what extent we can subscribe, allow or accept it as legitimate. All other kinds of suicide are wrong.
Suicide laws always pose a legal dilemma for society. A suicide is the only offense where the offender is victim. The Indian Penal Code makes attempted suicide an offense punishable with simple imprisonment up to a year. If one removes this law then there is a possibility of suicide abettors going scot-free. If this law is retained if inflicts more agony on already tortured souls. In such situation it is better to remove section 309 from IPC but make it obligatory for the police to investigate each suicide and zero it on the abettors. Justice Amareswari says view each suicide attempt with humanity and compassion (17).
Ethically, taking one's
life is not good. It is running away from life rather than facing
it. It is an act where a person tries to escape from life taking
the time and season of life into one's own hands. The conservative
view totally condemns suicide. The liberal view glorifies or deifies
suicide. There is nothing wrong if situation warrants. The moderate
view: tries to take middle path that is in certain cases suicide
is O.K. but not always.
The term comes from two Gk words "en" well and thanatos = death can be translated as good or happy death. Euthanasia is the termination of human life by painless means for the purpose of ending severe physical suffering. The word doesn't mean easy death but the medical act necessary to make death easy. Therefore it can be termed as mercy killing. It is a doctrine which believes that when a person's life becomes intolerable or that life is worse than death then that life may be legitimately taken away. On the periphery it looks quiet simple we think we are easing the pain of the sufferer and helping in some sense. But actually few serious questions are raised. Do we have the right to kill? Do we have a right to die? How can we help another person to die well? (18).
This is very real difficulty in defining the area in which euthanasia might be practiced. When is the stage in one's life when a person can end one's life? Just because we have the scientific tools, etc. and a team makes the decision to end a persons life who is suffering, who will take the first step in putting an end of another person's life? Will the relatives have a say in deciding? Who will take or end the life of the suffering person? Can we have a public executioner who will execute such case which will be intolerable to accept.
We need to look at the moral, legal and ethical side of the issue. Morally we do not have any right to take another person's life. Just because a person is suffering with some in curable disease it doesn't mean we can terminate that person's life. Today it may be incurable tomorrow it may be cured therefore we need to give chance. Further the person may decide to end life due to pressure from the team or close related individuals. That is why Mother Teresa has started a Home called Nirmal Hridaya where such suffering patients are cared for and are prepared for a peaceful death which is natural. It is not induced or forced. As moral beings we are called to preserve, save life.
In the liberal view, the moment the person is useless it is better they are terminated. Most of the communist countries liquidate pregnant women the terminally sick and old because they are of no use to the State and society. On 1st July 1996 the Euthanasia law the first of this kind world wide came into force in the northern territory of Antarctica Nation's first legally sanctioned death by voluntary Euthanasia. This opens the door widely and there is no limit for misuse (19).
The moderate view:\ tries
to take middle path. There are instances where euthanasia is morally
right and those areas where it is wrong has to be stopped.
7. Christian Response to the Right to life
Having seen the meaning of bioethics, the complex situation and some ethical issues like abortion, suicide and euthanasia we should look into the Christian response. For this, one has to turn to the Bible which is the revealed Word of God.
In the Word of God we see God is the Creator of Life. Jn1:4 In Him was life. Life is the creative, vital principle. Further in Gen. 2:6-8 we see God creating man and breathing into his nostrils and he becomes a living soul. Life that is intensive and active. All through creation and in His word we see God as the life giver. The very life of Jesus Christ as the revealed Son of God all through his ministry testifies and demonstrate the life giving aspect of God 1 Jn 5:12 says He who has the son has life and he who doesn't have the son has no life. Though it may mean eternal life it is the sense of quality of life. In Jn 10:10 Jesus says I have come to give life and life that is abundant. When God created human beings he gave the command to protect, to care and enhance life in all its forms. Also power was given to man to procreate that is to give life. Beget children of his own. further God says you cannot take one's life. God has made man as a responsible human being and accountable. That is why when Cain killed Abel, God asked Cain where is your brother, his blood cries to me, Gen. 4:9-10. Also in Gen. 9:4-6. Lord says I will demand an accounting for the life of one's fellow men. Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall be shed for in the image of God has God made man. Further when God gave the commandments especially in Ex. 19:23, Leviticus and Deuteronomy all talk of vengeance, hatred, anger, jealousy. Further Jesus emphasizing that Son of man came to give life not destroying or killing. It is satanic or diabolical to destroy.
In the light of this Christian view point we need to deal with abortion, suicide and euthanasia. Regarding abortion we did see few views namely unwanted pregnancy can be terminated, today the woman carries the fetus has human rights and on that basis she decides to terminate and then on Jn 22, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion nationwide. This decided that unborn were no persons and so had no right to life. Abortion on demand has created a monster in our society and has given to high rate of immorality and unwed mothers and people take easy way out. The very fact of conception proves that there is life because live sperm and live egg union brings forth life. Since we do not have power over life so also we do not have power to extinguish or terminate life. The origin of life is not just scientific question but a religious question. Unless our concept of God and life is right our thinking and practice will not be right (20). Today evolution and secularism has created more problems than solving it. The Bible clearly talks of human life within the woman's womb. Ps. 139:13-18 This passage talks of as human being existing in the womb. Job 10:18-12, Ex 21:22,23 if man fight and hurt a woman with child and she gives birth to a child prematurely whether the child dies or not yet the people who were responsible has to be punished. Jesus says in Mt 6:25,26 that your life is more valuable.
Once again Suicide is murder or killing or taking one's own life. The Bible never justifies suicide. Augustine forbade it because it is a step which in the very nature of things precludes repentance and it is murder for it is breach of sixth Commandment. It is unnatural; It is crime against the community. It is usurping God's prerogative namely that God alone has the power to bring life to an end (21).
The Christian view point is that taking one's life is forbidden but we need to be sympathetic and sensitive to people who in their loneliness, lostness, confusion seek the final out through suicide.
The Biblical or Christian
response to euthanasia is just because a person has got terminal
illness and also want to escape from pain and suffering advocates
or suggests for mercy killing is not acceptable because man has
no power to bring about life nor take life. He has power to protect
preserve and not to destroy. The issues of life and death are
in God's hands. Suffering brings about many useful purposes, develops
one's character Rom 1:1-5.
There are no easy situations. It is in this tension dilemma and out of all that is said we need to find meaningful and purposeful situations. it is in the midst of such difficult questions situations we are called to make choices. Therefore in the process we affirm God is the creator of life. Human life begins at the moment of conception and continue till its natural death according to God's appointed time. If we do not have control over death. Even person has value, significance, worth regardless of age, appearance, abilities, illness or physical malfunction etc. People as individuals are important more than animals and plants because made in the image of God. Human life is saved the sanctity of life must be upheld at any cost. God loves people, God's character is to love and give life. We need to affirm creation. Continuity, Communion and Covenant relationship with God and Community. Most of these killing or taking of life is all because of egoism and that man is supreme and can do anything without God or influence to God revealed in Jesus Christ. There we are called to repent this to the water for wisdom knowledge of how to use God's resources meaningfully, purposefully and usefully. As responsible human being we must create a responsible environment and strict measures to develop right kind of attitude to life and enhance life to its fullest by all possible means and not take easy way out. We need to support positive educational and social campaign (22). Regarding taking of one's life or killing any life Epicleties said "wait for God when He gives the signal and sets you free from your service you shall depart to Him. For the present endure to live in the place where He has stationed you. Wait do not depart unreasonable. Our times and seasons are in God's hands" (23). God is a God of life through His forgiveness, power, strength we need to begin anew build up a new community that will enhance life to its fullest, to the highest maximum potential, help in preserving, making life worth living with meaning, value and significance, love, joy, peace, justice, freedom. Let us look forward to a new beginning and new community by working towards that goal with the enabling power and strength of God who is Life Giver.
To Bioethics in India book contents
To Eubios Ethics Institute books
To Eubios Ethics Institute home page